By Elizabeth Fella
I met Theresa Spralling, Senior Associate Director at AT&T, through a friend of mine who recently began the Business Sales Leadership and Development Program (BSLDP) with AT&T, which is a training program for recent grads that prepares them for a future position with the company.
Although not all individuals in the BSLDP have a direct work relationship with Theresa, she is very well known with everyone involved in this program. Each person I met in BSLDP gave me nearly identical responses when they found out about my upcoming interview. They all said something along the lines of, “I LOVE Theresa, she’s awesome!”
Upon meeting Theresa, I realized what everyone was talking about. Not only was she recently named the CEO of Women of AT&T, but she is also genuinely kind and inspiring. This was remarkably clear to me even after our relatively short interview. It was a pleasure to sit down with Theresa and get her thoughts and advice for females. You’ll find her answers below:
Elizabeth: So as the CEO of Women of AT&T, why do you think it’s important for women to network with other women and be involved in organizations like Women of AT&T and Women in Wireless?
Theresa: It teaches you a lot about yourself. I joined Women of AT&T to get to know women like me. I needed a network of people who could help me outside of the workplace. At my job, it is important to me to have my manager and bosses know that I’m doing a great job. I joined WOA because I wanted an organization to accept me for who I was and see the goodness in me as a leader. This organization has helped me to grow even though it doesn’t have anything to do with my performance evaluation at the end of the year. That’s one of the reasons I joined. You learn to lead and grow AND learn about yourself. So I know who I am, I know my worth, and I know there’s more work for me to do to fully realize my potential
Elizabeth: What advice would you give to young females, who have recently graduated and are just entering the work force?
Theresa: Bring YOU to the table. Know that you are unique, that you have value, and that is what the corporation is looking for. No matter what company you work for. You are the deciding factor from being good to great. Corporations do have guidelines, but you are you. You are unique and should never forget to bring yourself to the table. The fact that you have a personality, show it. The fact that you are smart, show it. You know how to get things done, show it. While corporations will spend time and much money to train young people, they still want you to be you. It’s that uniqueness that they’re trying to capture. So know who you are and bring that person to the job everyday.
Elizabeth: What do you wish you knew as a young female?
Theresa: I wish I had a program like we do have now (Business Sales Leadership and Development Program). In this program, we pick the best and brightest and directly support their personal and professional growth and development. We help uncover all the good stuff our participants have to give and we take it to the next level. I wish I had that.
I also would trust more of a network. I really thought I was the only one out there having to fight my way through, make my way through, help myself up. While in retrospect, there’s always been a network of support out there for me. I just didn’t know how to tap into it. So I’d like to tell young women now, there is a network out there; you just have to know how to tap into it. You tap into it by getting actively involved in your communities. There are people like me who will share the lessons they’ve learned and will do it willingly. The only expectation is when you learn it you pass it on.
Elizabeth: In what ways can young females cultivate their leadership abilities?
Theresa: Volunteer and get actively involved. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Leadership starts with caring, caring about the bigger picture, the end result, not about yourself. So get involved with your community and your workplace. Get involved building relationships. And then find a need. Leaders are developed not born. Find a need, get actively involved, and then execute a solution that fulfills the need and impacts the lives of others. You’ll find out so much more about yourself and all of a sudden you’re the go to person. When you share that information, you will emerge by caring more about the greater good, not just about yourself
Elizabeth: What helped you break through the glass ceiling in a male dominated industry?
Theresa: I haven’t broken it yet. I bump my head on it; bump my head on it every single day. I must continue to try. This is one reason why I’m excited about this new leadership role as CEO of Women of AT&T. I’m excited to become the example that it can be done. It is being done. AT&T is doing a good job as a corporation but there’s far more we can do. We should be the rule, not the exception. Every woman coming into AT&T should know this is the right place for growth, opportunity, and breaking through that glass ceiling. We still however, oftentimes find ourselves sitting at that male dominated table in a male dominated environment.
Elizabeth: What are your thoughts on females and finding that work life balance?
Theresa: I’m an empty nester; I don’t have to pick up kids, cook dinner for them or care for aging parents. Imagine if I had a family at home. I would be difficult for me. The hours and demands of a corporate environment often strain a female. And guys are strained too; I applaud the guys who are actively engaged in directly supporting their families even though this is still considered a non-traditional role for men. Let’s face it, most of the time, the female is the one and only who has to balance home and work life so we’re left trying to balance that scale, but there really isn’t a balance. I don’t mind admitting to you that for me, there never has been a work life balance. I work because I want to create a better life for my family. There are times I have to give 150% and then some. The balance comes when I have the good sense to take time off and recharge and then plug back into work. But there’s never been, for me anyway, an even scale where I could do my job and really fully attend to my family, there’s a sacrifice to be made. And I find that women more often are the ones that make that sacrifice. Unfair, but we’re getting there.
We get there by talking it through, and working it through with corporations like AT&T, who understand and value family as part of our lives. We’re getting there with women who are knocking it down in the workplace with their husbands at home sharing the responsibility or managing the entire household. But that is the exception, not the rule. When that becomes common place, when you can accept a role no matter what the job demands and time constraints are and not feel guilty as a female, we will have succeeded in breaking down these barriers. For some reason, many females feel like we have to wear that superman cape and do it all. In my mind, guys don’t have to do this; they just have to be good at what they do. We impose so much responsibility on ourselves. I encourage my young daughter to have her husband help with the children; she should not assume that full burden. She has a career as well. That career should be equally valued and equally respected in her household. While we are not there yet, we’re getting there. There are women who are getting close to experiencing what I have described. They are setting examples and paving the way. We are smart enough, we are good enough, and here we come, Get ready guys!
Elizabeth: Which one of your many accomplishments are you most proud of and why?
Theresa: Knowing that I am whole and I am not defined by the letters behind my name. I’m defined by the work that I do and the people I help, and the lessons I learn, and the information I share. Yes I have accomplished a lot but there’s so much more to do. It’s not about the title, it’s about the worth. My greatest accomplishment is realizing my own net worth. I am rich beyond measure because I understand I bring value to the table. I have led large organizations including Toastmasters International, as the District Governor for the state of Georgia, with over 6000 members strong. A lot of people would say that’s a great accomplishment. While I was named 100 Top Women of Influence in Georgia, people would say that was the accomplishment, even with the CEO for Women of AT&T title, people would say Theresa, that’s the accomplishment, but I would say that it’s me understanding there’s more. More for me to do, I feel compelled to do that.
Elizabeth: What females inspire you?
Theresa: Dr. Maya Angelou. I look at her and think, that’s my grandmother’s wisdom and to know she had that type of wisdom even as a young girl. I encourage you to read her story. I am inspired by her because of the power she has possessed throughout her life and her ability to overcome tragedy. At the age of 7 she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. She told on him and he was sent to jail. He was eventually let out on bail and was murdered that night by Maya’s uncles. As a result, Maya believed that because she spoke up, she caused his death. So she refused to speak. For years she remained silent. Thankfully, she eventually found the courage to speak and found the power of her voice. This tragic experience was the inspiration for her first and most well-known book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I’m inspired by that. We all have a voice and there is power in that voice when we use it.
I also look up to Michelle Obama. I admire the strength and the fortitude that this woman has and through all of the controversy and political strife, she remains a lady, a mother, a wife and a professional. May I remind you that President Barack Obama actually interned for her long before he became president.
And one more, Nancy Reagan. Full of grace, always appropriate. She ran the White House in my opinion. And very few people realized that until after president Reagan left office. Mrs. Reagan was the mastermind behind it all. She proved that you can make a lot of things happen quietly, silently, yet appropriately.