As a WICT co-founder, first WICT President, co-founder of CTAM, 2002 Cable Hall of Famer, NCTA Vanguard Award winner, and WICT Southeast Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Gail Sermersheim is no stranger to both challenge and triumph. A trailblazer with many firsts, Sermersheim’s perseverance, authenticity and passion for results were keys to her success both in and out of the boardroom.
Sermersheim started her cable career in the late 1960s. She worked for a small MSO for 12 years and then landed at HBO where she retired as a senior executive after almost 3 decades. Shortly after she joined HBO, the then President of the company took her aside and said he’d like to see her become the company’s first female vice president for the sales and marketing division. From that moment on, she made it her mission to do whatever it took to prepare for the role. And you know what?! She received the promotion in less than two years!
“Men dominated the decision-making at all levels,” said Sermersheim, “at the time, sexual harassment was a tolerated business and social practice.” She shared, “it was not uncommon to turn down both an unwanted advance and a business proposition at the same time.” She went on to say, “women were expected to comply or just ignore it as reporting the behavior had no consequence.”
Focused on building strong relationships with her male counterparts, Sermersheim earned their respect. She says, “while at times I had been subjected to pay inequity and passed over for big promotions, I learned how to harness my superpower.” With assets such as focusing on facts, applying tough negotiating skills and using her charm, Sermersheim is unapologetic about leveraging her skill set to move forward.
The journey to establishing WICT wasn’t an easy one. Sermersheim and other founding members had to downplay the intent of WICT so that they could gain male sponsorship and support since the men held the purse strings. She said, “the original documents stated WICT’s mission to be one of educating women rather than empowering them.” And in her view, “the real goal was to take the men’s jobs!”
Sermersheim hung up her corporate hat in 2002 and traded it in for dancing shoes. She retired to Florida after almost 40 years in the cable industry. These days you can find the 76-year-old cable veteran and women’s rights activist traveling the world on a wildlife safari or living out her best life as a competitive ballroom dancer.
WICT Southeast is celebrating its 40th Anniversary. Throughout the year we will be highlighting quotes and stories from former WICT Southeast leaders and members in our newsletter and on our website and social media platforms. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, InstagramandLinkedIn.
WICT Southeast has lots of R.E.A.L Men in our chapter. These are our male members who personify Rewarding,Equality, and Leadership. In this new interview series, we have five compelling Questions to get to know these R.E.A.L Men of WICT.
WICT Southeast blog writer, Ana Adler sat down with Corey Prince to get his take on what having a WICT Membership means to him.
Name: Corey Prince
Where do you currently work, and what’s your current role? Senior Director of People Solutions at UpTV
Why did you join WICT? What inspired you to look past the W in the name?
Many years ago, I was invited to the Red Letter Awards. I was new to TV and hadn’t heard much about the organization at that time. But being at the gala and hearing the stories of all of these accomplished women, blew me away. I was so inspired. I remembered walking away saying to myself, “Wow, I need to be better, I need to do more.” Part of me just wanted to be a part of this success. I wanted to learn from all these women. So, when I heard they accepted men as members, I jumped on it and joined. Months later, I connected with their Membership Director and asked them to come by the office to do a presentation on the benefits of becoming a member. Because the employees loved it so much, we decided to fund their WICT memberships in January each year. If you are interested, we will cover it. And to this day, we are still doing it.
What is it that you find most rewarding about being a member?
I think developing professional relationships with people is key, but it’s also about giving back. It’s a great opportunity to learn about people, assess their needs, and then determine how I can help. I just like being inspired by the people I meet and I interact with.
In thinking of the theme of this series REAL men of WICT (Rewarding Equality and Leadership), how has membership in WICT influenced your thinking, either personally or professionally?
For me, it’s a reminder of the work we still have to do, particularly in my role in HR, around ensuring that people are working in environments that allow them to be successful. Making sure we bring people’s attention to unconscious bias and calling it out when we see it. Even as HR professionals, despite being trained not to let biases influence our decision, we still have to check ourselves and ensure we embrace people for who they are and what they bring to the table from a skillset standpoint.
Our theme this year is Inspire, and others will follow. What has worked for you in inspiring others?
Leading by example, not being afraid to show my vulnerability as a leader. Being open to doing what is needed regardless of my position. It also means not being afraid to let people fail and supporting failure in a good way, by asking, “What would you do differently?” “How do we learn from it?” versus making anyone feel incompetent. That’s the last thing on my mind. That’s not how you do it. You just help them realize that part of their learning is figuring out what they would do differently. What you find is that people start doing it for themselves and you don’t have to prompt them anymore. That’s when you know you’ve hit it because now, they are walking themselves through that thought process.
WICT Southeast Blog writer, Ana Adler is a tri-lingual freelance content creator whose mad skills include the words creative director, writer/producer, video editor, project manager, copywriter, and mamá.
“Who inspires you?” It’s an age-old question successful people get asked all the time. Typical answers range from politicians to celebrities to humanitarians. But I want to encourage you to look beyond the obvious, to dig deeper and find nuggets of inspiration you may not realize are right in front of you. Here are three places I’ve found inspiration that may surprise you.
Co-workers, but not the ones you think of first. A lot of times, when looking for inspiration in the workplace, we set our sights on the top leadership. And while those folks are certainly worthy, I’ve found just as much inspiration in my everyday colleagues.
Looking beyond our workplace interactions, I see co-workers who are also parents, bloggers, activists, and athletes. I see the mom of three daughters who, by the way, just beat breast cancer. I see the openly gay colleague bravely leading a Pride employee resource group. I see a gal successfully building her side-gig brand while rocking the bonus-mom life. I see the woman who keeps her spirits high while living with Multiple Sclerosis.
Each of these people gives me different levels of inspiration on a daily basis. And they probably have no idea that by being their true selves, they’ve sparked endless inspiration. Look for those people in your life or on your team. The ones who aren’t in the spotlight but are quietly doing good things against great odds.
A mentee, an intern, or a high schooler. As the famous quote goes, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Or is it? Many of you are involved in mentoring programs through your company, through WICT or something informal. We usually hear stories about mentee learning from their mentor. But what if we flipped the script and sought inspiration from those we mentor, or from those with less experience?
I recently read about a program at my company called “MentorUP,” where women in frontline positions have the opportunity to mentor a leader at corporate headquarters. This unique structure has already resulted in deeper understanding, open dialogues, genuine connections, and undoubtedly, inspiration. How cool is that?
As I think about other ways to apply this idea, I consider the summer intern in my department or my teenage nephew, who just graduated high school. How can we harness the energy and drive young people naturally have – and use it as inspiration in our own lives? When I recently asked my nephew what one word was meaningful or inspirational to him (so I could engrave it on a bracelet), he immediately responded with the word “GO.” When I pressed him for the meaning, it was simple: “GO” was a reminder to keep going, to keep moving and to go out and achieve his dreams – just GO. I was surprised that something so simple could be so powerful, and I’ve thought about it almost every day since. Kids these days, #amiright?
Yourself. I’m not saying you need to go all Saturday Night Live “Stuart Smalley” (did I just date myself?), but there really is something to positive affirmations. They’ve been scientifically linked to increased achievement and health benefits, among other things.
When I’m facing a tough challenge, it helps to look back at past experiences and put things in perspective. I think about times where I’ve done something just as hard before, or I’ve overcome a similar obstacle. Remembering that I’ve been successful in similar situations is, well, inspiring! In my personal life, I’m a marathoner and endurance athlete (the word “athlete” is used loosely here). When I’m exhausted, in pain or not sure I can get my bike up the next hill – I think back to my training and remember that I’ve done this distance before, or I’ve conquered a hill like this before – so I know without a doubt I can do it. This line of positive thinking has helped me cross some tough finish lines, both personally and professionally.
If you’re in unchartered territory, another idea is to focus on positive outcomes as inspiration. Visualize yourself crossing the finish line, completing the project, or getting the promotion. Much of our success in life comes down to our thought habits and patterns. Get into the habit of focusing on positive outcomes, rather than excuses, and be an inspiration to yourself.
Lisa Conklin is on the internal communications team at Cox Communications in Atlanta (by way of Kansas), where she focuses on executive and employee communications. She describes herself as a triathlon junkie, solo traveler, and accidental hippie.
Where do you currently work and what’s your current role?
Managing Partner – Wargo French, a full-service law firm based in Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles
What is your background and did you get involved with Cable Television?
It was through the law firm. My dad was in the Navy so I moved all around as a kid and landed in Atlanta in 1997. The Cable Industry is so big in Atlanta that, when you practice law, it’s almost impossible not to get involved. Working with the Cable Industry was something that happened organically. I think broadcasting in all forms brings up so many diverse legal issues that remain interesting and challenging. It changes so much; you always have to be looking 3 or 4 steps ahead as to what the next technology is going to be. We’ve seen in our lifetime so many different types of technology and what appears will be the next great thing often fizzles out quickly and the technology you didn’t expect becomes huge. I remember when I first heard about Twitter and I thought it seemed like a silly idea and now it dominates. You have to be prepared.
Why did you join WICT and why do you support it? What about WICT makes it important for other men to join?
I joined WICT through Wargo French. We’ve always had very strong women lawyers here. It always surprised me how for a long time in the legal profession it was just assumed that you had to be the white male with the gray hair to get the corner office. There’s so much talent out there that’s ignored and shouldn’t be ignored just because it doesn’t fit that paradigm. So, when Wargo French started supporting WICT it seemed like a perfect idea, and having men be a part of WICT reinforces that overcoming the existing paradigm is not a women’s issue but a societal issue and it makes it more difficult to ignore.
On May 21st, Wargo French is hosting an upcoming WICT executive event about pivoting careers during times of change. What tips can you give our readers if their job is currently at a crossroad?
I think that everyone, at some point, reaches a crossroads in their career. Success comes from recognizing the adversity that you run into and learning from it in a good way. I’m a huge UVA basketball fan. In last year’s NCAA tournament, UVA was the number one team, they were supposed to be the best team in the tournament. The way it works in the tournament is that the best team plays the worst team in their bracket to start out. So that happened last year and UVA lost, they lost to the worst team in the tournament, and it was the first time in the history of the NCAA tournament that a number one seed had lost the first game. But they didn’t just lose, they got solid beat by 20 points, it was humiliating. This year UVA won the National Championship. It was fascinating to watch how the team did that. They didn’t just pretend that they had not had a humiliating loss; they embraced the adversity. They decided “this is not who we are, but we also cannot ignore that it happened, so how can we learn from that, own it and go forward?” I think we all can learn lessons from that story because adversity happens. You’re going to encounter it, so you need to learn how overcome it, get the panic gone, and just take one step forward and do the next right thing. In my view, we can take the hardships that come up and say, “I own this, what does this teach me going forward, how can I learn from this, yet keep true to what I want?” I find that’s ultimately the hardest part, people deciding what they want. That can be tough to give anyone advice on. People have to take the time to look at themselves and say, “here’s what I have, what is it that I want out of this?” Figuring out what’s important to you. Unfortunately, in the business world, we all want to make money, but that can’t be the only thing because it’s ultimately very unfulfilling.
What would you say is the best career advice you’ve ever been given?
Many of our readers are fresh out of college, what career advice would you give your 21-year self?
I don’t know if this is the best advice that I’ve been given but it’s the one that I often use as a lawyer, and it’s that it’s called the Practice of Law, it’s not called the Perfect of Law. Mistakes are going to happen. Your goal should be to make no mistakes, but you can’t have that as a realistic view. You will make mistakes, everyone makes mistakes. When you do, see why it happened, see what you can do to prevent it in the future, acknowledge it and then move forward. I think if you try to pretend you didn’t do it you won’t learn from it. Conversely, if you focus on your mistakes too much, you’ll be stuck there. To go back to the UVA game, there’s a quote UVA coach referenced, “if you treat adversity right it will buy you a ticket to a place you couldn’t have gone any other way.” I just love that reflection.
The WICT touchstone theme this year is Inspire and others will follow. What characteristics do you admire in other leaders? What has worked for you in inspiring others to follow?
Calmness in an emergency. In litigation, which is what I do, you’re in a fight. There are always bad things happening and sometimes they’re worse than others. Being able to keep your cool, under those circumstances, is what I look for in people I’m going to follow. In turn, when the associates that work for me come in and they’re panicked about a situation, I try to stay calm about it without ignoring how serious it is.
This is a random thought but, someone gave me and my wife this advice for our wedding a long time ago: When you’re planning for a wedding accept that two things are going to go wrong. When they happen, instead of panicking, you remember there were going to be things that go wrong and they did. Having that attitude when something comes up allows people to press forward.
One caveat is that calm can sometimes go too far, and calm can be viewed as a lack of understanding of the magnitude of the problem. That’s really the balance of a good leader, being able to stay calm and still show that I understand how serious a problem is, especially with clients. If I call the client and I’m just completely calm just as their world is falling apart, that can also be problematic. I need to have the empathy to show I understand what they’re going through. To show I’m not just being calm because it’s not important, I’m being calm because I’m trying to get to the solution.
Wargo & French LLP and WICT Southeast are partnering together May 21st in Atlanta provide executive members insights on navigating career paths when changes arise. Learn more
Ana Adler is a tri-lingual freelance content creator whose mad skills include the words writer/producer, video editor, project manager, copywriter, and mamá.
Why did you join WICT? What inspired you to look past the W in the name?
A couple of reasons, I have an older sister who graduated from Northwestern with a degree in Math. She went into the “real world” and felt very intimidated in the business world because she was a woman. I was younger and didn’t have an appreciation or understanding of why she felt that way, but that really kind of inspired me to try and make a difference in that if I ever got the opportunity. Secondly, I have a 17-year-old daughter and I’ll be damned if that ever happens to her. I really feel we’re at a moment in time right now, with our generation, to truly make the permanent difference. I want to do everything, on every platform that I have, to help that cause. Also, it’s my industry and I love the people, and I don’t really see a “W” or an “M”, I’m on the board and it’s not uncomfortable for me, I enjoy it.
What is it that you find most rewarding about being a member?
I know it may sound cliché, but just listening. I learn a lot and, as much as I have passion around WICT, what it offers and what it can provide, it doesn’t mean that I have a true appreciation and understanding of the issues women face. I have not experienced that in my life and there is nothing I can do to change that, so I like listening and learning. Some of the stories blow me away, I don’t think that way and I can’t believe what some people do, but it’s a good uncomfortable to listen to the challenges that some of these women have had. A good uncomfortable because I’m learning the realities of what people have gone through that I just have never had to go through personally and an appreciation and it makes me a better person, a better leader, a better father a better husband, everything, it makes me better.
In thinking of the theme of REAL Men of WICT (Rewarding Equality and Leadership), how has membership in WICT influenced your thinking, either personally or professionally?
To get specific on it, I’m definitely more aware. There may not be a female candidate in the interviewing pool of a job, but I will make sure to have at least one on the hiring panel. I have a much better appreciation and I apply it in my thought process. When I’m talking to other male members of my team, I try to really impress upon them the importance of inclusion because, unless you’ve really taken the time to understand someone’s story, it’s hard to even put that in your mindset when you’re doing an interview. WICT has given me a different perspective and that’s a good thing.
Our theme this year is Inspire and others will follow. What has worked for you in inspiring others?
I’m always inspired by learning, as much as I love to talk. I have an Italian mom and talking is what we do, but I really love to listen, and the leaders that have inspired me the most are the ones I learn from, and you can’t learn if you don’t listen. I get more out of conversations with the leaders that have truly made an impression because I learn a lot from them, not just about business, but in general. The leaders I’ve gravitated to have always given me life examples, not just data, and I try to do the same. People tick differently. If I know they love to travel, for example, I talk to them about that, I try to connect with them on a level that humanizes the interaction. I think so often now we get into this data-driven world and we forget the human element, so I try to make sure that I’m a human first and a leader second.
Cisco is providing an Inspire to Innovate fellowship this year. Why do you feel it is important to transform the way we think about and practice innovation? Why invest in a WICT member?
Look if we don’t innovate what are we leaving behind? I look at what the internet provides: So many wonderful things but also so many awful things. So many people just blindly do things that the internet provides because it’s as easy as the touch of a button, but they don’t think through the consequences of that. So, innovation to me is making sure people understand what could happen but continuing to innovate to make sure we can leverage the good that technologies bring us. That’s what is really important to me. And why WICT? I mean for all the reasons I already told you, it’s a no brainer. I look at my daughter and that’s all I have to do, it’s very simple for me. Chuck Robbins our CEO has really instituted a lot of changes and a high percentage of his executive staff is female. And it’s not by “design.” If you take the time and allow yourself the right process, the right things happen naturally. And so, as a company, we’re massively focused on diversity, all kinds of diversity, not just male-female.
Apply today for the WICT Southeast Inspire to Innovate Fellowship to attend the Fall CableLabs Innovation Boot camp that will be held Oct. 15 – 18, 2019 in Colorado. The application deadline is May 31st, 2019. Click here to find out more.
WICT Southeast’s Ana Adler is a tri-lingual freelance content creator whose mad skills include the words writer/producer, video editor, project manager, copywriter, and mama.
Where do you currently work and what’s your current role?
Director of Technology Skills Analysis + Development at Turner
Describe your role at Turner.
I am in the Global Technology & Operations Division at Turner; I lead strategic programs for skills development, and for building our tech talent pipeline. The purpose of these programs is to ensure alignment of technical skills with Turner’s tech roadmap. I have implemented strategic initiatives for employee development, and our technology internship program, as well as continue to grow our partnerships with colleges, universities, and professional organizations to build our talent pipeline.
Have you always been interested in the technology space?
I call myself “an accidental technologist” because when I joined Turner as a broadcast operations coordinator for Cartoon Network years ago, I didn’t know I would’ve enjoyed working with technology as much as I did. My original interest was journalism, and I saw my first job at Turner as a stepping-stone to becoming a journalist. Ironically, I got hooked on tech and have since had about six different roles in the technology division. Because of this experience, I always tell students to have a career plan but be open to different experiences because you never know what you will discover about yourself, hence, my personal acronym for BRAVE (Being Ready to Accept Various Experiences).
The technology landscape is constantly growing and changing. What impact does that have on what you do in your current role?
In my current role, it’s crucial for me to not only understand the existing skills in demand, but also what is trending, and what is on the horizon. While we know AI (artificial intelligence) will be a significant disruptor of jobs, what is not known is how profound the impact will be, how roles will change, and what skills employees will have to develop as this emerging tech is integrated into various parts of an organization. Block Chain is also said to be the next disruptor, but the impacts are also still unknown. In my role, I have to be prepared to expand current programs or create new programs to attract and develop these emerging tech skills based on the business strategy.
What does the future of STEAM for women look like and where do you see your role in it?
I think STEAM is gaining popularity and is being adopted broadly, both academically and professionally. What is exciting about STEAM is it provides an outlet for technologists to pursue creativity as part of learning, fostering innovation. I can’t definitively say what the future of STEAM for women may entail, but I think it brings another element that will give companies a competitive advantage for people who harness both tech and creativity skills.
What advice would you give women looking to pivot into technical areas within the cable/telecommunications industry?
Now is a great time to transition into a technical role because there are skills gaps across various domains, and a great need to increase the number of women in technology jobs. My advice is; first, you have to be realistic and want to make the change because you are passionate about whatever role you choose, or else it will be just another job. Second, make sure you understand the barriers to entry, meaning, the expertise, experience, and even certifications required for specific roles. Third, create a plan to get the training you need, and be prepared to invest in yourself even if your company does not sponsor you. Finally, join professional organizations like WICT, meetup groups, or other communities where you can get the support you need to stay the course.
WICT Southeast’s mission is about creating leaders. What does it mean to be a good leader?
As a leader, it is important to be self-aware then seek to be your best self, while you bring others along. Leaders are not selfish, but intentionally selfless, meaning, you have to have a healthy balance of creating value for the organization while developing people, and continuing your own professional development. I think great leaders do the following exceptionally well:
Engage people in meaningful dialogue
Use their expertise to advise others
Develop their people and themselves
Encourage others to pursue their passions/career goals
Give and get respect as a result of who they are as a person (not because of their title)
Resolve issues so people can work, and
Seek to provide a service to others because of the inherent power they have been given
This year’s WICT theme is “Be a Catalyst”. Why is this important to you and the industry you work in?
There are so many women who had gone before us in unchartered territory and made personal sacrifices, which have now become perks to attract and retain women. These women were catalysts, a positive force that could not be ignored, and as a result, brought about change that benefits everyone. This is important to me because I think every generation has a responsibility to make conditions better for the generation to come. At Turner, our diversity and inclusion strategies are giving people a voice who didn’t have one before; and not only is it good for employees, it’s also good for business, to create the kind of content and services our fans know and love. It’s nice to be the recipient of these benefits, but we can’t sit back on our laurels. In the spirit of continuous improvement, everyone can contribute to making a better work environment, no matter how big or small. When employees speak up, they give leaders the opportunity to make positive changes. At the end of the day, it’s about what you do to help yourself and others while you have the chance.
Kenya Brock is a WICT volunteer and the Director of Marketing for Brown Sugar, the popular new subscription video-on-demand service from Bounce TV featuring the biggest collection of iconic African-American movies available. She is a marketing, partnership, media and e-commerce professional with over 15 years of experience in developing and executing multi-platform marketing campaigns and B2B/B2C partnerships for national and local brands.