In our Women Who Inspire series, we are talking to the women who are driving change and innovation at AT&T. Through their passionate efforts, we are inspired to do better, challenge ourselves and our expectations, and continue to promote the growth of women in STEM.
As a respected leader in her field with over 25 years of industry experience, Brooks has laid the foundation for innovative solutions that help drive value to AT&T. From holding positions within Mergers & Acquisitions to leading Investor Relations, she has made an impact in bridging the communication gap between our network and solution providers. Take a look at what inspired her to pursue a career in STEM, and her advice for women chasing her same dream:
What inspired you to pursue a STEM-related career?
My parents nurtured my creative and entrepreneurial spirit from a young age. They encouraged me to be anything I wanted to be and taught me that if you want it bad enough and you work hard enough, the sky is the limit. It inspired my thirst for success and fostered my confidence. Because of them, I never saw a cap on what I could achieve.
What’s the most fascinating aspect of your field to you?
The opportunity to innovate. The marketplace is constantly evolving. Technology is enabling businesses to become smarter and move faster. We have to rethink how we approach business and how we lead—and that’s an exciting challenge to me. About 3.5 years ago, I was asked to create a completely new distribution model for how AT&T goes to market. We created a first-of-its-kind reseller program from scratch and launched it in 90 days. The organization, now known as AT&T Partner Exchange, expands AT&T’s reach in the marketplace using new technology and is growing fast. In October 2014, we created AT&T Partner Solutions to further transform how AT&T serves the indirect marketplace. We scaled what we created in Partner Exchange and merged it with two other go-to-market models: AT&T Wholesale and ACC Business. AT&T Partner Solutions provides customers more flexibility to choose how they want to work with AT&T, igniting their own transformation and helping them innovate the way they do business.
What advice can you give women who are seeking a career in a STEM-related field?
Go for it! When I was young, I loved math. I loved science. I loved to solve problems. I was curious about how things worked and how puzzles fit together. So, I just pursued those interests. I never really identify as a “woman in STEM” who was a leader … I identified with being a leader in a STEM field (who just happened to be a woman). So, be bold. Follow your interests and curiosities. Talk to people you admire – ask about their experiences. Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities and jump right in. Life is too short not to love what you do for a living.
Which female leaders do you admire and why?
There are many leaders I admire – women and men. And I “go to school” on what it is that stands out about each one. From Cathy Coughlin: Be crisp and communicate “headlines and proof points.” From Lori Lee: Create an empowering, “I can help you with that!” culture. From Jim Kahan: Be able to tell someone in 30 seconds how you’re adding value – “the elevator pitch.” From Lea Ann Champion: Everything is possible, so use your noggin and persevere! From Stan Sigman: “Execute! Execute! Execute!”
What advice do you have for women technologists who are struggling on all-male teams?
First, always be yourself. Embrace your unique strengths, background and point of view. Forcing yourself to be someone you’re not is unsustainable. Take your strengths and drive toward value creation – results matter and don’t be afraid to point them out! Second, have the courage to say “yes” to big challenges. Sometimes, women don’t raise their hands because we’re concerned we don’t have ALL the skills required or ALL the answers. Guess what? Nobody does! But, most of us are pretty darn resourceful. Which leads to my third piece of advice: Surround yourself with talented allies – males and female, and use their strengths to complement your own.
What do you think will have the strongest impact on closing the gender gap in STEM-related careers?
Diversity in the workplace matters, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes good business sense. Studies argue that innovative change is less likely to emerge from a homogeneous group, so not only do we need more women in the STEM field, but more overall diversity. Mix of backgrounds, variance in thoughts and approaches to problem-solving makes us stronger, more resilient to marketplace changes and shifts in demand. I think the approach to increasing diversity is threefold:
First, we must cultivate a culture of inclusion, and we need to advocate for each other. An organization should empower people at all levels to voice ideas and contribute to results.
Second, we must all be a part of the conversation. Men also cannot be left out or restrictively invited to conversations. It is a bit ironic when we don’t include them because it makes it seem like their contributions and support are not valued.
Third, we need to be open to the data about where we fall off the rails with our female talent, and then be smart and prescriptive for how we address the issues so that women remain a robust part of our leadership team.