Having a diverse employee base drives better performance and greater innovation at enterprises. In other words, hiring and promoting more women, people of color, LGBTQ candidates, and persons from other overlooked populations is good for business. According to Deloitte’s Technology, Media, and Telecommunications: Predictions 2022 study, diversity numbers, particularly for women in tech, have been slowly creeping up for years. COVID-19 proved to be a setback for women. During the pandemic, women were disproportionately burdened by home concerns, childcare, education, and layoffs. Despite this, many technology companies continued hiring and growing women in tech.
Lumen Technologies is one tech business that has stayed on track by cultivating female leaders and staying committed to diversity and inclusion. For the last two years, Forbes has named Lumen to its Best Employers for Diversity list.
We spoke with five women in tech who are leaders in the Lumen Mass Markets Connected Communities segment. As they looked back over their decades in the industry, these female leaders discussed the hard work, relationships, and can-do attitudes that got them where they are today.
A star-studded cast
These highly accomplished women in tech have won numerous awards and accolades along their career journeys. In addition to being standout performers with Quantum Fiber, a Lumen Technologies brand, they’ve served on corporate or association boards and volunteered their time generously. Most importantly, they are leaders in their communities.
Take Sabrina Gentry, Connected Communities Business Development Sales Manager, in Washington State. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, she has spent 22 years in the tech industry. She has achieved the Qwest Chairman’s Award, the One Team award, two consecutive Center of Excellence (COE) awards, and multiple Top Sales Manager awards. She’s also an avid contributor to charity. Over the years, her family has participated in eight home builds for the disadvantaged in Mexico.
The other Quantum Fiber women in tech have similarly impressive CVs and community leadership experience. Aileen Kramer, manager of the national sales team for Quantum Fiber Connected Communities, has worked in the tech industry for 24 years. She won the prestigious President’s Club award for her contributions to launching DSL. Kramer also works with the Little Brothers of the Elderly, frequently visiting to chat and hold hands with people who would otherwise be shut in. When COVID-19 struck, she persevered, keeping in touch with telephone calls and letters.
Tracy Seifried is the manager of the Connected Communities sales team in Arizona and a 41-year telecom industry veteran. She has participated in and completed executive leadership programs aimed at identifying leaders throughout the organization. Her decades of deep experience in the industry, along with her entrepreneurial spirit, enable her to be a catalyst for creating contracted sales teams. She has successfully completed numerous programs in commercial sales, events, residential sales, and multi-dwelling unit (MDU) conversions.
Interestingly, the people who have most inspired these women have come from close to home.
When asked, they did not name famous women—or men—in business, politics, sports, or entertainment. Instead, most pointed to family members.
Rather, parents were the top choice. “My mom inspires me, she always works hard for what she wants and never gives up,” says Cayce Renshall. Renshall is a Connected Communities Sales Manager who started working in the tech industry while in college 17 years ago.
“My father had the most inspirational work ethic of anyone I have ever known,” recalls Gentry. Her father, she says, persevered in starting a business from scratch. “And although his perseverance has stayed with me, it was his ‘servant leadership’ for his employees that I really admired,” she says. “When he passed away in 1996, the remaining employees purchased the business to continue his legacy.”
Sarah Jordan, Director of Sales for Connected Communities with 15 years of industry experience, agrees. “My father instilled consistent behaviors of faith, perseverance, resilience, strong relationships, and of course, spunk for when all other behaviors fail.”
The key to success: relationships
Perhaps not surprising (given where their inspiration comes from), when asked for advice on how to climb the corporate ladder, the Quantum Fiber women in tech urged other women to network and build relationships that are both wide and deep.
“Build relationships within all silos, levels, and organizations,” advises Jordan, based in Omaha. “These relationships will help you navigate the course of your entire career.”
Gentry says to seek connections with both women and men, in and out of your channel, as well as outside of Lumen. “And set a quarterly sync-up with your network to discuss growth, challenges, and goals,” she says.
Self-knowledge and self-reflection are also key. “Read business books to constantly learn, grow, and reflect on your own behaviors,” says Jordan. She recommends reading Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People “at least once a year.”
And advice to their younger selves
Interestingly, the top piece of motivational advice most would give to their younger selves is to be more… patient.
“Don’t be in such a hurry to get through life,” says Seifried. “Sometimes it doesn’t seem like progress is being made, but it is.”
Kramer would have told herself, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” And on a similar note, Jordan advises, “assume good intent, and practice patience.”
Only Gentry bucked the trend. She says she would have fired herself up more by urging her younger self to finish her business degree despite all the difficulties. “Once I got out of the Air Force and started a family, I always made the excuse I didn’t have time for work, family, and school. I wish I would have sacrificed and made it work.”
Hurdles facing women in tech
Are there still barriers against women in tech? Yes, certainly. But the Lumen female leaders we spoke to prefer to look ahead and focus on solutions rather than problems.
“There have been times in my career where I have been second-guessed by a client,” says Kramer. “I’ve seen them look to a male coworker for validation that I was correct.”
What does she do in such cases? “Continue the conversation and take back attention,” she says. “Focus on being a great collaborator—and don’t be afraid to speak up.”
Gentry has noticed “communication-style” challenges through the years. “Generally, workforce discussions are data-driven and make-a-decision-oriented,” she says. Although these things are important, it is just as critical to bring “relationship considerations and out-of-the-box thinking to the discussion table.”
However, Gentry is hesitant to make this into a gender construct. She instead urges managers to understand that there are different communication styles. “Identify the styles of those around you,” so all can have their say.
Indeed, Seifried, believes there are no barriers, and that women today have a “level playing field.”
Renshall points out that even if the paths upward were truly equal, women tend to have more responsibilities to juggle at any given point. “Many have family obligations and yet are still expected to produce the same output at work as their male counterparts,” she says.
Everyone agreed that surrounding themselves with a caring and empathic community is critical. The most important thing, stresses Jordan, is “to build a good support system that helps you navigate through all the challenges that arise.”
Rich personal lives and interests
Life isn’t all work for these women. Renshall loves to travel. She has checked off 26 countries so far, with multiple destinations on her calendar for this year as the world opens up again. “I am especially focused on places where I can go scuba diving,” she adds.
Seifried wakes up at 5 a.m. every day to walk her Siberian Huskey—that’s four miles a day. She also enjoys keeping up her gardening hobby, with travel also thrown into the mix.
Gentry lives on five acres of land 40 miles Southeast of Seattle. She participates in the sport of Cowboy Fast Draw, where participants shoot real .45 caliber single-action revolvers with rubber bullets to see who can hit the target the fastest. “My fastest time in competition is .480, less than a half a second,” she says.
Kramer, based in Minnesota, also loves to travel, especially to national parks. She is hooked on project.vanlife on Instagram. She hopes to hit the road in her own travel van at some point soon.
Serendipitous paths to success
Most did not initially choose their current career paths—but profess pride and a sense of achievement when considering where they ended up.
Seifried wanted to be a zookeeper. Renshall hoped to be a lawyer. Kramer thought she’d like to write jingles for an advertising agency. Gentry had dreams of being a fashion designer, but when her parents saw the price tag of the California arts school she had chosen, it was a hard no. “So, I took a hard left into the USAF and became ‘Private Benjamin,’” she says.
Seifried started in the industry as an individual contributor. She looks back with a sense of accomplishment she could pivot from that to management to sales and still be a top performer.
Kramer reflects upon introducing DSL to her team—and the world—with immense pride. “At the time, it was a foreign technology, and the team was hesitant to talk about it,” she says. “I took great satisfaction in seeing my sales team educate customers and bring them into the new digital world.”
While Jordan was still growing in her sales leadership role with Quantum Fiber, she also decided to pursue an MBA. “At this time, I was leading a sales organization, I was a full-time student, a mother, and was also caring for my elderly parents,” she says. Her time management, organizational, and stress management skills were put to the ultimate test. Yet, “I managed to find my cadence, allowing me to succeed, despite all the hats I was wearing,” she says.
Strength, determination—and flexibility—make the future bright
Their personal mantras reflect a common belief in the importance of flexibility and resiliency. Renshall’s mantra is “She believed she could, and she did.” Gentry likes Bruce Lee’s admonishment to “Be like water.”
“It’s about being open-minded and able to adapt to the circumstances we are put in,” she says. Jordan’s mantra reflects that attitude too. Whether they knew it or not, all the women were tuned to a similar channel.
“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional,” says Jordan. “Choose growth.”