In our Women Who Inspire series, we’ll be talking to influential women who are making a difference in their communities and the world at large. Through their leadership, we are inspired to do better, work smarter, and continue to create opportunities for women in STEM.
With a 15-year tenure at AT&T and its predecessor companies, Jennifer Van Buskirk is currently the President of the Northeast Region in AT&T's Entertainment Group. With numerous industry awards under her belt, Jennifer is a proven leader who embraces change and energizes people to stay motivated. Take a look at her journey as a woman in tech, and utilize her advice to start a STEM career of your own.
What do you most love about your field and your job?
The entertainment and telecommunication industries are changing so rapidly that nearly every business in the world will be impacted. We are connecting people, machines and devices in ways that we never could have imagined a few years ago. New technology ecosystems are springing to life – fueling innovation and job growth.
I love being a part of it and am proud to lead a passionate, creative team that thrives on competition and a commitment to delivering an excellent customer experience. Together, we are changing the world for the better. The innovations we deliver touch every aspect of how people live, work and play. Very few companies have the ability to improve lives and impact society that we have at AT&T.
What advice can you give women who are seeking a career in a STEM-related field?
STEM is our present and our future. We are so lucky to be part of this incredible shift in our world. Not since the industrial revolution has innovation been this prevalent. It’s exciting and it’s prompting new industries and career opportunities – things we never could have imagined. There has never been a better time to seek a career in STEM. So, with that in mind, find an area of focus that you are passionate about and go for it! Also, commit to being a lifetime learner. We are going through a period of radical change and it will be critical to keep up.
Were there any mentors who have made an impact on your life? If so, who were they and how did you connect?
I had the most incredible physics teacher in high school, who just happened to be a woman. I loved seeing how the mathematical world came to life, in a physical and visual sense, with all the experiments she facilitated in class. Ms. Martin encouraged me to pursue engineering in college and I never looked back – despite being one of only a handful of women in my major. She was the first significant mentor I can remember impacting my career.
Another major influencer for me was Ralph de la Vega. When he was Chief Operating Officer of Cingular Wireless, Ralph chose me to work as his Chief of Staff. He selected me for this position when I was seven months pregnant. That, in itself, immediately made an impression. He took a chance on me. He continued to believe in me, push me outside my comfort zone and encourage me throughout my career. I can't imagine a better leader to exemplify, and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work alongside one of the best in the industry.
What advice do you have for women technologists who are struggling on all-male teams or are hesitant about pursuing STEM because they are entering into a male-dominated arena?
I was one of only a handful of female engineering students in my class at Virginia Tech. I am a huge advocate of STEM education – for both women and men. My advice for anyone struggling when they are in a minority position is – use your voice. Don’t overthink this. Just be confident in yourself and remember that you bring a uniquely valuable perspective to the table. Speak up, contribute and be yourself. Spend more time thinking about how you have a major opportunity to stand out and differentiate ─ and seize it!
What do you think will have the strongest impact on closing the gender gap in STEM-related careers?
We are on the right path, but we have a long way to go. Unfortunately, the gender gap hasn't changed much from when I went to college until today, but I can see the tipping point just ahead. This summer, I had the pleasure of spending time with a group of talented teenagers from Girls Who Code. These young ladies give me hope – and make me proud. I believe the generation we are raising today will excel in STEM because they’ve grown up as so many new technologies have evolved around them. It’s cool to like science, technology, engineering and math now! This shift can only mean good things for our society as a whole, as this new generation comes into the working world.