Women In Comms

WiC Rewind: Cultural Reflections From Denver

Company culture is so much more than an unspoken vibe in the workplace. It's what dictates how decisions are made, what areas get prioritized and how employees interact with one another. It influences the quality of day-to-day life at the company and the very identity of the company to the outside world.

Deliberately spelling out a company culture from the top down and using it as the foundation for how decisions get made can benefit all employees and even the company's bottom line by keeping it true to the core of its business.

This is how Lynn Comp, senior director of industry and sales enabling for the Network Platforms Group at Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), and four other top female executives from service providers in the comms industry, view company culture. As such, it's easy to see why it's so important to foster a positive one.

These women, who come from Intel, Windstream Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: WIN), Vodafone Americas , XO Communications Inc. and Zayo Group Inc. (NYSE: ZAYO), spoke at Women in Comms' most recent networking breakfast last week in Denver, and they agreed that while progressive policies are important, a company culture that is supportive, collaborative and fair is the most important factor in creating a productive work environment.

This impressive line-up of comms industry executives shared their thoughts on culture, as well as their own personal experiences, perspectives and advice for women and men alike in an panel discussion on how to marry progressive policies with company culture. Here are just a few of the top takeaways. (See Come Get Uncomfortable With WiC in Denver.)

From left: WiC Director Sarah Thomas; Vodafone America's Megan Doberneck; Windstream's Beth Lackey; Intel's Lynn Comp; Zayo Group's Sandi Mays; and XO Communications' Nicola Jackson.
From left: WiC Director Sarah Thomas; Vodafone America's Megan Doberneck; Windstream's Beth Lackey; Intel's Lynn Comp; Zayo Group's Sandi Mays; and XO Communications' Nicola Jackson.

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Be the manager you want to have. One of the main reasons Intel's Comp worked her way into a management position is because she got tired of complaining about the bad managers she had. Instead, she decided to just be the manager she wanted. She would work to close the pay gap, encourage and promote women in her field and be committed to creating an equitable workforce. She would be the difference she wanted to see at her company and encourages other women to do the same.

Decide for yourself what matters most to you and the career path you want to take. Some women may not want to be in the C-suite, while others want to be stay-at-home-moms and others fall somewhere in between. And, guess what? All of those options are just fine. The panelists encouraged women to map out their career progression for themselves, and not let anyone else tell them what they should be striving for. "Don't stereotype yourself," said Beth Lackey, senior vice president of carrier operations at Windstream.

That said, while it's perfectly fine for women to leave the workforce, it's also incumbent on their employers to make it practical to stay. Megan Doberneck, general counsel and company secretary at Vodafone Americas, pointed out that "mid-management flight" or women leaving the workplace around the time they reach management positions is not unique to our industry. It's an endurance game, she said, and at some point women may find it becomes too hard to balance work and personal lives.

"If a women doesn't see a career path, she's going to leave," Doberneck said. "If you feel like you've flatlined, you are going to leave."

Assess all aspects of a company and decide what matters most to you. "I'm big on choices; you have to make your own decisions and decide if you fit there or not," Lackey said of company cultures, noting that the while the wage gap is a real problem that needs to be resolved, salary is not the only thing that should matter in a job search. We all must choose what's most important to us and decide whether a company can give us what we want. She asked, "How long do you want to hold out and what works for you?"

Practice what you preach. Culture has a lot to do with taking advantage of the flexible policies your company offers whether you're the boss or an employee. Comp suggested that managers think carefully before sending a message at 11 p.m. or 5 a.m. as it sends the message that those are normal work parameters. Or, if you're going to do that, also deliberately communicate when you are taking time out for your family or other personal obligations. It's helpful to show employees you can have flexibility, but also sometimes take that time without making up for it at all hours of the day.

Make yourself heard and expect acceptance. All of the panelists are quite familiar with being the only woman in the room and shared their struggles to be heard and experiences of being talked over, interrupted or ignored. To combat this, Zayo Group CIO Sandi Mays suggested finding advocates in the room who will speak out and encourage you to finish your thought when you get interrupted. Comp also suggested taking it a step further and standing up when you have something to say. In a room where everyone is sitting down, this will get you noticed.

While it may be common to struggle to be heard in a room full of men, Nicola Jackson, vice president of marketing at XO Communications, also noted that women shouldn't come to the table expecting to be ignored. Rather, they should expect acceptance from the start, and it might be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"You can walk into a room and feel intimidated, or you can walk into a room and expect to be a part of it as an equal… expect to be part of the conversation," Jackson said.

Men: mentor, listen, advocate and understand. The panelists had good advice for men who would like to help make a difference for women at work and may struggle with how to do so. In addition to attending events like WiC's breakfast, Lackey suggested intentionally looking for one woman to guide and mentor, and Doberneck added that male managers need to invite the conversations and be responsive to their employees' concerns. Saying you don't know how to respond is okay too, Comp said, and is more important than avoiding issues altogether. The most important things men can do are listen, understand and advocate.

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

Kelsey Ziser 9/19/2016 | 9:57:57 AM
Re: power panel That makes sense, thanks, Sarah! SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely and the acronym can be used for really any goals as a way to avoid being vague in goal setting, and to raise your chance of success.
Sarah Thomas 9/19/2016 | 9:51:14 AM
Re: power panel With regards to goal setting, the main point they made was to do what works for you and not conform to expectations of you -- whether those expectations are that you should want to be C level or that you'll quit when you have kids. It's your career and your personal life, so you have to find your own balance. But, I do think having a one, five and 10 year plan is important with the expectation that it will change. It can help hold you accountable and ensure you're always moving ahead.

I am not familar with SMART. What does it entail?
Kelsey Ziser 9/19/2016 | 9:35:32 AM
Re: power panel Thanks, Sarah, for dividing their advice into sections! I once received the advice "be the person you want to marry" so sounds like that applies to management, too (re: section on - "be the manager you want to have"). Sounds like many panelists were emphasizing that women should spend time setting specific goals for their career. Did they provide any insight on how they set and review their own career goals? Did they talk about setting SMART goals?
Sarah Thomas 9/19/2016 | 9:21:09 AM
power panel I thought this was one of our best panels yet. The women had a ton of great advice to share, and I thought it was especially cool that three out of five of them had husbands that were stay-at-home dads. It's still not a common scenario today, so it was great to see these women and their husbands paving the way and showing how important support at home is to your professional life.
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