“I can be my authentic self, no problem,” said Marcela Reed Fernandez.
Fernandez was talking about DIRECTV, where she works as an information technology senior director. And according to her and her colleagues, the company is a place where women can show up to work exactly as they are.
“I wouldn’t feel welcome in a place where I have to put up a facade on a regular basis, or mask something that is core to my beliefs and my values,” Fernandez added. “I don’t have to hide anything here. I’m just the way I am.”
Founded in 1994 as a satellite service, today DIRECTV is a content aggregator, pulling together video for consumers to watch regardless of how they want to watch it — whether it’s streaming or satellite. The business is supported by an inclusive environment which keeps its teams strong and welcoming.
Take the IT department, whose percentage of women is well over the industry average. Chief Information Officer Debbie Taylor believes this diversity of perspective is what will help DIRECTV win in the currently-fragmented television space.
“We’re more innovative if we listen to all the voices in an organization,” said Taylor.
According to Taylor, now is the time to pounce on the market. “The industry is fragmented in a state of flux. Someone can really win and own the industry right now — I think that could be DIRECTV. Other players in the space are splitting their time between other things like broadband, but we have a singular focus on content aggregation. So why not us?” said Taylor.
Associate Vice President of Market Research and Competitive Intelligence Kamilah Jackson leads the team responsible for keeping tabs on the industry and offering market analysis to help the company stay sharp. It has a legacy to uphold, after all.
“DIRECTV has been innovating with patents and engineering at its core since the 1990s. The satellite fleet, the dishes, the encryption and redistribution of technology is mesmerizing,” said Reed Fernandez.
Collaboration is an imperative as the company pushes forward — the teams work closely while being distributed in a virtual-first model. “We have a very flexible work policy where people can work from anywhere in a way that suits their lifestyle. We try to encourage people to come into the office for certain meaningful events,” said Taylor.
These three women in technology took the spotlight as Built In talked to them about the opportunities for women to make a meaningful impact in the business at every level.
When Debbie Taylor started working in tech, she was often the only woman in the room, and she’d often get stuck with office housework duties, such as note taking at meetings. But the greatest challenge she faced?
A host of studies reveal that women often describe their ability and performance to potential employers less favorably than equally-performing men. Early in her career, Taylor had to overcome this same self doubt and own her value. “Are you confident enough to do a job?” she asked. “If you’re 70 percent of the way there, a man might go for it, a woman might not. I was not feeling confident to speak up in the early stages of my career.”
Now, as a chief information officer, Taylor credits her professional success to improved confidence, and the relationships she’s built along the way — including with DIRECTV CEO Bill Morrow, who she’s worked with previously at Vodafone and nbn Australia. “I just wasn’t good at relationship building in the beginning — showing up in a way that people saw me. That took some time,” she said.
Here’s what Taylor had to say about:
The culture: This is the best culture I’ve ever worked in. I don’t say that lightly. The people are driven, passionate, experienced, intelligent and all want to achieve the same goal. It really feels like we’re all in it together.
Her advice to women: Be confident. Back yourself. Speak up. Make sure people know you’re there. Do your job really well. Have good relationships — and the rest will come.
Mentoring: We have formal mentorship programs, but I also think informal mentorship is really important. I remember once a woman approached me and mentioned it was her first time being a people leader and asked me for guidance. I thought it was fantastic that she took the initiative. I do that myself. I would advise people to really leverage that. People want to help each other. It makes people feel good, so don’t feel like you’re imposing on them. They actually want to help.
“People want to help each other.”
Joining the team: You don’t have to know everything — I’m a case in point. But you have to be very curious, you need to have that growth mindset. You can get to a point where you can bring your external experiences in and hopefully end up with a better outcome.
Marcela Fernandez Reed has been at DIRECTV for 19 years. In that time, she’s been promoted or held a new position every few years. She’s dabbled in departments from customer experience to digital product management.
“Most of my growth opportunities have come from leaders encouraging me to be more outspoken and forthcoming with what I’d like to do with my own career and future,” she said.
She pays this success forward through a mentorship program, where she has two mentees. “There’s a new formal mentorship program that just kicked off, people can select their own mentors a little bit like Tinder. I like the program, because not everyone has a network that will allow them to gain some perspectives outside of their area, especially in a virtual-first environment.”
Here’s what Fernandez Reed had to say about:
Her leadership style: For my team to be successful, I need to build relationships and clear any roadblocks they may have. I don’t like to prescribe how somebody would do something. I firmly believe that my team will be 10 times better at doing what they do than me, that’s what makes a team powerful. To magnify our collective power, I need to set clear guidelines and support for them to succeed.
Employees are in control of their own destiny. There are some guardrails, like a preflight checklist before you take off, before we put a system into production. They have clear goals and objectives, but the how is really up to them.
The culture of collaboration: Nobody can do anything alone. That’s the nature of complex systems. Collaboration helps us anticipate what we will need, instead of waiting for something to go wrong. In a complex environment no single person knows everything.
Working in technology at DIRECTV: If I were a new hire, I’d be so excited to join the company right now. We are evolving our systems into this target architecture that involves tremendous innovation, including our data mesh approach to abstract the data platforms and serve them up for analytics across the business. We are also integrating technologies in the cloud. The platform innovation is tremendous. I wish I was starting right now — there's just so much opportunity for growth and learning for a new hire.
Being a woman in tech: It is a great opportunity to be a role model for others. I don’t typically think of myself as a woman in tech, I’m just a person in tech. Some people may think that women cannot be in tech — that hasn’t been my experience. Our CIO is a woman. Many of our leadership team members here are women in technology. We have a very distinct point of view, that adds to the fabric of technology decisions — and we are treated just the same as everybody else. We have women in architecture, in development and planning, in project management, everywhere in infrastructure operations. It is a myth that you have to be a man to succeed in technology. I welcome any woman to join technology. You’d love it.
Solving Challenging Problems in Technical Services
Fernandez Reed is fascinated by the customer-facing problems — such as bill paying and technical issues — her team helps solve on a daily basis. “It is based on an older generation backbone of systems that don’t change very often, like billers,” she said. “We are introducing systems of engagement and orchestration, such as advanced cloud-based services to provide flexibility to the customers, frontline agents, technicians and dealers. We need to adapt to our customers and market needs in a dynamic fashion. While we may not change the logic for the billers in years, we may need to change an offer over a weekend. It is very important to have cutting edge technology, abstraction and the technical layers that will allow our customers and our business partners to succeed with the best of technology without disrupting what we need to keep stable in the back end.
In 2010, Kamilah Jackson started at DIRECTV as a manager interested in a cool product and a fun place to work. She hasn’t looked back. Today, she is an associate vice president whose team runs research studies and keeps tabs on competitors to guide policy changes.
She’s approached her job with tenacity and a willingness to tackle new opportunities, and she’s gotten a lot of support from DIRECTV on her growth journey.
“If you’re someone who's interested in learning more, there's always an opportunity to take on those stretch assignments, or even pivot to new roles where you might not have the background,” she said.
Here’s what else Jackson had to say about:
Why she’s stayed at DIRECTV: The people. Working with colleagues that challenge me, that push me to be better, has always been the most exciting thing about working here. People here are not afraid to speak their mind. They’re always pushing me to think differently about how I can deliver on my objectives, how I can support different initiatives and it makes me better.
“Working with colleagues that challenge me, that push me to be better, has always been the most exciting thing about working here.”
Her growth and development journey: DIRECTV has put in place a lot of programs over the years to help people get the support they need for their development objectives, whether that’s executive presence or communication. I have been in a couple of them, and it was always helpful to get a sense of what was going on in other areas of the business that I might not touch in the market research space.
I’ve gotten a chance to become an expert in areas like our content partnerships, our pricing, the communication tactics we use and why. It’s been my experience that as long as I was willing to take on more and demonstrate that I was able to perform, I was able to get new titles and additional responsibilities.
The support she’s received along the way: The company has supported my growth by giving me opportunities to take on stretch assignments and help me with different development opportunities, whether through formal programs or more informal assignments.
The future of DIRECTV: I’m most excited about DIRECTV forging a new chapter and figuring out what’s next as the television space evolves. DIRECTV is figuring out how to grow with it.