Rachel standing in blue shirt and yellow necklace In the early 90s, a young Rachel Smith clicked away at her school’s computer lab. Macintosh Computers were gaining steam across the country, and their potential charged her imagination.

“I would spend hours playing on the machines, trying to understand how they worked. They fueled my curiosity, and interest, in technology.”

Since those early days, Rachel knew STEM would take center stage in her future. Before “disruption” turned into a buzzword, she understood how technology had the power to change life, make it easier, sometimes fundamentally shifting society itself. It may be no surprise, then, that today she works as a technology leader within AT&T.

Building the Cloud

Starting as a Project Manager, Rachel learned the ins and outs of AT&T as she led the charge through several HR and IT Support roles. As an Assistant Vice President of the Transformation office for our Data Platform, she streamlined workloads for both employees and business partners. Under Rachel’s guidance, tasks once accomplished through legacy technologies moved to an accessible public cloud structure.

“My role supported thousands of Data Analysts and Data Scientists across AT&T’s broadband, video and wireless businesses. By creating access in a self-service way we’re enabling the end user to just use a single query instead of the 50,000 different ways they would have before. When you think about, say, 50 different spreadsheets and you’re an analyst, the cloud does the heavy lifting by aggregating that data into one place for you. You would just need to enter a query and call it a day.”

Through her leadership, Rachel’s team moved over 16,000 monthly workloads to target cloud technologies.

Black Leadership in STEM

Rachel is on the forefront of that same change she knew was possible during the computer lab years. However, her role as a leader in AT&T has grown far beyond just STEM.

Historically, STEM is a field that has mostly been associated with white men. While efforts for change are ongoing, there is still a long road ahead. Rachel is aware of the impact her position can make as a Black female leader. In an environment where one can feel isolated, she stays on track through the power of one word.

“Optimism. To be where I am is optimism.

“I know I can serve as a role model for other women and young girls. I push boundaries, they can too. Visual representation in STEM is healthy and needed to attract new talent, and in my role as a mentor I encourage our Black women to push through self-doubt. It won’t always be easy, but after each failure, each “no”, comes resilience. That resilience helps build confidence and persistence.”

In the summer of 2020, conversations on race in the workplace took center stage at many companies. Within AT&T, our people shared their perspectives and demonstrated what it meant to Stand for Equality. It was – and continues to be – a period of long, sometimes difficult dialogue. Dialogue that Rachel welcomed.

“I’ve noticed a larger consciousness and awareness of shortfalls, as well as the continual need for improvement. It is indeed a journey, there has to be intentional focus on ensuring we’re creating a welcoming space that provides opportunities for everyone. Beyond the words we need meaningful, sustaining actions that will drive change and create a legacy we can be proud of.

“We need to avoid the mistake of feeling good about the progress. Go beyond comfort so that we’re hearing everyone’s voices, equally. For my part, I need to keep the door open and make it happen for people who look like me. I encourage leaders to ensure they’re supporting Black female leaders with mentorship, advocacy and sponsorship.”

Taking the First Step

No matter where they are in their personal career journeys, mentorship often plays a large role in the development for many of our leaders. Often, the hardest part is taking the first step. Rachel shares her perspective on how applicants can stay flexible during an overwhelming job hunt.

“We have AT&T employees all over who are ready to connect, so don’t be afraid to make those connections and start networking. More importantly, don’t be turned off by not seeing the perfect role. Keep an eye open for likely matches and understand that there’s a huge world of possibilities when you’re here.

“I think about myself. I started as a Project Manager, which is a very broad role. 12 jobs and 3 promotions later, it’s been such a rewarding career. Taking that bold step toward unfamiliar roles and making those connections is huge. Keep at it and stay persistent, you won’t be disappointed.”

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