Leadership has traditionally been viewed as a top-down endeavor. The official definition, per Merriam-Webster, describes it as “the office or position of a leader” — but that’s a narrative the members of T-Mobile’s Women’s Leadership Network (WLN) don’t necessarily agree with.
Founded in 2013 under the motto “Lead From Every Chair,” the women of the WLN view leadership as a mindset that transcends rank or title. It’s something that every woman can embody in her career, and the network aims to make that happen by equipping members with professional development resources and workshops that cover topics like personal finance and work-life balance. (The WLN isn’t the only place within T-Mobile where this level of support is evident, though; women here rave about both their “fabulous, caring, supportive coworkers” as well as the “strong female leadership that’s willing to give their time and talent to advance other women.” )
To learn more about what makes the WLN such a valuable resource to T-Mobile’s female workforce — which is primed to grow — we spoke to members from across the country about the ways this employee resource group has shaped them professionally.
Kenitra Williams — Manager, Software Development & Technology
Kenitra Williams’ involvement with the WLN’s Atlanta chapter is truly a labor of love — it’s difficult to imagine how she’d make time for it if it was anything but.
“I’m married, I have three kids, I run a nonprofit, and I work full time. I also recently went back to school to obtain a masters in organizational management, which T-Mobile paid for in full. So there’s a lot to juggle,” she said with a laugh.
Out of all the items in her chock-full schedule, though, Williams calls her position as WLN chair one of the most rewarding, as well as a “career lifeline.”
“One of my favorite things about working at T-Mobile is that we have these outlets for diversity and inclusion and that I have the opportunity to be a part of them and lead one. But not only that, it’s a lot of fun,” she explained. “It’s a great space for anyone to come in to understand, to grow, and to share. We say that we all ‘lead from every chair’ — that’s the mantra we have — and not only do we talk about it, but we live it, and we’re able to hold each other accountable as well.”
Part of this accountability involves recruiting yet more T-Mobile women to benefit from the WLN’s programming, something that Williams does with gusto.
“When I’m out and about in retail stores or call centers near us, I’m always pitching WLN,” she said. “One of the most positive things that’s happened to me throughout this process has been seeing people from our retail stores or call centers come in when we’re discussing a technology topic and seeing the light come on for some of those folks.”
Getting to engage with other like-minded women on topics and issues in the tech space has led to a pretty significant impact for attendees. For some, it serves to demystify technology and even spark a career interest in it.
“They say, ‘Well, you know what, I don’t know how to develop software and may not know how to design it, but I’m a user of this software that you all have designed and developed, so I have a vested interested and voice that can be shared in the IT space,’” Williams, who herself started at T-Mobile as a contractor before moving into software development, said. “Many of those team members then want to transition into IT. And that’s an exciting thing to see happen.”
Jamia Naylor — Employee Success Advisor, Human Resources
Jamia Naylor’s post as a Diversity & Inclusion Leader at T-Mobile led her to join the WLN in February 2016, and it’s been an impactful two years since. Not only has she seen the network aid her own professional development, but she recognizes the positive influence it has on company culture overall, too.
“The WLN provides me with great resources and a strong network of people and leaders, and building relationships and having those connections is so important for professional growth,” Naylor explained. “It takes a supportive team working together to truly make a positive impact to the business. And the more we support one another in reaching our personal professional goals, as well as the company’s goals, then the more the business thrives.”
One way the WLN helps women — and by extension T-Mobile, thrive — is by promoting growth within the company’s female pipeline.
“The WLN gives women the courage to excel without the worry they’ll be ‘stuck’ in one position or at the same salary for years; it’s what encourages me to continue to improve upon my own skills and talents,” she said. “I love that T-Mobile is a company that encourages promotion from within. Over the last four-and-a-half years I have been here, I have seen so much growth from within, and it’s a motivation to me to do my best.”
This promise of career advancement is a major benefit, she adds, given that women at some corporations “aren’t utilized and promoted in the same capacity as men.” At T-Mobile, though, Naylor feels her professional development is a real priority — she received financial aid to obtain her PHR certification, and internal and external training opportunities are continually emphasized. On top of that, her WLN involvement means she regularly gets access to top female leaders at T-Mobile, and their paths can serve as a template for her own career growth.
“When I hear T-Mobile’s female senior leaders, like our Executive Vice President of Customer Care, Callie Field, speak on calls, I’m motivated to continue to invest in myself, make connections within the company, and mentor other women,” Naylor said. “I believe if we encourage one another, then the company will benefit overall.”
Lauri Bingham — Director, Technology PMO
Looking back on the WLN’s “very grassroots” beginnings, Lauri Bingham, now a board member for her local chapter, is filled with no shortage of pride.
“We started out just trying to get a group of women in tech to talk about the challenges they were facing, and we got about 18 people in a room,” Bingham recalled. “Fast forward three years later, and we have 10 different locations that are hosting these meetings with about 250 attendees across those locations. The joy that we get walking into those rooms now and seeing 35 to 50 women discussing these topics — it warms our hearts.”
Of course, numbers alone don’t constitute true value. What Bingham describes as the biggest reward to come from the WLN’s growth lies in getting to see the difference it’s making for members, including those who are sent to more than 60 women in tech conferences each year on the network’s behalf.
“I get to see how it’s impacting others’ careers, and to me, this isn’t just about me,” she said. “I get more jazzed when other people are able to make strides in their careers because of the work we’re doing.”
That’s not to say Bingham’s career isn’t benefiting from her WLN involvement, as well — far from it. She now does speaking engagements for groups both inside and outside of T-Mobile, talking to audiences as large as 200 people, and she credits the WLN with prepping her for this opportunity.
“It certainly has pushed me out of my comfort zone in terms of public speaking, and that’s really expanded my skill set,” she said. “I actually just recorded a podcast with the Project Management Institute, and I know that if someone had presented me with that opportunity five years ago, I would have felt super nervous. But thanks to these speaking engagements with the WLN, I felt way more comfortable.”
That sense of comfort, Bingham says, partly derives from the knowledge that she belongs to a community of like-minded women who have her back. And that’s a feeling she hopes yet more women get to experience by joining the WLN.
“We want to make it known that people can come to T-Mobile and be supported in that respect,” she said. “You’re respected for your opinions, you’re respected for your different way of thinking and the different approach you bring to the team, and it makes all of our team decisions that much stronger… we’re here together, and we’re here in a very positive way to make things better.”
Aileen Cromwell Thomas — Senior Program Manager, Customer Loyalty
Aileen Cromwell Thomas knows a thing or two about loyalty. Not only does she head up the Customer Loyalty’s metrics team, she’s also been at T-Mobile, in positions stationed across the Southeast, for 17 years. The company culture makes it easy to stay, Cromwell Thomas said.
“T-Mobile is a great company that really embraces diversity,” she explained. “They encourage their employees to be who they are and create a challenging but fun work environment.”
Cromwell Thomas joined the WLN while working as an Associate Director for T-Mobile in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Though she’s found value in the network through its “opportunities to gain insight from fantastic leaders with diverse stories,” what appeals to her most is the sense of community it provides.
“The best part is the daily interactions with other women (or men, for that matter) who want to learn and grow and in turn help you do the same,” she said.
Sometimes, that opportunity for joint learning and growth presents itself in unexpected ways. Through the WLN, she was recently able to connect with a member who had experienced fertility challenges — a topic Cromwell Thomas herself is familiar with.
“She was able to (conceive) after an emotionally trying time, and she discussed the pressures of being a woman who struggled with infertility,” Cromwell Thomas explained. “Her story touched me personally because I also have had the same challenge with different results. It reminded me that as women leaders, it’s not always about the office. Sometimes we are called to lead in other ways.”
It’s this ability to lead in all facets of life that makes the WLN so empowering, she said — especially in today’s political and social climate.
“When companies have these types of organizations, they open the door to dialog and ensure the discussion stays in the forefront,” she said. “They also send a clear message that they value the women in their company and understand that they have a unique perspective that brings a lot to the team.”
Does this sound as fabulous to you as it does to us? Thankfully, T-Mobile is looking to welcome more female talent into its community, so check out all the positions they have open today!