& cplSiteName &

How Rachel Kutz Went From ET to AT&T VP

Sarah Thomas
3/13/2017
50%
50%

As the saying goes, "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land... in a long, rewarding career in telecom." Right?

We may have minced words here, but that was the case for Rachel Kutz, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s vice president of supplier diversity. While she had a lifelong passion for outer space, a willingness to pivot and go for opportunities she had little experience in helped land her in a 15-year long career at AT&T.

Kutz has held a number of roles at AT&T after starting there as an RF engineer in 2003. Most recently, she was promoted to run AT&T's supplier diversity program. The carrier has committed to spending more than 20% of its supplier money with companies that are led by women or certified diverse individuals, and it's Kutz's job to ensure that happens. (See AT&T Urges Women-Owned Businesses to Tackle New Tech.)

She caught up with WiC about how she's continuing her passion for outer space while building a rewarding career at AT&T, and much more.

Rachel Kutz, VP, Supplier Diversity, AT&T
Rachel Kutz, VP, Supplier Diversity, AT&T


Women in Comms' first networking breakfast and panel of 2017 is coming up on Wednesday, March 22, in Denver, Colorado, ahead of day two of the Cable Next-Gen Strategies conference. Register here to join us for what will be a great morning!


Women in Comms: Tell us a little about your background. How did you go from a degree in astrophysics to the telecom industry?

Rachel Kutz: I'm not lying when I say I don't remember a time when I didn't want to be an astronaut. I grew up watching Star Wars and ET, and it made me want to be an astronaut. The problem is they don't talk about how you go become one. My dad wanted me to go into the military, and I didn't want to do that, so I ended up going to school for a physics degree. I tried to stay as close to the sciences as I could. When I graduated, NASA had just crashed one, maybe two, space crafts, but mostly, I didn't know how to go do it. I was in the restaurant business as a bartender for a long time. I realized if I wasn't careful, I would be 40 and bartending. I knew I had to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. It was the mid-90s and the digital spectrum had just been released to traditional cell phone carriers. A friend of the family was a headhunter for telecom, specially for mobile networks and phones. He told me, "with your physics background, you're the right kind of person to go into this." I'm not an engineer, but he said I knew it better than most engineers. He said to go talk to them and read up on GSM and see if you can convince others that you are as good as I think you are." That was my entry way into cell phones. I never saw it coming, but I am sure glad it did. It's been an awesome career.

I started out on the technology side as a radio frequency engineer and worked my way up through leadership on wireless. This is how great AT&T is -- I had been saying I wanted to work on the business side whether on sales, marketing or business development. After about 12 years in the technology side, the business came to me and said, "would you like to try the supply chain organization?" I didn't know what it was. I took another leap and jumped into supply chain and have been doing that now for ten years. It's my second career and the business trusted me to do that, which is another reason this is a great place to work. Not a lot of companies let you do that.

WiC: Do you still get to pursue your love of astronauts and NASA at all?

RK: I read a lot. I recognize that even in the 20 years I've been out of school that everything we know about space and physics has changed. I do try to stay on top of it. I read a lot of books about string theory and chaos theory. I don't have ties to NASA, though I did live in Houston. I do try to stay with the science. I really love that part of my life. I love thinking of the universe and staring at the stars. Even if I'm reading something and I don't know what it means, it's about continuing education. I'm so passionate about girls knowing they can do science and math. It's very much changing. I've been to some women's conferences related to STEM, and I look around the room, and it's filled with beautiful, hip young women who are so smart and they make me feel really good that it's not just "am I smart enough to do it?", it's also now hip and cool to be smart. That has been a challenge. I don't think it's women thinking they aren't smart enough, but will they be pegged an egg-head if they are interested in STEM? That's not the case anymore.

WiC: Why is mentoring important to you, and how do you do it with AT&T and programs like Virtual Student Mentor?

RK: AT&T has many programs for mentoring through its Aspire program. They are constantly building their alliances and the ability for employees to mentor in any way they would want. I was involved in the We Teach Science program, which was a virtual program where I was assigned a student. My student was in Northern California, and I was in Atlanta. We met every week. I tutored her in algebra. It was great. It was one of the scariest things I've ever done. You have a 13-year old kid who thinks "I don't like this and you're a nerd," but it was really great… I love all the opportunities that AT&T offers and am eager to dig in there and expand those options. Most of them are virtual.

WiC: What is the company culture like at AT&T? How is diversity ingrained throughout it?

RK: AT&T has such a long history with employee programs. AT&T should be very proud of their Employee Resource Groups; they have five specifically devoted to women. It's really a grassroots way for employees to get together and join those groups they are most interested in. The other thing I love about it is you don't specifically have to be aligned with the focus of an ERG to join, which is even better. You could go out based on your interests or wanting to meet people or just understand groups, you could join the group and understand more about these cultures. These ERGs are really, really active. I'm involved with three. If I had more time, I'd be involved in more of them. AT&T very much supports them and allows them to function. We get messages at least once a week about one of these ERGs holding a function that gives them more publicity and really provides a service to the overall employee base.

WiC: What is your advice for women in the industry?

RK: My advice is this: be yourself. You have to own your womanhood and who you are. You have to know that it's who you are that got you to where you are today, so have that confidence in yourself and what it is you can do. Be smart. Don't be afraid to be smart but also ask for help when it's needed. The biggest thing is to persevere and have that confidence to persevere and know that any failure just makes you better.

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Director, Women in Comms

(1)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Joe Stanganelli
50%
50%
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/16/2017 | 3:01:41 PM
Career path
It's funny how our career paths can go like that.  You have one thing in mind, or you start out in one field -- and then you wind up in a completely different career that you probably weren't all that familar with beforehand.

I know very few people who went on to become who they wanted to be when they grew up.  Moreover, almost everybody I know is doing something for a living that has little to nothing to do with what they went to school for.
Women in Comms Audio
Archived Audio
Twitter Feed
Women's Watercooler
Discussion Boards
May 9, 2017 11:13:04 AM
UN Women HeForShe
spc_Dunphy
April 27, 2017 1:54:38 PM
Do you know women in tech?
Sarah Thomas
March 5, 2017 12:08:01 PM
Swedish Mansplaining
ErynLeavens
March 3, 2017 3:24:50 PM
Women's History Month
Sarah Thomas
February 24, 2017 12:15:59 PM
The career-break penalty
Sarah Thomas
February 17, 2017 10:25:33 AM
Risk taking differences
Sarah Thomas
February 17, 2017 9:51:21 AM
Upcoming WiC Events!
Sarah Thomas
January 11, 2017 12:47:08 PM
Chatbots: a big opp for women?
Sarah Thomas
Contribute Here
Upcoming Live Events
September 28, 2017, Denver, CO
November 1, 2017, The Royal Garden Hotel
All Upcoming Live Events
Women in Comms Poll
WOMEN IN COMMS: SHARE YOUR STORY WITH US
WiC wants to hear your stories, experiences and impressions of the comms industry.

Take our short survey here!
Infographics
AppDynamics highlights the tech segments where women are the most prevalent and showcases a few making a big difference in their field.
Women in Comms Video
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
VMWare VP Brings Women Up With Her

8|16|17   |   6:49   |   (1) comment


It's an art and a science to make mentorship, inclusive leadership, diversity and promotion of high-potential women work, says Honore' LaBourdette, vice president of Global Market Development at VMWare.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Fujitsu's Women Band Together to Help Girls Do STEM

8|2|17   |   9:35   |   (1) comment


Supporting women both inside and outside of Fujitsu is a top priority of the telecom vendor. Yanbing Li, Fujitsu Network Communication's director of System Software Development & Delivery, shares why it's important, but why there's still a long road ahead.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
AT&T's Tech President Preps Workforce for the Future

7|26|17   |   5:47   |   (10) comments


AT&T is focused on the software-defined network of the future and is reskilling its workforce to get ready too, according to AT&T's President of Technology Development Melissa Arnoldi.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Cisco: Mentoring Critical to Attract & Retain Women

7|19|17   |   6:40   |   (1) comment


Liz Centoni, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Computing System Product Group, shares why mentoring in all its forms is important for women and what Cisco is doing that's made a difference for women in tech.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Verizon VP Talks Network, Career Planning

7|12|17   |   4:49   |   (0) comments


Heidi Hemmer, vice president of Technology, Strategy & Planning at Verizon, shares how bold bets and the future of tech define her career.
LRTV Interviews
Global Capacity: Bandwidth Demand Driving Ethernet Growth

7|6|17   |   6:37   |   (0) comments


At Light Reading's Big Communications Event in Austin, Texas, Global Capacity's VP of Marketing Mary Stanhope talks about how the demand for bandwidth is changing the way service providers deliver broadband services.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
BT VP: Women Should Fill Security Talent Gap

7|5|17   |   6:00   |   (2) comments


By 2020 there will be six security jobs for every qualified worker, and Kate Kuehn, vice president of Security for BT in the Americas, says BT wants to encourage women to fill the shortage in jobs.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Intel Ushers in the Revolutionary 5G Era

6|28|17   |   5:00   |   (1) comment


5G will bring job opportunities for women in telco and IT, as well as a whole new era of communications for consumers and industries of all kinds, says Caroline Chan, vice president and general manager of the 5G Infrastructure Division at Intel.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Infinera's Sales Director Paints Tech's Big Picture

6|21|17   |   4:14   |   (1) comment


Shannon Williams, Infinera's director of sales, shares how she achieves work's many balancing acts -- between her role and the broader company, today and tomorrow's tech and more.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Parallel Wireless Founder Takes the Non-Traditional Path

6|14|17   |   3:34   |   (2) comments


And that's made all the difference for Kaitki Agarwal, who shares her story and advice, as well as her perspective on wireless network evolutions with WiC in Austin.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Ciena Takes a Broad View of Diversity

6|7|17   |   4:36   |   (1) comment


Building the best team at Ciena and opening up new market opportunities means incorporating diversity of all kinds, according to its director of business development, Emmanuelle Cahane.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Boingo CMO: Why We Need More Female Leaders

5|31|17   |   6:32   |   (1) comment


Companies make more money when there are women in leadership, Boingo CMO Dawn Callahan says. She shares why there can never be too many women in leadership roles in the tech industry and how to increase today's numbers.