Learn how to let go of control and empower your team. The newest person may have the best idea. Staying open to new perspectives gives diversity of thought to any project and boosts everyone’s self-worth.
As part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eron Barnes.
Eron Barnes is the Vice President of National Program Management at SAC Wireless. While today she is an 18-year STEM industry veteran, her career in STEM began with a temporary coordinator position at Cingular Wireless just before the organization’s merger with AT&T. At SAC, Eron is responsible for overseeing end-to-end program management of wireless site-build out across 48 states. She is an active mentor in the STEM community, particularly for fellow women in telecom.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Choosing this career path was coincidental, but I am so glad it happened. I took a temporary coordinator role for a major cellular carrier. While I had a foundation of logic and math skills, I came from outside the telecommunications industry and was not fully prepared for the engineering role I landed six months after I started. I was told I was hired for my work ethic and problem-solving ability. With the help of my colleagues and additional course work, I learned telecommunications and fell in love with the industry.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I transitioned from working at a multibillion-dollar company to helping a much smaller company make foundational changes to allow exponential growth. I had to keep in mind how these employees must feel and sell them on the idea of the “why” behind the changes I was implementing. I was very fortunate to have mentors in my young adult life encourage me to read books on people skills. While technology is fascinating, implementing it takes people who all “buy-in” to a common goal.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Many years ago, I was tasked with turning down an old piece of technology for a major carrier and shutting down the telephony to specific sites. Unbeknownst to me, one of the sites was a hub to several other sites that were not to be turned down. When I completed my assignment and received notification all was complete, I left for the day. I received a call from my boss about 20 minutes later. I expected to hear, “Hey! Great job!”, but instead was told to immediately return to work and get the situation corrected. That was a long night, but I learned not to assume anything and take ownership for my actions.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The people at SAC Wireless make our company stand out. SAC is thoughtful about who we hire, and that is clear through our commitment to SAC’s targeted efforts in hiring veterans. Veterans have a variety of skills that are transferable to the wireless industry — a strong work ethic, strict discipline and physical agility make them a natural fit for the fast pace of the wireless industry, particularly amidst the roll out of 5G.
In addition to our veteran employee base, many of us come from an entrepreneurial background and bring a culture of service to our jobs. Our SAC team includes some of the brightest people I have ever had the chance to work with.
Every SAC employee owns their position, and we do what it takes to get the job done. Giving our teams that pride of ownership makes all the difference. We get to work every day to connect people, which is a pretty powerful and incredible task.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
The pandemic has accelerated an awareness for the need for better connectivity in rural markets. While the digital divide has always been a critical issue, the call to close it is now louder than ever as the divide is impacting more than 21 million Americans today who are required to work and learn from home without access to the Internet.
Now, and well before the pandemic brought the digital divide to the surface as a national conversation, SAC has been at the forefront of this connectivity issue, assisting national carriers with acquiring, developing, engineering, constructing and commercializing new wireless sites in remote areas.
We are uniquely staffed with tower climbers in these remote, hard-to-access areas, giving our organization the capability to build out broadband delivery platforms in areas where the conditions typically outweigh the cost for others. It’s uplifting to know we have a role in ensuring that a child is able to receive an education from home when their school is closed or making it possible for an immune-compromised individual to receive healthcare without exposing themselves to a high-risk hospital during the pandemic — bridging the digital divide is life-changing for many people in rural communities.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I am not fully satisfied with the status quo but, at SAC, we are working to make a difference with our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). SAC’s Women in Wireless ERG is leading the effort. Education and opportunity are specific areas SAC is focused on to help women gain success in the telecom industry. I am proud to be a part of a team that wants to empower women in the industry and help them to succeed.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
While I believe there are plenty of STEM opportunities for women in the telecom industry for engineering and office work, the gender gap tends to be most prominent in disciplines such as operations, electronics, and tower construction work. I believe the key to overcoming these challenges is in perception. We need to help women know they are just as capable as men to perform this work. SAC has some awesome women already filling those roles, we just need more of them.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
I have fortunately not dealt with anyone who has outwardly put me down or held me back. Yet, for a while, I had a perception issue, as I mentioned before. For certain roles, I was uncertain of what the job really was and if I could do it. Yet, throughout my career, if I did not understand something, I always asked for help. My mentors didn’t laugh at me; they taught me.
When I started my first job in telecommunications, I could look at the books of a business and speak intelligently on why they were winning or losing. It took time to learn about how the telecom business works. As I gained confidence, I could see that others took me seriously.
Women bring a different perspective to the telecom industry. Women have a different work style than men — they need to have the facts and be able to communicate them clearly; then they execute. People follow confident, knowledgeable leaders, regardless of whether they are men or women. I encourage other women to assume that people have no preference to being led by a man or a woman. If a conflict arises, address it.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Lesson 1: Have character. Integrity is the one thing everyone can own, so I strive to be a person who can be trusted to do the right thing.
There is not one story that can point out this trait. Having character and integrity comes through daily practice with yourself, your leadership, and your team. Once people learn to trust your motives and actions, they will follow you without question.
Lesson 2: Be humble, but don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.
Lesson 3: Have a sense of urgency.
These two lessons tie to something that changed my career exponentially. On one occasion, I remember being called by the vice president of my organization, who was several levels above me at the time. He called to let me know how much he appreciated the job that I was doing, but he said that the organization’s structure would be changing as markets were collapsing into a larger area. He said my position was going away, but I would have a place somewhere in the new organization under a director level management position. I don’t know what urged me to speak up, but I asked him if I could be considered for a higher level position. He asked why I thought he should consider me. My answer was two-fold; I was already doing the work, and he was the one who had encouraged me to grow within the company originally. In that moment, I learned to believe in myself, speak up, have a sense of urgency, and position myself to be someone who can be connected to people who are going places.
Lesson 4: Bring others along with you as you grow.
Lesson 5: Celebrate your wins by celebrating others.
These two lessons are so closely aligned. When you truly care about people and know their desires, needs, and capabilities, it is easy to help them grow in their careers. At first, I started tracking the number of employees I helped get a promotion, but then I realized the import measurement was the number of weddings, christenings, and graduation parties my husband and I were invited to attend. What a blessing is has been to be called friend as well as boss.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
I would share this: learn how to let go of control and empower your team. The newest person may have the best idea. Staying open to new perspectives gives diversity of thought to any project and boosts everyone’s self-worth.
What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Earn trust and give trust quickly. Trust, but verify. Get to know your team as individuals with one-on-one meeting time. You know the old saying: people don’t care how much you know; they want to know how much you care.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
SAC’s Chief Operating Officer, Chris Bondurant, has been my most important mentor. He helped me to see that it was possible for me to grow personally and professionally. I met Chris when I was hired on for a six-month contract at Cingular Wireless as a project coordinator. I came from an accounting background and had no telecommunications experience. Chris noticed my work ethic and ability to quickly learn telecom concepts. It took a few years to earn the right to be mentored by someone like him.
Great leaders are talent scouts, and Chris is a great one. He knew I had a solid foundation and tracked my growth through his team.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I mentor as much as I can, both formally and informally, at work and in the community. It takes more listening than talking to mentor well, and I think that is my strength. Having the best interest out for those who you interact with always comes back as a reward.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Wow, no pressure! I would inspire a movement of empathy. I think that job sharing, rotations of positions, and taking a day in the life of someone else are a few ways that we can all put ourselves in others’ shoes. These experiences may trigger a talent or passion in someone that was untapped, or it could increase the collaboration through empathy that we lack as a society.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is from my mother during a difficult time for me in school. She said, “Remember you are no better than anyone else, but nobody is better than you.” There is an ego and humility balance that has gotten me through a lot of interactions with a diverse group of people, and I’m grateful to her every day for sharing this advice with me.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I would love to meet Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. I am in awe of the way she has juggled a successful career, family, and community. She seems to be able to do all things so smoothly, but I’m sure she has had her struggles along the way.