By Carolyn Gray Anderson
She’s spent her 36-year career with AT&T, holding the title of SVP of human resources and chief diversity officer since 2015; but it wasn’t the telecommunications field or the company, specifically, that ignited Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall’s early passion. Marshall’s passion is simply what she brings to whatever she does, wherever she goes — to work, to higher education, to her son’s swim meet, to surviving colon cancer and, last week, to a stage at UCLA Anderson in front of 400 people she literally brought to their feet.
Introduced by Anderson Women board member and Velocity conference co-chair Sherry Jackman (’10), Marshall gave the audience a post-prandial shot in the arm for the second year in a row. “To say she’s back by popular demand is a complete understatement,” said Jackman, followed by loud applause. AT&T was the presenting sponsor of Velocity, the UCLA Anderson Women’s Leadership Summit, whose theme was Empower Together. An enormous component of the company’s generosity was sending Cynt Marshall (and a cheering section of AT&T staff) to represent. Among her prominent colleagues are UCLA Anderson alumni John Stankey (’91), CEO of AT&T Entertainment Group, and Norberta Noguera (Riordan Fellow ’95, FEMBA ’01), vice president of AT&T’s security and advanced applications.
Marshall’s fierce company loyalty far exceeds the requirements of her job, though. She has boundless energy and enthusiasm not just for business and corporate leadership, but for general integrity, human cooperation and core values as well. Her unmistakable message to Anderson MBAs — along with the Girls Scouts, high school students, seasoned industry professionals and academics who also crowded into the auditorium — is to bring your values into your professional environment, do not check your personality at the door.
Was she kicked back a time or two for being herself, for being “loud” as she put it? No question. Marshall once prepared a speech that almost got her fired at a time when some in the company leadership weren’t ready for frank discussions about the obligation to give everyone a place at the table. But she continued to impose her candor and evangelism. “The worth of our lives comes not in what we do or who we know, but in who we are and what we value,” she said. And now AT&T goes beyond mere “tolerance” to privilege true understanding.
So if any aspiring executive ever needed living proof that persisting in believing in the validity of your ideas and your self-worth moves you forward, the ardent Marshall makes a convincing case. Consider these ingredients — Marshall's two Cynts' worth — for success in work and in life:
- “Surround yourself by like-minded people, even if they don’t look like you.” This doesn’t mean homogeny, it means you can gain strength from what you find in common with people committed to inclusion.
- “Embrace your ‘firstness.’” Instead of feeling like a simple token representative of your group, tout your achievement as a milestone of progress for any underrepresented person or group.
- “HASU: Hook a sister up.” Do you see someone with valid ideas and great skills struggling against gender bias? Speak up for that colleague or friend or stranger.
- “Doing something the right way is not the same as doing the right thing.”
- “MARC: It stands for men advocating for real change.” Marshall described effective, supportive white male mentors as unthreatened by difference: “They will help you deliver the goods if they want something good for the company.”
- “Your integrity is not for sale.” Period.