FROM BOARDROOM TO BALLROOM: GAIL SERMERSHEIM, WICT FOUNDING PRESIDENT

 

By Dana Dawson

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.

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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.”

Picture2Focused 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!”Picture1

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.

To learn more about this WICT pioneer, click HERE

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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, Instagram and LinkedIn.