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.
Sara Straley has a passion for marketing technology and leading teams to conquer big things. From her first role at AT&T as a Manager in Network Services to her current position, she has consistently coached teams and implemented strategies to increase sales and enhance products. Learn more about her experiences in STEM:
What inspired you to pursue a STEM-related career?
I’m a marketer at heart, and one of the best things about marketing is getting to be a part of the next big thing. In marketing, you always need to stay on top of – if not ahead of – what’s current and relevant. And what’s more relevant today than technology? It touches almost every aspect of our lives globally, and the pace of innovation in this field is unparalleled. It’s extremely exciting to be a part of.
What do you love about your job most?
I have the opportunity to work with a set of top-notch leaders as well as a lot of up-and-coming leaders. Collectively, we all push each other to learn, develop and deliver amazing results.
Plus, our industry is constantly evolving, and AT&T’s vision for how to shape this change in innovation is really inspiring. I love that I get to work for a company with that kind of vision. We’re not waiting for innovation to happen – we’re shaping it.
What advice can you give women who are seeking a career in a STEM-related field?
No matter what field you’re pursuing, a key to success is understanding the unique value you can bring that’s above and beyond your job description. It could be anything that’s rare or in high demand, such as stellar communication skills, special technical expertise, the ability to identify and develop top talent, or the ability to build a dynamic team culture. Discovering and applying that little something extra can really help you unlock your full potential, differentiate your personal brand and boost your career.
What advice do you have for women technologists who are struggling on all-male teams or are hesitant about pursing STEM because they are entering into a male-dominated arena?
One piece of advice I would offer is that there are plenty of companies in the STEM industry that value diversity and women in leadership, AT&T being a real leader among them. Find those companies. Find the ones that will develop you and that foster a culture of inclusion.
Even if you’re working through a challenging team dynamic, I think it is really important to always bring your best self to work. No matter what. Show up and be present and engaged every day.
Do your best to connect with peers, especially the ones you’re struggling with the most, and evaluate your team to understand what gaps need to be filled. When you establish trust, build relationships and bring extra value to the table, barriers are easier to break down.
Why do you think women are leaving the STEM arena? And what can employers do to retain more women in STEM?
Employers should assess their company culture to ensure they’re promoting a sustainable, healthy environment for employees across all levels. With today’s always-on, hyper-connected mentality, employees are increasingly struggling with maintaining a work/life balance. It’s causing many to step out of the career fast lane or to leave the workforce entirely.
This can hit women particularly hard, as they begin having children at the same time they may be hitting their stride in their career. They feel like they have to choose one over the other. Companies that foster a culture of balance and a healthy lifestyle will be the ones that attract and retain top talent in the long run.
What do you think will have the strongest impact on closing the gender gap in STEM-related careers?
We need to stress that there are a lot of different ways to be involved with STEM. Whether you have a strong background in a STEM field or a more generalized business skill set, there’s room for you to get involved and excel in a STEM-related field. It takes a diverse set of skills to develop, build, launch, market, sell and manage products and services. You just need to determine where you fit.
What are some common traits of women who are game-changers in the industry today?
To me, the game changers are women who model a complete lifestyle, with a focus not just on their career, but on the importance of maintaining a full, happy life. Sometimes this means NOT being obsessed with your career. These are the women who lead by example, showing younger women that you can be successful while also having a personal life. Young women can’t grow up to be what they can’t see. So seeing successful women who balance careers, families, health and personal lives will help young women envision themselves in this industry.
Were there any mentors who have made an impact on your life? If so, who were they and how did you connect?
I’ve had the opportunity to participate in several AT&T programs that support leadership development. Through these programs, as well as through informal mentorship, I’ve worked with experienced leaders who have provided me candid insight and guidance as I work through my own career journey. Their advice has not only made me a better leader, but it’s helped me become a mentor to others.
Great advice and mentorship don’t only come from accomplished leaders. I’ve found that my peers, team members and industry contacts have all played influential roles in shaping my growth professionally.
Connect with Sara on Twitter.