Ms. Lambert also "succeeded in an environment that was predominantly male," Mr. Gomez notes, to become "the highest-ranking Hispanic female in the company [Verizon]." He attributes her success to a comprehensive knowledge of the telecommunications industry and a skill for relating with people.
For her part, Ms. Lambert credits a strong sense of identity. "The perception is that a woman must give up her identity to perform in an environment dominated by men. I don't believe that," she says. "Women must be who they are. That has helped me in my career, to maintain that understanding."
Identity also extends into dealing with her market's culture. "She relates to people in their own language, and her respect for what is unique to the Puerto Rican culture really comes across," says Ms. Dennison. "She's not a native to Puerto Rico, she's Panamanian, but her cultural sensitivity plays well."
Already Ms. Lambert has implemented significant change at PRT. Under her direction, the company has opened business service centers and introduced DSL Internet service, and bundled billing of services. Since its acquisition of Coqui.net, PRT.net has become the largest Internet service provider in the Caribbean.
Technology adds another ingredient to PRT's market. Phoebe Forsythe Isales, former chair of the Puerto Rico Telecommunications Regulatory Board, calls the island "one of the few places in the world where there are more cellular phones than land lines." She estimates the island has more than 1.5 million cellular phones but only 1.3 million regular telephones – and a large number of companies compete for those cellular customers.
"I see a tremendous change in the way we serve customers," says Ms. Lambert. "Right now, most of our voice traffic goes on a switch network. In the future, most of it will go wireless or through a database, as it does in the U.S. There will be a migration [of customers] to more broadband, while dial-up analog is going to diminish."
In the big picture, Ms. Lambert sees telecommunications as a catalyst for the development of Puerto Rico. "We are among the largest employers on island, so we have a social responsibility to the community," she says. "We have 13 call centers in low-income neighborhoods to address the 'Digital Divide.' We look more like the U.S. than Latin America, but we don't think for a minute Puerto Rico is not Latin."
Economically, "Puerto Rico is transitioning from a manufacturing base to a service base," she continues. "Puerto Rico Telephone is key to that transition." Ms. Forsythe, now a telecommunications consultant, adds: "When the island lost 936 [a provision in federal tax law], manufacturers lost incentives to set up plants here. So, the service sector and telecommunications are taking up the slack."
Ms. Lambert also sees progress ahead for Hispanic women in Corporate America, provided they are educated and ready to accept opportunities when they arise. "All of the statistics say the Hispanic population is growing fast. From that perspective, companies need to make reaching that market a priority," she says. "Hispanic women become key to any company's leadership team. The decision should be based on profitability - not 'Should she be a woman?' or 'Should she be Hispanic?' but 'Does this person know the market?'"
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