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Women in Leadership Reflect on Women’s History Month

We are proud to celebrate Women’s History Month at UScellular. As a part of that celebration, we sat down with  women leaders across the company to talk about their accomplishments, their challenges, the support they received and the support they extend to women and girls everywhere. 

In what ways has a community of women or a woman mentor in your life supported you to achieve your personal and professional goals?

Deirdre Drake, Executive Vice President, Chief People Officer and Head of Communications: I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve had well-defined communities of women in my major career moves over the last 15 years. Early on you don’t appreciate how much you need these informal counselors. These congregations of women have remained in a circle of influence and they are people who "have been there and done that”. You can talk to them about what’s in front of you like situations that arise in the workplace. They can provide balance and be a sounding board. They provide the types of inquiry that help you think about things you wouldn’t have if left to your own devices. They have been invaluable arrows in my quiver.

Denise Lintz, Vice President, Enterprise Portfolio Management and Technology Shared Services: On a personal level, my mom was incredibly supportive of me - she told me I could do anything I wanted to do. In high school, I was interested in computers, and she said there was no way she could stop me.  Some of my most recent mentors have been Marsha Lehr and Nancy Fratzke when it comes to the workplace. Before becoming a VP, Marsha helped me with my presentation style and would ask me questions to prepare me for what I might get asked in a presentation. Nancy has helped me in the officer group from the pre-review and post-review and advised me on enterprise leadership. They all helped me to grow.  

Nancy Fratzke, Vice President, Customer Support: It’s interesting because as a formal mentor – I’ve never had a formal female mentor. The female mentors in my life have been more organic. I look at people in my life who make a difference, who stand out in a positive light and I think, “I want to be like that person.” As I matured in my career and my thinking, I would reflect on my mom, who was a great role model for me. She never worried about what she didn’t have because she learned to be happy with what she already had. My goal was to be like her - a good steward of what you already have. The characteristic I strive to have is that when I have an interaction with people, they leave feeling good about the time we spent together. Did I pour light and life into the coaching, the connection and conversation we just had? Everyone has the right to feel valued and I want to make sure I bring that to our time together. Tough conversations need to happen, the important thing is to make sure everyone leaves the conversation better not defeated.

What advice would you give to a young girl/student looking to work in the tech industry?

Kim Kerr, Senior Vice President, Enterprise Sales and Operations: There’s never a better time to be in this industry. You are neither late nor early – it’s a great time to enter the technology field. One piece of advice; always be curious. Be curious about how your role impacts the organization and know who your customers are; not just the external end customer but your internal-at-work customers.  Thinking that way will make you more effective in your current and future roles. You’ll gain better insights in the role and you’ll make better decisions knowing how your work impacts your colleagues and others at your company.  Also, when the opportunities arise, get involved in other areas and/or serve on special projects to broaden your experiences  and this can enable you to meet a lot more people.  Lasty, don’t be afraid to take risks in your career.  Seek out new career opportunities even if your background does not exactly match the requirements of the role.  As women, we often think we need to have 90% of the skills and experience listed for a particular opportunity.  I say, go for the job that you want.  The worst case is that you get it and then take on the challenge to learn and master that role.

Deirdre Drake: It’s exciting, it’s ever-changing and you should just jump right in. Explore everything to see what most interests you: engineering, strategy, IT, infrastructure support, you name it. The opportunities are boundless even in this one vertical of the telecommunications field. Determine where your passion lies. There are many organizations and companies that will help inquisitive minds find their passion. Get in and learn as much as you can. More than ever for young women, there are role models that look like them and that chart paths. But don’t isolate yourself to only those that only look like you – there are plenty of people that can influence you. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do because you can do whatever you set your mind to do.

What is an accomplishment you are proud to share about your own history of being a woman in the workforce?

Denise Lintz: I am proud of the recent partnership between UScellular and Girls Who Code. I was able to talk to the CEO, Tarika Barrett. I was able to learn about Tarika, who is a pioneer in leading initiatives to address inequities of women in workplace and closing the gender gap in technology.  

Kim Kerr: Work has always been a core part of who I am because it’s been a passion of mine. I want to wake up and feel passionate about what I do every day and the impact I have on others.  I am proud that I have built and led highly successful teams throughout my career.  Twice in my career, I have been a part of two large company acquisitions where I worked for the company being acquired.  You lead from the front and it was not easy but well worth getting them through the merger. I’m most proud when I know I’ve made an impact on someone’s life/career - believing in them, encouraging and coaching them and seeing them flourish. That just feels good.

Nancy Fratzke: At every company, I’ve always started at the bottom and worked my way up. My first job out of college I started at a customer service representative and moved up to an assistant general manager. At UScellular, I worked part time as a customer service rep and worked my way up. Truly understanding the different jobs and how it feels to be in that job it helps me understand what’s great – and what’s not so great about it. I’ve always been willing to take on the next challenge. For my daughter and my granddaughter, I think, won’t it be great when we don’t have to worry about our gender in the workplace? I want her to be great at whatever she’s doing because she’s great at it and not because she’s a woman.

What is something that you saw as a challenge that ended up being a gift to you in your career? How do you use that “gift” now?

Marsha Lehr, Vice President, Digital Experience and E-Commerce: For much of my career, I worked in fields that were predominantly male.  One of the challenges I faced was overcoming gender-based assumptions and limitations that were automatically applied to me because I was female. The process of overcoming these challenges allowed me to do the work I wanted to do, and in hindsight, paved the way for future opportunities and growth. One of my earliest experiences with this was in high school. I was working manual labor for my hometown’s park district. The crew boss would make the assignments each morning, always giving me the “lightest” work. One morning, I asked if I could be put on one of the “heavy” crews. He was clearly surprised and uncomfortable – not quite sure how to answer. Finally, he said, “okay, let’s give it a try.” I heard the skepticism in his voice and was determined to earn his confidence. I was focused on doing the work and I wanted to be sure I wasn’t overlooked because of assumptions that others might be making about my capabilities. Every morning after that, I was assigned to the “heavy” crews and by the time I graduated high school, I had been promoted several times and ended up running the operation while I was in college. Those early experiences helped me to continue to advocate for myself. My advice to anyone who wants to continue to grow in their career is to look for opportunities and prove that you can contribute. Don’t be hesitant to ask for the opportunity you want, and if you get it, impress the heck out of them!

What is important for women to do today to ensure a future for young women and girls, giving them the access to achieve their full potential?

Verchele Roberts, Vice President, Brand Management: It’s important for this generation of women to role model, set the example and put in place mentorship. I’m passionate about that. It’s played a big role in my life. It’s important that we reach out to women sooner. Think about reaching out to the age of girls in a Boys and Girls Club. The impressionable nature of young girls gives us a chance to role model and be the example. Young women I know now when they were younger reached out to me and told me I was a role  model for them and that they looked up to me. They were guided by it. You never know who is watching and who you may touch. Had I known, I may have done more at that time. You are never too young to start shaping those impressions.

Pam Moore-Thompson, Vice President, Talent Strategies and Organizational Effectiveness: It is important to be authentic. There is no one right way to do things, and there is no perfect leader. People bring a variety of personalities, styles and diverse backgrounds to whatever they are doing, and all of it has a place. It’s important for young women to stay true to their authentic selves and to leverage their strengths to help them meet their objectives and achieve their potential.

What would your grandmother or great-grandmother say about the accomplishments that you and other women have made today?

Pam Moore-Thompson: My grandmother was an amazing woman. She was born in 1895. In the mid-1900s, she was able to secure property for herself and her family. She had five children and raised them by herself after my grandfather died in a car accident. I know she would be proud of me, but as I reflect on her, I am extremely in awe of her. If she were here today, she would be amazed by how much the world has changed and  would be extraordinarily proud of all the opportunities that are now available to women, and she would encourage us to seize the day! She would say that the world needs to hear the innovative ideas that women can offer, and that embracing insights from differing groups only makes things better.

Marsha Lehr: They would be astounded and probably worried. They would wonder, “how are you doing all of this? Are you getting any rest and are you present for your family?” There would be enormous pride and some skepticism about how it’s all working. The way it works today is that women shed many of the responsibilities that women before us had. She would be curious about how I do this and what I changed that allows me to do it. I think overall they would be amazed, filled with wonderment and have a lot of pride that we are able to do anything we want.

Verchele Roberts: My grandmother was able to see a lot of things and what she would say is that she’s incredibly proud. Because she played such a big role in raising me, she said it brought her joy hearing the nice words people shared about me. They would all be so surprised. People in the community often use the phrase and I would agree, “We are our ancestors wildest dreams.”