July 1, 2013 — Welcome to the latest in our series of #WomenCan profiles, highlighting executives who are Catalysts for change in their careers and their companies. This week, the spotlight is on Cynthia G. Marshall, Senior Vice-President, Human Resources, AT&T, who empowers employees to be comfortable being themselves at work.
Meet: Cynthia G. Marshall, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, AT&T
Early influences: I grew up very poor in a public housing project. My mother taught us: “It’s not where you live, it’s how you live.” She gave me a math book and a Bible and told me, “These two books will get you out of poverty.” Some people told us we’d never amount to anything, but I told my younger sister, “We’re going to be the first in this family to go to college, we’re going to get our mother out of the projects, and I will be president of something someday.” I ended up being president of AT&T North Carolina, but at the time I was probably thinking more along the lines of President of the United States!
Career path: I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, with degrees in Business Administration and Human Resources Management. I joined Pacific Bell in July 1981, and have over 30 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, holding a variety of management positions in operations, human resources, network engineering and planning, and regulatory/external affairs. As President, AT&T North Carolina, I was directly responsible for the company’s regulatory, legislative, and community affairs activities in the state. In December 2012, I was named to my current position as Senior Vice President, Human Resources, AT&T, where I am responsible for developing and directing human resource programs for AT&T’s 240 thousand employees. I love being in a place where I can truly impact people’s lives every day.
Management style: I want to empower employees to be themselves. People don’t go into a phone booth and change into superheroes when they come to work. They come in with their own backgrounds, foundations, and beliefs. When I started working, I was so poor I only had one work outfit. A mid-level supervisor lovingly told me, “Get rid of those red hooker shoes and take out those braids.” I went home and cried and called my mama, and she helped me take out the braids, and we got church friends to lend me some acceptable shoes. Now, I wear whatever the heck I want to wear—I have on polka dot shoes right now!
Best advice: Be present in the moment! I don’t take my phone into meetings, unless I’m waiting for one of my kids to call. As women, we’re great multi-taskers, but if you’re looking at your phone you’ll miss things, and people will notice.
Hear more of Cynthia’s comments from the Catalyst Connects panel at our 2013 Catalyst Awards Conference.
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