Attitudes toward leadership have altered radically in the last two decades. Today, human-centric leadership is not only nice to have, but non-negotiable, according to Gartner research. And these diverse women of tech from Quantum Fiber are living proof of that.
And it’s no accident that the women you’ll meet in this article—who worked their way up the ranks—were able to rise as they did at Lumen, the parent company of Quantum Fiber. Last year, Lumen was recognized again by Forbes as one of America’s Best Employers for Diversity in 2022. And Lumen was named among the top 20 U.S. employers for whom readers of STEM Workforce Diversity magazine in 2022 would most like to work.
Melonie Hooper, a Tacoma, Washington-based senior manager for sales readiness for consumer field sales who has been with Quantum Fiber for 27 years, has empathy bred into her DNA. “I’m a Bell Baby,” she says. Her father worked for Qwest (and later Lumen) for 42 years as a technician, and her mother in small business operations for 46 years. When she was a little girl, she wanted to be a child psychiatrist, because she wanted to make an impact and change lives early on so they could mold the world. Now in sales operations, Hooper has that same passion and desire to make a difference in people’s lives both in business and outside of business. And that is what makes her a great leader.
“My joy is people,” states Lacy Silberman, the Portland, Oregon-based director of sales for Quantum Fiber Connected Communities, who has worked in the telecom industry for two decades. Like all the other women leaders we selected for this article, Silberman keeps the well-being of her team at the forefront of her mind. “I love helping my team and seeing them grow,” she says.
Diverse women of tech are bravely authentic
These women leaders stressed that it takes bravery to balance leadership roles with traditional perceptions of how females should behave.
“For women, passion is misunderstood as being too emotional,” says Hooper. In her long career, Hooper has learned to do whatever she needs to do regardless. “We sit in the seats that we sit in because we have something to say,” she says. “And if we’re not our authentic selves, we will not be able to give our best to the world. We can’t be afraid.”
If she could tell her younger self anything, Hooper would say, “Follow your dreams, and don’t let anything hold you back.” “Sometimes I allowed stereotypes to dominate, let people tell me what I was permitted to say, and not seeing people like me in a room made me feel like I shouldn’t be there,” Hooper continues. “I’ve grown from that. As both a woman, and a Black woman, this is important advice for others to hear.”
Silberman also believes in speaking up in an authentic voice, and in building a diverse network of people from different backgrounds. This fosters different perspectives and different ideas on how to challenge yourself. “Many times, I was the only women in the room, or the only woman who looked like me in the room,” she says. “Trust your abilities and your voice and know that you belong,” she advises.
Tara Michlitsch’s catch-all word for empathy is “caring.” As manager of multifamily community sales, Michlitsch has spent her entire working life—17 years—at Quantum Fiber and its parent company, Lumen. Michlitsch is based in Rockford, Minnesota, a small town west of Minneapolis. She says that empathy is front and center of her management philosophy. Her team always knows that’s she’s there for them.
“I’m going to fight their battles right alongside them,” Michlitsch reveals. Michlitsch also shares that she’s been most inspired in her career by her grandmother. “She was itty bitty, but vocal,” recalls Michlitsch. “She’d say, just because she wears size five-and-a-half shoes doesn’t mean she can’t fit in anyone else’s. She was spunky and spirited. But my favorite thing about her was her caring.”
Adopt a growth mindset that promotes resilience
Resilience is the ability to quickly recover from setbacks, challenges, or even failures. Research by Cigna found that nearly two-thirds of full-time workers lack high resilience. It also found that workers with low resilience take reduced satisfaction in their jobs, and have higher chances of quitting, lower performance and professional ambitions, and weaker relationships at work. These diverse women of tech demonstrate that through their philosophies and actions.
The most influential person in Hooper’s life was her grandfather, a man of faith. “An elder in the church despite not being able to read and write well, he faced much adversity in his life,” says Hooper. “And because of his faith, determination, and perseverance, he was able to be successful in everything he did, which set the pace for me in everything I do. Don’t let setbacks and adversity get in the way of who you are meant to be”. We all have a purpose.”
Patricia Wallace has also been at Lumen for her entire career—in her case, 19 years, all in sales. Hailing from Ocala, Florida, she is the sales manager for Quantum Fiber Connected Communities, and feels that the roots of her empathic management style stem from being from a U.S. military family who was transferred around Europe for many years. Wallace was always inspired by her mother’s resilience. Because of her father’s career in the military, every three years or so it was time to move somewhere new, “and she had to start over,” says Wallace.
Wallace feels her resilience showed itself in balancing her work life with her family—and then deciding to go back to school full time on top of it all. “I think it was one of the most difficult things I did,” says Wallace. “But doing that taught me time management, and how to keep on track, manage tasks and not become overwhelmed.” Wallace is now working on her MBA.
Leading by example: Both through work ethics and rich, balanced lives
From the Niagara institute survey, 27.4% of respondents agreed that leading by example—by letting their actions and behaviors show employees what is expected of them—was their greatest strength. These diverse women of tech demonstrate that every day.
Wallace and her husband started reaching out to neighbors during COVID, and continue to volunteer in local Social Circles, where older individuals go to gather. “It started with our neighbor who couldn’t get out of the house during the pandemic,” says Patricia. “One person led to another person to another person, and that’s kind of what my husband and I have taken on. We get calls now asking if we can get groceries, drop people off at the doctor’s office, and we still do that to support the individuals in our community.”
“I sit on several committees for the Church, “Hooper shares. “Everything I do at work is transferable to my involvement with my local congregation. My gift is service, helping people grow in their faith, and the work we do every day is extremely important to me.” On top of that, she is a loving wife and adoring mother to her children. And on top of that, she has a side catering business with her best friend. “I have a passion for food,” she laughs, saying that one of her hobbies is to go to new Seattle restaurants with her daughter to try them out. Her specialty is pan-Asian cooking.
Silberman was struck by something James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, wrote years ago. “Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.” “For me, this is really empowering because it goes back to having a growth mindset. Every day is a choice,” says Lacy.
She sees every day as the opportunity to take actions that make her a better person and initiate positive change for herself and others. When not working, she and her wife Kristen spend time exploring the various Portland neighborhoods, each of which has its own character—or helping with nephews and nieces. “And we’re super aunts to our nieces and nephew,” she says. She volunteers for the Make a Wish Foundation, which grants life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. And, since COVID, learning to cook is another of her passions. “I can now do a really good roasted chicken,” she says. “And I got a paella kit for Christmas, which we’re trying out this weekend.”
Seeking mentors for diverse women of tech
When she first joined Lumen, Silberman had no formal management or leadership experience. Looking back, she marvels at all the senior people willing to take 15 to 30 minutes out of their days to talk to her about career opportunities, and to give her advice.
Wallace’s advice about seeking mentors: Don’t be afraid to build relationships even outside your organization. She recommends going to LinkedIn and choosing people you admire from there, contacting them, and asking them for help. “You’d be surprised how many people will be very happy to partner with you and guide you.”
Leaders who connect with their employees build relationships where they can help guide and grow their employees through any challenges they face in their careers. A 2022 Gartner survey of more than 3,300 employees found that just one in four employees is confident about their current career. But all that can change with mentoring—especially for diverse employees.
Leadership is an infinitely complex process involving organizations, systems, but mostly people. It requires a passion for lifelong learning and self-development. And caring and empathy is key to solving any leadership challenges that arise.
“Although there have definitely been moments in my career when I second-guessed myself or hesitated to contribute or speak up right away, it was in those moments that I had to make a special effort to talk—to make connections with others, build my network, and strengthen those bonds,” said Silberman, “and today, it’s rare that I’m the only woman in the room, which is great!”
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out last year’s stellar article on diverse women of tech as well.
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