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AT&T's Donovan: Women Adapt Faster Than Men

Sarah Thomas
5/18/2017

AUSTIN, Texas -- Big Communications Event -- Women fill an increasing number of roles in John Donovan's organization at AT&T not because he's necessarily focused on diversity, but because he finds women are better able to adapt -- a necessary trait for surviving in today's disruptive environment.

"People say I'm an advocate for women, but really I'm just making commercial decisions. Women adapt faster than men in these situations," Donovan, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s chief strategy officer and group president for AT&T Technology and Operations, said during his keynote here in Austin. (See CEO Chat With AT&T's John Donovan.)

Donovan tells Light Reading's Carol Wilson that women are better at adapting to which she responds, 'duh.'
Donovan tells Light Reading's Carol Wilson that women are better at adapting to which she responds, "duh."

When it comes to companies in the comms industry, AT&T tends to be more diverse than its peers, and Donovan said it is getting more so in terms of the gender split. According to its annual diversity report, released in April, 32% of its workforce are female and 35% of its leadership team are women. (See AT&T's Band of Women .)

Donovan is tasked with the enormous job of leading AT&T's transformation efforts and given that -- as he said -- only those that can adapt can survive, hiring and promoting women is a natural decision for him. He said there was a period of time when the entire industry seemed to freeze and grapple with, "How do I get paid, and what if something breaks?" But, over time, AT&T has had to change everything from performance management to how it pays and promotes people. (See Indigo: A New Shade of AT&T and AT&T White Box a Disruptive Force.)


For more perspectives on women in comms, check out our past Mentor Monday profiles here on Light Reading.


His advice for handling this rapid pace of change (besides acting like a woman) was to build your own "pivot room" or "flywheel" -- start not by asking permission for a big program but by fixing or changing something within your own organization. Create an "air gap" in your budget through innovation and then reinvest it yourself in the timeframe you have.

"We are fighting a three-front war," Donovan said -- over-the-top players in an architectural war, fighting with traditional competitors for the same revenue pools as they exist today and fighting the war within. "Winning two of the three is failure. For the industry to succeed but you not to transform, is just as problematic."

To watch the full interview between John Donovan and Carol Wilson, click on the video below:


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

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Solution63465
Solution63465
5/19/2017 | 4:50:35 PM
Re: Comment on Adaptive-ness
Love that!! This is why it is matters to color the story with real data.

Thank you.
ErynLeavens
ErynLeavens
5/19/2017 | 4:27:02 PM
Re: Comment on Adaptive-ness
This is an old study, but a quick Internet search proves this statement scientifically true, Solution63465: "Since the X chromosome has something like 3.4 times more genes involved in brain power than any other chromosome, that extra genetic activity may make females more complex, more variable and possibly more adaptable than males." - http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2005-04-17/news/0504170015_1_x-chromosome-active-genes-scientists
Solution63465
Solution63465
5/19/2017 | 4:11:29 PM
Comment on Adaptive-ness
Although the comment is favorable toward women, is that really a correct statement to make in a public forum? Isn't that just the type of thing we ((all)) try to avoid? (Generalizations that exclude others?) Although we continue to champion for equality, is there some science behind Mr. Donovan's statement that was omitted from this article that says "Women are more adaptable", If so, please share.
Phil_Britt
Phil_Britt
5/19/2017 | 10:28:43 AM
Re: Gender stereotypes
My younger daughter was similar. Could tell at a young age she liked to figure things out -- still loves puzzles as a young adult. But there was no push in high school for STEM. Though she was a theater major in college, she set the curve in a CSI (elective) class. Would have been much better long-term to go into STEM area. And she still enjoys figuring things out.
alison diana
alison diana
5/19/2017 | 9:59:27 AM
Re: Gender stereotypes
You're right: My daughter's in high school and, although she has a female physics teacher, most STEM teachers are male and the subject-matter is taught in a very dry manner, in a vacuum almost. She's a smart kid, but nobody in her educational career to date has explained or shown how or why she should be interested in any computing or STEM career -- and believe me, I've tried! It's tough to combat 'boring classes' and teachers who just read the book... Let's make STEM more fun, more real and more relevant -- for all kids, but especially girls and kids from low-income backgrounds who can unlock free college and careers via STEM.
alison diana
alison diana
5/19/2017 | 9:55:51 AM
Re: Gender stereotypes
I like that point, too -- especially after study after study confirms the financial benefits of mixing genders (not all men or all women) in an organization. The same holds true for diverse cultures, ethnicities, etc.; we all bring our own histories and viewpoints and, combined, come up with better solutions to problems that face us all, regardless of who or what we are.
PaulERainford
PaulERainford
5/19/2017 | 4:18:12 AM
Re: Gender stereotypes
Over my dead body. Here at Eurobites Towers it's strictly Yorkshire Tea (Hard Water Variety), formulated by Taylor's of Harrogate. It's the one they ask for by name.
Phil_Britt
Phil_Britt
5/18/2017 | 6:54:40 PM
Re: Gender stereotypes
The gender imbalance in the industry will likely continue for some time to come. For that to change, companies need to get down in the weeds (colleges and high schools) and actively recruit as well as promote industry opportunities.
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
5/18/2017 | 1:31:13 PM
Re: Gender stereotypes
At least you're bucking stereotypes by drinking vanilla chamomile tea, Paul!
PaulERainford
PaulERainford
5/18/2017 | 9:39:58 AM
Re: Gender stereotypes
Next thing you'll be telling us that men are no good at multi-tasking, Sarah. Dammit! I just knocked my tea over while typing that...
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