Before her first college class, LaKendra Davis was an experienced entrepreneur who had started her own cupcake business. Building relationships and working towards the best solutions with customers was her element. After graduating with a business degree, she had the passion and the background – all that was left was the opportunity to connect the two together and start building a career. After a brief stint in Corporate Retail, she landed an inside sales role with BellSouth – one of our legacy companies.
“I quickly learned the solution set with the help of both formal and on-the-job training,” LaKendra said. “But one of the nuances of the enterprise business sales environment was a lack of diversity at the time in both the employee and customer base. I didn’t have training on overcoming obstacles as they pertain to a woman – or even a person of color – in business.”
That’s why LaKendra is thankful for the leaders who have impacted her career since 2001. Throughout the early years, she worked with mentors who encouraged her professional growth and “decided to make an investment in me despite not having much experience with African American women in the workplace.”
“As a mentee, it feels good for someone to pour into you,” LaKendra continued. “The obligation begins to expand beyond just you as an individual. When mentors make an investment in you, it creates an added layer of accountability.”
Mentee to Mentor
As LaKendra’s career progressed, so did the day-to-day leadership responsibilities. She transitioned from mentee to mentor, understanding how business needs applied to her role and where processes could be improved. Part of that transition included LaKendra founding OxyGEN, AT&T’s first generational Employee Resource Group. It began with an idea in her head to help smooth the switch from our development programs to careers in the field. As more ideas turned to action, junior peers consulted her on how to start their own professional development.
“The evolution to mentor is a natural progression when you’re surrounded by leaders who show you what ‘right’ is. You model that. You have conversations that may feel tough at the time but make you stronger in the end. That’s what leaders are supposed to do.”
But mentorship isn’t always easy.
“Some days I have to give tough advice. If a mentee doesn’t get honest feedback from me, they may be losing points without knowing. People can be hesitant to give feedback; that’s why mentorship takes courage. You have to stay transparent, whether you’re coaching or just leaning in.”
Your Biggest Cheerleader
Today, LaKendra is an AVP in our Government Solutions team – a role that carries a lot of responsibilities. One may wonder how she keeps everything in balance.
“I don’t subscribe to the idea of work-life balance. Some days, work wins. Some days, family wins. Some days? Reality TV wins. It’s all about giving yourself room for error and not judging yourself on impossible standards.
“For women in business, we compare ourselves to men who typically don’t take on as many family and parental care responsibilities. Social norms related to appearance place a great deal of pressure on women to look and even dress a certain way. The reality is, the only competition we have is ourselves – we must be our own biggest cheerleaders while rooting for each other, too! I know that if I don’t love, respect and appreciate myself – I can’t expect it from anyone else.”
Tips for the future
We couldn’t leave LaKendra without asking for some nuggets of wisdom for future leaders. For new candidates looking to start their #LifeAtATT, she left four points on how to focus on their strengths.
- “Be authentic. If you’re pursuing a role with AT&T and feel you don’t fit: Never change who you are, change the destination.”
- “Always lead with positivity and joy. Find a way to fall in love with your work. It’s less about your title, and more about what you’re doing each day and the impact you’re making.”
- “Most careers are built on meaningful relationships. Take the time to seek out and establish connections with people who inspire you – no matter their level or role.
- “Just doing what’s on the job description? Everyone does that. If you want to grow and flourish in this environment, you’ll look for opportunities to add value above and beyond your role. Innovate, connect and collaborate. That’s how you establish your brand. That’s how you evolve your career.”