3 Questions for the 2020 Red Letter Award Recipients

Congratulations to Kristina Stafford KellyMonika WilkinsCatherine Mitchell, Kimberley Euston, Melody Smalls, Rose Chambers, and Roxanne Cloutier, WICT Southeast’s 2020 Red Letter Award Recipients. 

We recognize these women for their outstanding achievement and leadership. They personify the WICT Touchstones of Leadership and actively enhance the perception of the cable telecommunications industry through their community and professional involvement.

Leading up to our 17th annual Red Letter Awards, we asked these seven women three questions so you can get to know them better. Check back daily as we post their answers. 

It’s not too late to register to this first-ever free and virtual gala to be held on Thursday, October 22nd at 4:00 pm ET.  Click  HERE for more information.

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2020 Inspiration Award Honoree
Roxanne Cloutier


Name: Roxanne Cloutier

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Title: Senior Vice President, Enterprise Systems & Strategic Planning

Where do you currently work: WarnerMedia

You are the recipient of the Inspiration Award- Woman of the Year. What does getting this award mean to you?

The Inspiration Award is quite an honor. I remember listening to some of the amazing women who have received this award over the past few years and being in awe of their tremendous accomplishments and contributions to society. I am humbled to be among these incredible role models. 

As women, we often find it difficult to give ourselves props for our accomplishments so I’m going to ask you to do just that. Why do you think you were selected to receive this award? 

I am very passionate about building genuine connections. I have successfully built and consolidated amazing and highly successful teams over the past few decades. I am a natural connector and spend a considerable part of my time mentoring and helping others to achieve their goals through connections. 

I credit several incredible mentors and role models who have shown me the importance of leading from a place of service, integrity and relationships. 

There are 3 elements of connection that I have woven throughout my personal and professional life:

  • Leading from my own unique toolkit – connecting the right people, ideas, skills and strategies. 
  • Connecting others – throwing the ladder back down and leveraging my personal successes and resources to connect others to opportunities
  • Cultivating my passion for team building – focusing on people and finding the win-win through connections.

These have become my strengths and I feel honored to be recognized for something as important as this fabric of our life.

This year’s theme is Connect to your peers, your industry, and everything around you. Why do you think connecting is more important than ever in 2020.

When I think about the theme “CONNECT” and its importance, particularly in our current climate, I am convinced that more than ever we are stronger and better together.  

The pandemic that surrounds us has impacted our ability to connect physically. With that, how we define connection has changed, but the power of genuine connections is shining brighter than ever before. 

In this time when many of us are isolated in our homes and are inundated with so many negative stories about the pandemic and social unrest, focusing on connecting with and uplifting others can provide us with the inspiration we need to keep pushing forward. 

I remain committed to carrying that forward through mentoring, growing, encouraging and sustaining others as we maneuver through challenging times. 

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2020 Catalyst Award Honoree
Melody Smalls

Name: Rose Chambers

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Title: Vice President, Construction Planning & Program Management

Where do you currently work: Cox Communications, Inc.

What does getting the Catalyst- Woman in Technology Award mean to you?

Like many, I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to pursue a career and – although very gratifying – it’s been hard work. I’ve always been driven by providing value. That’s what fuels me and makes me push myself. Being recognized by an industry that I have been in for many years and by peers that I’ve worked beside is an affirmation that I’ve provided value. That affirmation humbles me, but also makes me proud. I’m very grateful for the recognition and hope that this recognition inspires other women who might be on a similar path to ask themselves, “why not me?”

As women, we often find it difficult to give ourselves props for our accomplishments so I’m going to ask you to do just that. Why do you think you were selected to receive this award? 

Oh, so very true that this one is difficult! But it is one thing we all need to do better. I think one of the biggest contributors to my success has never been shying away from a challenge. I’ve described myself in the past as a compulsive hand-raiser. I was always raising my hand, saying, “I’ll do that,” even when I wasn’t completely sure I could do it. It’s not that I wasn’t afraid. I was, but I had enough faith in myself to know that I could tap into trusted advisors and figure it out. Also, a mentor very early in my career taught me the lesson that leading by authority does not achieve sustainable results; enlisting the hearts and minds of the team around a shared purpose and vision produces results that last. I hope I’ve modeled that to the best of my ability.

This year’s theme is Connect to your peers, your industry, and everything around you. Why do you think connecting is more important than ever in 2020.

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a year of extraordinary and unanticipated change. The abrupt interruption of the connections we all so took for granted has had a profound impact on all of us, and I’m not sure we yet recognize the full impact of that disruption. Our families, businesses, and communities have all been greatly impacted, and it’s rare that we’re dealing with disruption that acute across all three of those dimensions at once. Connection in these circumstances is more important than ever – whether it’s the connection that allows you to continue to work, the connection that allows you to educate your child, the connection that provides access to your family and friends, or simply the connection that affords you the opportunity to binge-watch baking shows to escape (my current escape 😊)! My hope is that we emerge from this with a deeper appreciation for the essential need for connection and a desire to extend each other a little grace.

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2020 Horizon Award Honoree
Melody Smalls

Name: Melody Smalls

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Title: Executive Vice President, Global Human Resources

Where do you currently work: Allen Media Group is a global media and technology company  which is comprised of several properties such as: The Weather Channel, TheGrio, LocalNow,  15 broadcast stations, Syndication,  ES Motion Pictures, Freestyle Digital Media,  Pets.tv, Justice Central, recipe.tv, my destination.tv, ES.tv and Comedy .tv to name a few.  

What does getting the Horizon- Woman To Watch Award mean to you?

It means the world to me.  It’s important for hard work and excellence to be recognized by industry peers.  I try to do my best at being resourceful and connecting those that can benefit from one another.  

As women, we often find it difficult to give ourselves props for our accomplishments so I’m going to ask you to do just that. Why do you think you were selected to receive this award? 

Thank you and you are right.  It took some time for me to truly enjoy the fruits of my accomplishments!  I believe I was selected for this award because I have demonstrated excellent performance CONSISTENTLY.  I give my effort in every facet of my role and oftentimes outside of my role. I am laser-focused on employee engagement and productivity that results in high performance for our company.  

This year’s theme is Connect to your peers, your industry, and everything around you. Why do you think connecting is more important than ever in 2020.

Connecting is at the forefront of 2020 ( and likely beyond).  Since we are amidst a pandemic, we must be intentional about maintaining our relationships, reaching out, sharing ideas and best practices. This pandemic has certainly taught many of  us to “build an airplane while in the air.” . 

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2020 Mentor Award Honoree
Kimberley Euston

Name: Kimberley Euston

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Title: National Business Development Leader for the Technology, Media and Telecommunications Sector

Where do you currently work: PwC

What does getting the Mentor Award mean to you?

It is an incredible honor, and the fact that it comes from a group of outstanding women that I respect and admire makes it even more special.

As women, we often find it difficult to give ourselves props for our accomplishments so I’m going to ask you to do just that. Why do you think you were selected to receive this award? 

I am lucky to be close with a group of women who love and support each other, who see us for the things that make each of us wonderful, and advocate for each other. We could not accomplish anything without our tribe. 

This year’s theme is Connect to your peers, your industry, and everything around you. Why do you think connecting is more important than ever in 2020.

Your connections are important every day, every year, but this year has been special. I have looked to my connections to help me overcome the physical distance imposed on us and the emotional pressures created by all the turmoil that 2020 has brought. They never disappoint!

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2020 Mentor Award Honoree
Catherine Mitchell

Name: Catherine Mitchell

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Title: Vice President of Product Development and Management for Cox Business

Where do you currently work: Cox Communications, Inc.

What does getting the Mentor Award mean to you?

It’s an honor to be recognized amongst women that I admire and look to as mentors myself. 

As women, we often find it difficult to give ourselves props for our accomplishments so I’m going to ask you to do just that. Why do you think you were selected to receive this award? 

For 30 years, I have been a quiet mentor to many in the telecommunications industry.  And those mentees have achieved great things on their own through merit, grit, and talent.

This year’s theme is Connect to your peers, your industry, and everything around you. Why do you think connecting is more important than ever in 2020.

In whatever ways we all planned to connect this year, the plans have changed.  My mother held a “Happy Mother’s Day sign” out to me across a parking lot in May … and my daughter broke the distance barrier and ran over to hug her.  We all want connection, and this year we have to work harder than ever to make it happen.  Our experience in 2020 has helped us cherish our relationships even more with family and colleagues.

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2020 Rising Star Honoree 
Monika Wilkins
2020 Rising Star Honoree
Monika Wilkins


Name: Monika Wilkins

Location: Smyrna, Georgia

Title: Director Credit & Account Services

Where do you currently work: Comcast Cable

What does getting the Rising Star Award mean to you?

Receiving the Rising Star Award means I am headed in the right direction as a leader.  It means I should stop and think about all the skills and knowledge that I have gained, find more efficient and productive ways to transfer this knowledge to others and determine my next steps to ensure I do not become complacent.  This award makes me think about people that have been here with me throughout my journey.  They are the real MVPs- from my children, giving me a reason to wake up every day and want to be a rising star, to the people that look up to me and remind me that failing is not an option…they make this award worth receiving.

As women, we often find it difficult to give ourselves props for our accomplishments so I’m going to ask you to do just that. Why do you think you were selected to receive this award? 

This one is really hard for me because I am no stranger to hard work. My father was the hardest working man I have ever known, and he instilled in me that anything less is mediocre.  Due to the lessons that I learned from him, I have always worked very hard to ensure the job gets done while keeping my people first.  Without the people, everything fails, so it is critical that I always do right by my people.  I feel this is the reason I was selected to receive this award.

This year’s theme is Connect to your peers, your industry, and everything around you. Why do you think connecting is more important than ever in 2020.

If you think back to 2019, you could easily meet someone new in a hallway, the breakroom, a networking event, or even an elevator.  Due to our new normal, these types of connections are virtually impossible in the workplace.  To foster any relationship, you have to be intentional in your outreach, which can sometimes be intimidating.  Due to this, some individuals may not take the extra step to meet new people and learn new things, causing them to stagnate.  Being stagnant can impact your overall growth and cause frustration and demotivation.  That is why being connected is more important now than ever.           

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2020 Rising Star Honoree
Kristina Stafford Kelly

Name: Kristina Stafford Kelly

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Title: Senior Director // Head of Public Relations

Where do you currently work: UP Entertainment 

What does getting the Rising Star Award mean to you? 

I am incredibly appreciative of this award. I have attended the Red Letter Awards for the past five years and have been in awe of the inspiring women being recognized. Multiple honorees over those years have directly influenced my career. I felt honored just to be nominated.

As women, we often find it difficult to give ourselves props for our accomplishments so I’m going to ask you to do just that. Why do you think you were selected to receive this award? 

As the head of Public Relations, the campaigns I manage have been featured in top outlets such as People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, ET Online, Deadline, Southern Living, Yahoo, Elite Daily and Rolling Stone to name a few, with hundreds of millions of media impressions garnered for the company each year. 

I’m thankful to be part of company that’s supportive of its employees and fosters a collaborative work environment. By working alongside such smart and creative colleagues, I know I’ll never stop learning. In the five short years since joining UP Entertainment, I’ve been able to grow as a leader while successfully executing multi-platform campaigns. I’m proud of the work that’s been accomplished and excited for what’s to come. Plus, I absolutely LOVE what I do, which means my job doesn’t feel like work. It’s a passion.

This year’s theme is Connect to your peers, your industry, and everything around you. Why do you think connecting is more important than ever in 2020.

Connecting is essential in 2020 for our mental and emotional well-being. Texting, phone calls and video chats have taken on a completely new role in our lives. I’m so appreciative of the technology that allows us to feel connected while apart. 

I’ve made an extra effort to be available to college students seeking advice as they try to figure out what the pandemic means for internships and first jobs. A lot of their plans have been completely turned upside down, so I’ve been talking through different opportunities and ideas to help them navigate during this time. While companies have had to alter day-to-day operations due to the pandemic, I hope this thinking is integrated into traditional workplace culture post-Covid. The increased use of technology has allowed us to connect more with peers from other parts of the country and across various industries.

I’m a black woman working in the telecommunications industry and I have questions.

By Ciji Townsend

I’m a black woman. And because I’m a black woman, unfortunately the recent senseless acts fueled by systemic racism isn’t new to me. But the collective response that extends outside of my community and spills over into the streets via protests and rallies in all 50 states and 14 countries is quite different than what I’ve experienced in my lifetime.

Ciji Townsend, Senior Manager, Internal Communications, Cox Communications

Even with all of the attention and heightened concern, I still have questions. What happens next? What’s the long-term plan? And, specifically what’s the role of my colleagues in the telecommunications and cable industry? 

By now you’ve probably heard that you need to listen to black voices.

Let’s take it one step further and both listen and learn. Now is the time to increase your network beyond the one black team member that you call on when you have a question. Listen to multiple voices, invite new people to the conversation that wouldn’t normally have a seat at the table. And let’s give ourselves permission to be ok with both formal and informal listening sessions. Now on to the learning. Listening isn’t enough. Be intentional about learning what you don’t know and re-learning what you think you already know. In our industry we are vital to the information that is consumed by the masses. Before we make major decisions, we need to listen and learn to better understand the cause and effect of systemic racism.

Everyone is watching. 

Speaking of content, all eyes are glued to their screens right now. In the past few months because of the disruption caused by COVID-19, families are at home and the consumption of television shows, movies and documentaries is at an all-time high. How can we be better stewards of diversifying that content? Let’s be honest, technology has turned black voices into the biggest media company in the world. Is your company paying attention? Are you amplifying black stories and movies that have black lead actors beyond black history month?

Pace yourself for the long-haul.

Yes, the outcry is loud right now. And we all know that it will only take one major news story for the momentum to dwindle. So, what commitment will we make now, as voices in our industry to ensure that the work done today continues to show up tomorrow?

There are many questions that have yet to be answered. And our industry is perfectly positioned to encourage the continuation of race-based conversations and to even provide a stage not only for awareness but also change. 

What are your thoughts? What can our industry do to spark change and keep the conversation and momentum going? Feel free to share in the comments section below.

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As an organization whose mission is based on equality, WICT is committed to diversity and inclusion in all aspects of life. We stand firm with our partners and the communities we serve to eradicate systemic racism like that we witnessed with George Floyd and many others. WICT stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. In addition, we will address the civil unrest during all of our programs for the foreseeable future. We will never stop using our platform to shine a spotlight on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. All of us wish for peace and wellness for all of our brothers and sisters in our extended community.

Our hope is that together, we will rise above and emerge more united than ever before. Be well, stay strong.

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.