Invigorating Women Leadership: Q&A With AT&T's Kim Keating

Kim Keating, Assistant Vice President of Digital Care Strategy at AT&T, is a former Women Innovators Network (WIN) reception honoree, recognized for driving business transformation. In this interview, Kim shares her professional journey and advice for future generations of women leaders. Her candid advice has something in it for everyone, both women and men, whether you are just embarking on your career, or are a seasoned working veteran. I hope that it inspires you to take some of her life lessons and put them to work for yourself. 

Kristil Robarts: Please tell us a bit about your role at AT&T. 

Kim Keating: I have been with AT&T just under two years, defining social, community, and chat strategy across all business units. We’re focused on driving customer engagement and we do that in a number of ways; my team is responsible for enabling that change with technology.

KR: How would you describe the culture at AT&T in regards to women in leadership? 

KK: AT&T is a strong promoter of women. We have a number of compelling programs aimed at developing women leaders — the best that I’ve seen in my career. AT&T sponsored me to participate in the National Center for Women & Information Technology’s sit in the "red chair" video series where I talked about how I became an engineer. AT&T has also sponsored me to write blog posts for The Huffington Post about women’s leadership issues and, my personal passion, keeping girls engaged in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM). AT&T invests in all of its employees and challenges them in unique ways. With 300,000 employees, there are diverse opportunities for leadership and strong support for ongoing education and development.

KR: Can you point to a critical moment in your career that really made a difference in your path?

KK: One pivotal moment was during my first week at AT&T. Our SEVP wanted to meet with me, which was incredible because there are so many people vying for his time. His advice from that first meeting has stuck with me and has helped me greatly during my time here. He told me to remain confident in my ideas. He said that I was hired to drive change, and although strategies are easily debated, he guided me to take early action and demonstrate results. With a proven track record, my co-workers would start to seek out my advice and follow the strategies I helped set.

KR: What advice would you pass along to women who are just starting out in their careers?

KK: Remember who you are and don’t lose sight of that! When you get professional feedback, it is easy to take it as a personal criticism, but try to see if it aligns to the job you are supposed to actually be doing. As an example, in my role supporting 28 different business units, it is not possible to support everyone — my role requires maintaining a focus on AT&T’s business goal and setting the right prioritization for what work gets done. So my advice for women relates to receiving feedback. Without a doubt, it is important to take it and hear it, but it is also important to reflect on it and understand it in its full context. Professional decisions rarely please everyone, my advice is to do your research, put in the time, and then have confidence in your decisions. Sometimes negative feedback might actually be a sign of your success.

KR: Do you have a specific leadership style that you’d like to share?

KK: A leader in my space has to be able to formulate a strategic vision, but it is even more critical to clearly communicate that vision to key stakeholders. My style focuses on strong communication that drives collaboration and builds alignment — then for me, ultimately everything is in a PowerPoint deck — so being a slide master really helps.

KR: Mentorship is always a key topic when talking about supporting women in business innovation. Have you had any mentors?

KK: I have a mentor here at AT&T; she’s an amazing person. One of the key lessons I’ve learned from her is to “run to the problem.” She told me about how she’d be sitting in a conference room, with all men, and would be the one to say, “I’ve got a nasty hairball problem, and this is how I’m going to confront it!” She inspires and reminds me to never shy away from the bigger problems, and that solving team problems are a great way to grow your influence inside an organization

KR: What inspires you professionally?

KK: I get lots of new ideas and inspiration from TED talks — they are so digestible. Also, I love the space I work in. Digital is the future, and it affects every company. It’s also incredibly dynamic. I can be inspired almost anywhere, but what’s really interesting is watching how younger generations leverage digital in their lives. For example, when I watch my kids gaming, I’m inspired because they are collaborating with people all over the world.

KR: I know that you have two daughters and have talked about the importance of STEM education for girls. Is there any advice you have for working parents about keeping children engaged?

KK: Watching my own daughter, who’s in middle school, I’ve had to ask myself how I can foster her interest in technology. Her school is slowly adding more technology courses to the curriculum, but it’s important that I expose her to new technology and concepts within the home. At a macroeconomic level, I’d like to see a more significant cultural dialogue about integrating technology into K-12 education.

KR: Is there anything that you think is missing in how we handle education for girls and women in the U.S.?

KK: We need to acknowledge that our education system isn’t encouraging girls to keep their passion for science and math – particularly in middle school. Unfortunately, many educators have inherent biases that result in boys receiving more STEM-related opportunities in school. I would like to see teachers receiving more professional development on this topic. The STEM curriculum also needs to be expanded and updated to prepare ALL students for careers of the future. Software coding classes should be a standard element of the curriculum. The United States is behind in terms of technical skills, and, by 2020, there will be a significant shortage of knowledge workers. Every company needs to be concerned with this skills gap and drive efforts both on policy and investments to spearhead changes in our schools.

I would like to personally thank Kim for both her time and support of Bluewolf’s WIN program. As one of more than 250 attendees at our Dreamforce reception, Kim and her fellow WIN honorees electrified the room with their stories and advice for women, as leaders and drivers of change. 

To learn more about Bluewolf’s WIN program and events, check out our Facebook page

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