Cox SVP on making the move beyond middle management

In part two of this Mentor Spotlight series, Cox's Patricia Martin shares how organizations can better provide flexible working environments to support the remote workforce, and how women can tap mentors to accelerate their career trajectory.

Kelsey Ziser, Senior Editor

March 22, 2021

7 Min Read
Cox SVP on making the move beyond middle management

Breaking out of middle management is challenging for many women who wish to move up in their careers while also starting a family, and the pandemic hasn't made that goal any easier.

In part two of this Mentor Spotlight series, Women in Comms caught up with Patricia Martin, SVP of Service Assurance at Cox Communications, to discuss how organizations can better provide flexible working environments to support the remote workforce, and how women can tap mentors to accelerate their career trajectory.

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly blurred lines between work, school and family life and produced some surprising results in the elusive work-life balance goal. Nearly 75% of working Americans reported a negative impact of remote working in that they feel their work and personal lives are more blended together, according to a recent survey by Morning Consult. Also, while 67% reported feeling more connected to their family while working from home, 58% said they felt disconnected from their coworkers.

Martin also discusses how women can take stock of their skills and areas to improve upon, and how professional organizations such as the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) have assisted her during her career. Read on for more, and check out part one here.

Figure 1: Patricia Martin is SVP of Service Assurance at Cox Communications. (Source: Cox Communications) Patricia Martin is SVP of Service Assurance at Cox Communications. (Source: Cox Communications)

Women in Comms: One theme we've been discussing lately at Women in Comms is that many women get stuck in middle management after starting a family. Did you feel like you had the support you needed to continue your career trajectory, even after starting your own family?

Patricia Martin: Yes, I did. The first cable company where I had my now 17-year-old was a great company, but had all-male senior leaders, and the way they treated my maternity leave put an awful lot of stress and pressure on me. It also kind of made me scared because I was the primary breadwinner. I rushed back from maternity leave with that cable company, feeling like I had to and that I was letting the team down by starting my family.

To be honest, that was probably part of the reason that when Cox called, I talked to them because of the unsupportive experience that I had. When I had my next child at Cox, they were overwhelmingly supportive of me not just being a female executive, but also being a mother. How to continue to spread that amongst the industry is mission critical.

One thing I enjoy is that Cox is partnering with WICT and the SCTE Foundation. The program that I took advantage of about ten years ago, was the WICT SCTE Women’s TechConnect mentoring program. They were trying to take technical females at that middle level in their career and partner them with C-suite, technical leader females.

I was in their entry level class and got paired with Yvette Kanouff, who is fabulous. Getting to talk to this woman who was out there leading a technical company and was a wife and a mother made me think I can do it all, even if I might feel a little crazy some days – it can be done. The partnerships that the cable industry has with WICT and these SCTE programs is mission critical. Now I'm a mentor in this program and getting to connect with other technical females at that middle level in their career and help guide them fills my cup back up every day.

WiC: Speaking of mentoring, have you had any mentors or sponsors who have made a big difference on your career?

PM: Yvette did – she was my mentor who also turned into a sponsor. While I was with SCTE's TechConnect program, I went for my first vice president of engineering interview; I was director of engineering at the time.

Yvette grilled me like I was interviewing with her for the job, and she made a list of areas where I was doing well, and areas where I needed to improve. It was very surgical, very analytical and the areas that I needed to improve on – she worked with me on some of them.

On the sponsorship side – she was on a panel with our product and technology leader from Cox, and she mentioned to him, "Hey, you've got this really great female out in your central region who's going for a VP spot." And he didn't interview me – I didn't report to him – but he made sure people knew I was in the running and that Yvette was recommending me for it. And I got the job. So that's been a mentor/sponsor that helped.

Earlier in my career, I was so lucky to work for two fabulous women. That doesn't happen very much unfortunately, where young women get to work for female leaders. I was really lucky. I give the mentors and the sponsors in my life a lot of credit for where I've ended up in my mid-40s.

WiC: Thinking back to college, they don't always teach those real-world skills such as soft skills and how to present yourself in the workforce, but it sounds like you had some mentors who were able to do that.

PM: One thing I tell people to do is to find somebody who isn't going to just tell you good stuff about yourself, but will give it to you straight. A woman I went to for feedback took notes during one of my presentations. Everyone else said, "You did wonderful." I walked up to her, and she told me that I said "um" 27 times. That is probably one of the best gifts in my career.

Next page: Advice on being an effective leader during COVID-19

WiC: Do you have any other advice for women in management positions or leadership? How to just keep moving forward in this pandemic? It's really challenging for women to balance work and taking care of their family, and now they have to teach their kids, too. Do you have any advice on how to balance all of that?

PM: Overnight we not only went to working from home, but we have to lead differently – we can't just walk down the hall and talk to coworkers. For me, what works and what I would advise other folks to do is a take advantage of programs. There is so much being done in the industry with organizations such as SCTE and WICT to help you with your leadership skills, and the paradigm changes that we're all going through.

I would also make a list of what you are good at and what you are not good at. And for the things that you're not good at, think about who you know in your team who is good at those things and if you can ask for their help.

We can't over exaggerate the need for connection right now. We have to connect with our employees in different ways to continue to inspire them, and make sure they know that "I still see you, and I still see you're doing a great job." Just because they're sitting at home doesn't take away the need for them to hear how much they mean to us in this company. Prioritizing those types of things will take leaders a long way during this timeframe.

WiC: At Cox, is it acceptable for people to have a flexible work schedule to meet their own work requirements, but also help their kids with virtual schooling, for example? Is there some flexibility that the industry needs to have in rethinking the traditional nine-to-five workday?

PM: At Cox we talk a lot about being flexible if an employee is trying to teach off the side of their desk or trying to take care of loved ones who have COVID-19. We've been pretty successful at that and it's not something that needs to go away after this pandemic. It applies not just in the midst of an international pandemic – it applies every single day. We have to continue to work to make it something for the future.

— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Senior Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Kelsey Ziser

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Kelsey is a senior editor at Light Reading, co-host of the Light Reading podcast, and host of the "What's the story?" podcast.

Her interest in the telecom world started with a PR position at Connect2 Communications, which led to a communications role at the FREEDM Systems Center, a smart grid research lab at N.C. State University. There, she orchestrated their webinar program across college campuses and covered research projects such as the center's smart solid-state transformer.

Kelsey enjoys reading four (or 12) books at once, watching movies about space travel, crafting and (hoarding) houseplants.

Kelsey is based in Raleigh, N.C.

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