What do an engineer, geophysicist, head of sales and Starz's 16th employee all have in common? They are all women who have risen through the ranks to be leaders in their respective companies in the comms industry.
They were all also panelists at Women in Comms' networking breakfast in Denver, Colorado last week, and they brought a wealth of experience, practical advice and insight into the industry to share with attendees.
Patty Kummrow, vice president, Platform Engineering Group, Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Marnie Miron, director, strategic partnerships, Rogers Communications Inc. (Toronto: RCI), Cynthia Carpenter, vice president, product management, business services, Charter Communications Inc. and Lisa Miller, SVP of wholesale, indirect, inside & content sales channels, Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT), headlined the event and shared their thoughts on "building your brand."
For a special edition of Mentor Monday this week, here are some of the key words of wisdom from our four speakers on the morning's panel.
Build a strong, but focused network. "There is tremendous strength in having a network," said Charter's Carpenter, who was the 16th employee at Starz Entertainment LLC . But, Rogers' Miron added, it's important to build your network in a focused way. If you're not in sales, networking can be time consuming, she said. One thing that worked well for her was picking three leaders in her company and developing those relationships. These three executives, in turn, became her sponsors, a sponsor being someone she describes as willing put their reputation on the line for you.
"If there was a promotion fairy, I think I pissed her off," Miron joked on the panel. Instead, figure out what you want, voice it and leverage your sponsors to get you there.
Be flexible and open to new opportunities. Level 3's Miller stressed the importance of being flexible in your career. She said that people often set out to get a certain job in a certain city, but that's not always available. Being able and willing to seize opportunities -- even if it's not exactly what you had in mind and even if you don't tick all the requirements for it -- can keep your career moving in the right direction.
Have the confidence to keep advancing. Miron, whose background is in geophysics and 20 years spent in the mining and petroleum industry, made the observation that if you want to find all the women in comms, look to middle management. "This is where we hang out," she said. While women, especially Millennials, often come into the workforce with a mindset of "everyone is equal," they tend to lose their confidence and stop advancing. Often there are institutional reasons for this, but -- especially as women -- we need to ensure we are not holding ourselves back as well.
Build a brand that is authentic, consistent and recognizable. In addition to authenticity, which the panelists agreed was the most important force behind a personal brand, Carpenter added that consistency is also important. Your "brand" shouldn't change over the course of your career. Other people should also know and respect your brand. "Even if you're not in the room, your presence is there," Carpenter said. "You have to have other people to represent you."
According to Miller, a personal brand is not your LinkedIn, resume or title; it's "what you stand for; it's who you are." And, Carpenter added, the impact of social media means your authentic self is already out there. Whether you consciously think about it or not, you have a personal brand.
Become a Jill of all trades. One thing that did not work well for Miron over the course of her career was making herself indispensable to an existing job. Rather than have that hard work show she was ready for the next step, it made her manager afraid to lose her. The panelists agreed that it's important to learn skills outside of your primary job function, to not only stay on top of tech trends, but to also -- for example -- learn the business and marketing side of things if you are an engineer.
Act like a Millennial. "What I love about the Millennials is there are no roles," Miller said on the panel. "They come to the table equal." She cited an example of a Millennial new hire approaching the CEO of Level 3 on her fourth day on the job, suggesting ways to improve the company. It seemed crazy to most who had been at the huge company for a while, but there are no boundaries for the younger workers who tend to see organizations as flat. Millennials also assume balance, Miller said. They might come in at 8 a.m., but they'll leave at 4 p.m. to go do something else and check in later at 8 p.m. Productivity doesn't suffer as a result, but it takes redefining how work gets done, she said.
Take care of the family. Intel's Kummrow pointed out how important family roles are in the workplace, for both women and men alike. Her advice was for the companies themselves, rather than women -- it's "not just a moral imperative, but a business imperative to figure out how to work with parents of young children," she said. Men should be able to take time off for a new baby, in policy and practice, just as women should. It's up to the company to ensure that happens, especially in the US where regulations don't require it.
Act like a leader. "Keep your elbows out," and make space for yourself, Miller advised. Don't act like a man, but act like a leader.
— Sarah Thomas, , Director, Women in Comms