Susanna O’Sullivan making strides, challenging gender roles in tech

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March 8, 2021

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For some families, children naturally progress into certain careers based on the occupational tradition in the home, even when the industry is gender dominated.

Susanna O’Sullivan, senior director of technology operation for Jamaica and the Cayman Islands at FLOW Jamaica is proving to be one such individual. O’Sullivan, who received a Pioneer Award at the 2020 staging of Flair’s The Distinguished, is using the innate qualities that run in her family to distinguish herself in the male-dominated field of engineering and technology.

Her father, Delroy, is an electrical engineer and all seven children are qualified engineers. Brothers Mahari and Jahmai are computer engineers; while brothers Tesfaye and Kishi are civil and electrical engineers, respectively. In addition, sister Chava is an electrical engineer, and Atara studied computer engineering, though practising in another field.

As the head of a team on the front line, Susanna O’Sullivan has to balance keeping customers connected with taking care of her team members.

Highlighting that there are two generations of engineers, O’Sullivan shared with a smile, “Technology is an integral part of our family, and I have always been a problem-solver, seeking ways to automate to gain efficiency.”

O’Sullivan, who has a master’s degree in computer-based management information system, started her professional journey in telecoms as an intern and then progressed to more senior roles. A year ago, she was appointed as the first female director of technology for FLOW Jamaica and has been making significant strides despite the difficulties presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

The technology director said she had to draw on every grain of her experiences, given that her appointment coincided with the onset of COVID-19 in the region.

“I make reference to the ‘glass cliff’ phenomenon,” she commented. “My first year has been one of crisis management, with the pandemic hitting shortly after my appointment.”

As she reflected on the immediate shift that took place with the implementation of work-from-home (WFH) measures and homeschooling, O’Sullivan underscored the importance of keeping the country connected. “Enhancing customer experience continued to be a main focus, while balancing the demands of supporting our front-line employees and managing the homeschooling of my daughter. Though challenging, I enjoyed every minute of it and am proud of what we have accomplished,” she said.

O’Sullivan acknowledges that the year was not without its challenges, but that it also opened opportunities. “We’ve seen an unprecedented increase in demand for telecommunications services. In fact, FLOW Jamaica experienced a 47 per cent increase year-over-year,” said O’Sullivan.

“The uptick in demand enabled us to achieve our 2020 network traffic growth targets within the first six months of the year. This required the acceleration of a number of initiatives that we had scoped for 2020, as well as bring forward some of our 2021 plans into 2020 to be able to meet the demand,” she continued.

Susanna O’Sullivan was appointed as the first female director of technology for FLOW Jamaica a year ago, and has been making significant strides despite the difficulties presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

Noting that expectations were high as virtual engagement became the order of the day, O’Sullivan added, “Streaming also increased, which meant deploying an additional server on the island while adding off-island capacity, we increased capacity in our core network, we doubled capacity on the video side, and we had to increase capacity on our access network as well. That was just to sustain the demand. We also saw a rapid spike of service requests coming in, so installations went up as well.”

As the head of a team on the front line, O’Sullivan also had to balance keeping customers connected with taking care of her team members.

“Leadership and crisis management is less about technical competence and more about emotional intelligence and leading from the heart,” she shared. “Yes, you have to make the right strategic decisions, but the ability to inspire and motivate, especially during a crisis, are tenets for success.

“A lot of my role was managing the anxiety and support, ensuring we had the right protective gear and were following the company’s safety protocols because, at the end of the day, our frontliners are going home to their families as well. So, it’s about managing and minimising that risk, and also managing the fear of their families,” she added. “It’s multiple parts and balancing each of those roles, so there’s no conflict.”

With International Women’s Day being recognised globally today under the theme ‘Choose to Challenge’, O’Sullivan said: “Less than 10 per cent of the leadership in tech companies are women. We’ve seen improvements in these numbers over the years, but there is still a lot of work to be done to level the playing field. While we celebrate our growth/accomplishments in this area, we must ensure that we do not lose sight of the work still to be done. More awareness and conversation around diversity is key if we are to change the statistics.”

O’Sullivan is encouraging young girls to pursue any career they choose. This is a philosophy that she has instilled in her eight-year-old daughter Jahzara, proudly sharing, “My prime accomplishment is nurturing my daughter and watching her blossom, with a mentality that she can achieve anything she puts her mind to.”

lifestyle@gleanerjm.com

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