Rolling Out

Exa Whiteman, AVP at AT&T, discusses cybersecurity and leadership

Exa Whiteman, AVP at AT&T, discusses cybersecurity and leadership
Photo courtesy of AT&T

Exa Whiteman is the assistant vice president of AT&T’s Global Cybersecurity Services, which is responsible for identifying, deterring, and mitigating the damage of cyber-attacks and interruptions to AT&T business customers. She received her master of business administration (MBA) in corporate finance from the University of Dallas and a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. She’s been with AT&T since 2000 and in her current role since May 2016. Prior to her current assignment, Whiteman held various roles within AT&T, including assistant vice president of service management, where she was responsible for ensuring a quality end-to-end customer experience for AT&T’s large enterprise customers; chief of staff for the senior vice president of corporate communications, and a number of other roles where she led key productivity initiatives and worked on the merger and acquisition team related to both SBC/AT&T and AT&T/T-Mobile.

Whiteman is also actively engaged in her community; she currently serves on the board of directors of The Family Gateway Homeless Shelter in Dallas. She’s chaired several programs with Jack and Jill of America, and is also a member of the United Way Women of Tocqueville. Whiteman is also involved with the Trent Middle School PTA Board, where she chairs the diversity and inclusivity position. She currently resides in Frisco, Texas, with her husband David and 12 year-old daughter, Bailey.

Rolling out recently spoke with Whiteman to discuss her leadership role at AT&T, why it’s important for Black women to work in decision-making capacities, and to find out what she considers her superpower as a Black woman.

What are your major responsibilities as the assistant vice president, Global Security Services, ATT?
My major responsibilities include leading a global cybersecurity organization that is charged with protecting AT&T’s managed security customers against cyberattacks by proactively identifying, deterring, and mitigating potential damage of cyberattacks and interruptions to their business. This involves equipping our teams with leading edge technology and resources to ensure vulnerabilities are eradicated and our clients are secure.

How did you obtain your current position as assistant vice president?
I’ve been blessed to work for a company that has afforded me the opportunity to work in many different roles over the last 18 years. As opportunities have presented themselves over the years, I’ve consistently raised my hand to take on new challenges. Those challenges and opportunities have contributed to my preparation to perform at the AVP level with AT&T.

As a Black woman, what do you consider your superpower?
I believe my superpower is grit: the ability to thrive amid uncertainty and chaos. It’s one thing to just survive challenges and it’s another to thrive by quickly assessing the situation at hand and putting actions in place to push forward—making things happen!

What thoughtful or encouraging piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell my younger self that, “Your ideas and what you have to say are valuable, even if they sound or look different than your co-workers. Embrace your diversity and uniqueness because it’s needed, valid, and powerful.”

Why is it important for women of color to lead or work in leadership roles and decision-making capacities?
Although statics have proven that diverse organizations are more successful and profitable, many corporations struggle to diversify their workforce. The more people of color we have in leadership roles, the faster we can move the needle on diversity by bringing conscious and unconscious biased hiring decisions to the forefront. Not to mention, the unique perspective we bring to the table due to our culture and backgrounds.

If you could thank any Black woman history maker for her contributions to society, who would it be and why? 
I would definitely like to say thank you to Michelle Obama. She was one of the most powerful First Ladies in history. She demonstrated what it looks like to be a highly educated, career woman, advisor to the President, mother, wife, philanthropist, and advocate and do it with power and grace.

How do you feel about the hashtag #CollaborationOverCompetition? 
Competition can lead to success, but collaboration can lead to excellence. Collaboration means taking the best from each individual, team, or group and combining it together—it’s hard to lose with a winning combination.

Why is it important for seasoned and experienced Black women to reach back and help younger women of color? 
It is extremely important that Black women support each other at all levels. That is the only way we are going to make progress in diversity. We can’t wait for someone else to make a way for younger women of color; it’s up to us to champion for our sisters.

What are three success habits you implement into your daily routine to maintain your success, sanity, peace of mind, etc.?
Start the day focused on a short list of the top two-three items I must get done that day. Everything else is noise.
Owning my time. Prioritizing and setting boundaries around my calendar, meetings and appointments. It’s important that I have time to focus on my organization’s priorities, strategies, and personal development. A priority on someone else’s desk is not necessarily my top priority for the day. Finding time for “white space” — time to just be still, think, meditate, and breathe to relieve stress.

If you could have any person in the world become your mentor, who would you choose and why?
Not trying to be redundant … but, it would be Michelle Obama due to her ability to manage through the ups and downs of the Obama presidency, which also involved personal and racial attacks. She went through all of that while still being a great wife, mother, and supporting the causes she was passionate about with dignity and poise.

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