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

Donovan's organization leading AT&T's transformation has become more diverse recently because adaptation is critical, and he says women are better at it than men.

Sarah Thomas

May 18, 2017

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

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.)

Figure 1: 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:

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

About the Author(s)

Sarah Thomas

Director, Women in Comms

Sarah Thomas's love affair with communications began in 2003 when she bought her first cellphone, a pink RAZR, which she duly "bedazzled" with the help of superglue and her dad.

She joined the editorial staff at Light Reading in 2010 and has been covering mobile technologies ever since. Sarah got her start covering telecom in 2007 at Telephony, later Connected Planet, may it rest in peace. Her non-telecom work experience includes a brief foray into public relations at Fleishman-Hillard (her cussin' upset the clients) and a hodge-podge of internships, including spells at Ingram's (Kansas City's business magazine), American Spa magazine (where she was Chief Hot-Tub Correspondent), and the tweens' quiz bible, QuizFest, in NYC.

As Editorial Operations Director, a role she took on in January 2015, Sarah is responsible for the day-to-day management of the non-news content elements on Light Reading.

Sarah received her Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She lives in Chicago with her 3DTV, her iPad and a drawer full of smartphone cords.

Away from the world of telecom journalism, Sarah likes to dabble in monster truck racing, becoming part of Team Bigfoot in 2009.

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