Gail Johnson of AT&T discusses diversity and leadership in Silicon Valley

photo credit: Steed Media

Gail Johnson understands what it takes to become a great leader. As the VP of Leadership Development and Diversity Initiatives at AT&T, Johnson directs a staff of professionals in the creation and execution of programs with over $20 billion in combined revenue.

During Black Enterprise’s TechConneXt Summit in Silicon Valley, Johnson, who is Harvard educated, took a moment to share her thoughts on leadership in today’s business environment.  

How does your position allow you to help develop new leaders?
My arm of the company is where we bring in the pipeline of leadership. So that is every level in this company and we start with our mid-level managers and above. I work with that sector of the company because we’re always looking for great new talent.

What were some of the skills that got you to where you are today?
I always seem to be the person that takes the jobs that nobody wants. I take the hard jobs. I take the jobs where there’s a lot of opportunity for growth and development.

What are three things that you see in potential leaders that often stop them from being effective leaders?
One of the big things is that they don’t have results behind their names. You can have a great presence, great contacts, but if you don’t have results, it will eventually catch up with you. No matter how big or minuscule a job is, you have to have results by your name. Real hardcore results affect the bottom line in any business. You must also network. Build a network around you that may not make you feel comfortable. Build a network of people who can help you get to where you want to go. Also, bring your true to self to your job. It’s important to be authentic.

Along with engineers and computer scientists, what are other careers that have an impact at AT&T?
We have a ton of different careers. For example, we have a sales teams, but we’re not just looking for someone to just sell products; they have to sell solutions.

How do you ensure that young minorities are given an opportunity after graduating college?
We want the students to know that AT&T is not your grandmother’s telephone company. We want students to work with AT&T because the company is cutting edge. They will see that we have places like the AT&T Foundry and know that they can grow as a tech person in this environment. There is a lot of innovation, creativity and opportunity to grow at AT&T.

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