July 1, 2013Welcome 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.

Cynthia G. MarshallMeet: 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.

Read our other #WomenCan profiles:

See how one mom and daughter shared a #WomenCan moment.

Watch and share our #WomenCan Video.

Learn how others are Catalysts for change at Sheryl Sandberg is a Catalyst. How about you?