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AT&T's Phillips: HOPE Hinders Tall Poppy Syndrome

Kelsey Kusterer Ziser
5/8/2019

DENVER -- The Big 5G Event -- There's still a long road ahead to close the gender gap for women in tech and telecommunications, but AT&T's Shay Phillips has a good reason for hope.

Phillips' mantra of HOPE reminds her to stay "humble, open, personable and empathetic" in her career. This mission statement helps her combat misperceptions about women in the workplace by being open and honest about her mistakes and successes, being her authentic self, and understanding that everyone's journey is different and women have faced different challenges on their career path.

(From L to R) Kendall Bancroft, Sr. Director of Small Business Sales, Indirect Channels at Rogers Communications, discusses tall poppy syndrome during a fireside chat with AT&T AVP Shay Phillips.
(From L to R) Kendall Bancroft, Sr. Director of Small Business Sales, Indirect Channels at Rogers Communications, discusses tall poppy syndrome during a fireside chat with AT&T AVP Shay Phillips.

In a fireside chat during the Women in Telecommunications workshop this week, Phillips, AVP of Product Marketing Management, AT&T Internet of Things Solutions at AT&T, addressed how women in communications can avoid "tall poppy syndrome." Coined in Australia, tall poppy syndrome is a "tendency in Australian society to try and cut down people who are considered to be too successful or prominent (cutting the tall poppies down to size)," according to Oxford Dictionary.

On the flip side is the "Queen Bee" -- successful women that undermine their female colleagues instead of helping them move up in their careers; a behavior "triggered in male dominated environments in which women are devalued," according to The Atlantic.

So how do women stay out of their own (and one another's) way, while working to change people's inaccurate perceptions? In addition to applying the HOPE mantra, Phillips shared her sponsorship strategy and encouraged women to identify a career advocate that shows empathy and provides relevant advice.

"It's important that we reach out and sponsor people that are coming up behind us The best advice I received from my sponsor was that 'You don't have to know all the right answers, you just have to ask the right questions,'" said Phillips. "She always kept an open door -- as I moved to different roles and I was looking for different opportunities, I knew I could always call on her no matter how high she went up."

Phillips has applied this approach to her co-workers and tells them "once you're part of Team Phillips, you're always part of Team Phillips," and encourages her colleagues to continue seeking her advice even if they've moved on to new roles.

Phillips also encouraged the audience to be deliberate about building a network so that at any point there are three people inside and outside your organization that can help you find a job.

"Maintaining a personal network is a part-time job on top of my full-time job," said Phillips.

Mentor and sponsor relationships are a two-way street, explained Phillips. Building a network requires a willingness to bring value to each relationship; that could mean sharing an article that's of interest to a sponsor, for example.

"I can't always make withdrawals, I also have to make deposits, too," she said.

Women in comms should also "have men in your network," advised Phillips. "Men view things very differently than we do. I'm all about having a girl squad, but you need men to provide you with a different perspective from your female co-workers."

Phillips provided the audience with the parting advice of becoming your own best advocate. Women should be able to constructively self-promote, and clearly communicate to mentors and sponsors their career goals.

"No one will tell your story better than you," she said. "How are you advocating for yourself?"

— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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