Mentor Monday: Sprint's Tracy Nolan

Sprint's Chicago boss shares her thoughts on creating a culture of inclusion and both fitting in and standing out as a woman in comms.

Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms

September 7, 2015

6 Min Read
Mentor Monday: Sprint's Tracy Nolan

Tracy Nolan holds a new position at Sprint as the president and general manager of Chicago, Illinois and Wisconsin, which could be one reason why she's pledged to bring over 1,000 other new jobs to her city within the next year.

She is the woman in charge of overseeing Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s Sprint for Chicago initiative, announced in March. At the time, the carrier promised to bring 540 additional jobs to the region -- 300 in Chicago alone -- but last week it upped the ante again -- pledging to add another 750 jobs to the city before the end of 2016. (See The Woman Behind Sprint's Chicago Shakeup and Sprint to Bring 540 Jobs, LTE-A to Chicago .)

The new positions will include retail employees, wireless experts and network technicians and engineers to help upgrade the network to LTE-Advanced here. They will join Chicago's 800 existing Sprint employees across 160 Chicago stores. Even as the carrier has had several rounds of layoffs in the past year, it's investing in Chicago as its marquee market for its LTE network and customer experience. (See Sprint to Cut 2,000 More Jobs and Sprint Cuts 452 Jobs at Kansas HQ.)

Nolan also hopes to make Chicago, where she now lives and works, a model for diversity in employees and openness in culture. Empowering women is an important cause for the Chicago boss, who also mentors high school girls in her spare time. In a recent interview with Light Reading, she shared her insights into how to create a culture of inclusion, as well as how to both fit in and stand out as a woman in comms. (See What Is Your Company's Gender IQ?)

Figure 1: Nolan Sprints for Chicago Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel join Tracy Nolan, president and general manager of the Chicago region, in announcing Sprint's re-upped commitment to the city. Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel join Tracy Nolan, president and general manager of the Chicago region, in announcing Sprint's re-upped commitment to the city.

Mentor Mondays is a regular feature on Light Reading's Women in Comms site, highlighting top professionals from across the industry. If you are a female leader in the comms industry who would like to share your perspective, please get in touch!

Light Reading: What is the number one challenge for women in comms that is different from the challenges faced by men?

Tracy Nolan: When you look at women in business and especially in telecom and technical roles, I still think there aren't enough women in those businesses. Over the years, I've always watched when I get on a plane, and in the first-class seats, there is never an equal pairing of men and women. It could be the types of jobs that cause women to travel or not, but there is a definite need to increase the number of women overall in business.

LR: Do women need to act like men to get ahead in their workplaces?

TN: Part of what differentiates women in the workplace is [that we tend to be] nurturing and caring and our ability to listen about issues and problems and to problem solve. We're great problem solvers.

When I mentor women in business, I find it fascinating that we'll be in a meeting and when something controversial comes up, men forget about the debate, and women rehash it so much in their brains. Women will say, "I was thinking about blah blah," but I'll say, "It's over. It was over 20 minutes ago." We're so conscientious. We need to be able to act like a man in that they leave it at the table and then move on. Just because it's a hard conversation, no one is judging you on that. You're judged on your overall business. We have a habit of believing that every interaction will change the mindset.

LR: How would you classify Sprint's culture in relation to diversity and women?

TN: It's interesting -- being from a Midwest company in Kansas, diversity in the town certainly isn't huge. What's changing is that we are becoming a much more diverse company overall. If you look at the folks [Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure] is bringing in, they are extremely diverse from all over the world. He's doing worldwide searches. The overall factor is we realize we need our base of employees to match how diverse our consumers are. It's a huge focus for us overall. It's changing, but it's naturally changing. We're not holding quotas out there. It's just naturally changing. (See Sprint Swaps in a New CFO, COO & CTO, Sprint Taps Brazilian Mobile Exec to Head Innovation and Sprint Appoints Ex-Bell Media Exec as CMO .)

Our leadership team needs to mirror our consumer base. I've always felt that way. You want differences of opinions and backgrounds to make your business successful.

LR: How can we, as an industry, encourage more young girls to enter -- and stay in -- the comms or STEM space?

TN: I think number one we can do a better job of showing how exciting the industry is overall. Some folks can look at technology as being boring or don't open their eyes to the different opportunities in telco and communications that they can add to. It's about broadening the understanding of what it all can be.

I went to Clarkson University and was chairman of the business council. It had a six-to-one ratio of boys to girls. What was interesting was that most of my friends are engineers. I wanted to know enough about it to be dangerously able to communicate about what's going on and make decisions, but you don’t have to have a technical engineering degree in telecom. There's a lot more there. I spend time working with the school about how to broaden it for the communications industry and to create the excitement and buzz about the positions and the jobs.

LR: As a leader, what is the number one piece of personal advice you would give to help women achieve their goals in a male-dominated field?

TN: I come from an upper-middle class family... My grandfather was a minister, so it was prim and proper. I'll be the first to ask if anyone needs anything when we're sitting in a room. I've had to be super careful of not taking that servant role or caring role just because I'm a woman at the table at work. I don't have to ask people if they want coffee. Our instinct is to nurture and care. Women have to step back and make sure they are not seen in that light because of how we do things.

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

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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