Career Choices

My career began with Sprint in 1984 right after divesture occurred and the birth of the telecommunications industry began. Having come from a family of engineers, my natural curiosity for new and innovative technologies pointed me towards the present-day changes and advancements. The massive changes and new choices led me to this fascinating new industry. Having thrived in my new position with Sprint, I realized that this was the perfect industry for me. The amount of change occurring in the telecommunications space was ideal for my personality because there was always something new to learn and change was occurring rapidly. After three years with Sprint, I moved on to a telephone equipment company based out of South Carolina.

This was a great move for my new career because it allowed me to understand the equipment element in addition to the service element. There were very few individuals at the time who understood both. Having this broader understanding of the industry increased my value to customers and gave me a competitive advantage. The incredible amount of diversity and innovation clearly matched my intelligent curiosity and propelled me forward. The combination of my technical ability and natural ability to work and communicate well with others in a technical field, allowed me to achieve great success and propelled me to eventually start my own technology consulting business in 1994. A technical woman entrepreneur in 1994 was not common, and to some extent is still the case today. However, I never considered that this was an anomaly because starting my own business came very naturally to me.

Professional Interests & Drive

Leading people with truth and compassion is core to my personality. Truly caring about my employees, my customers, and my vendors, allows me to create a win-win-win for all. Focusing on accomplishing my customers’ objectives with the right vendor partners and the right solutions with an agnostic approach is my goal and passion. My focus on the long game has always been core to my belief system.

Building strong relationships based on these core values has allowed me to maintain relationships from the beginning and throughout my entire career. Having said this, I have had to make tough decisions along the way, which were in the best interests of everyone involved. My tenacity and perseverance have allowed me to get through the hills and the valleys of running a business and adjusting through all of the constant state of change in this industry. I have always endeavored to be on the cutting edge of innovation in the technology industry including the changes from voice to data, and from cybersecurity to new cloud innovations. My intellectual curiosity has always led me to be in the forefront of the technology landscape innovations. My long tenure in the industry has allowed me to grow, change and adjust quickly, and thrive while doing so.

Mentors & Influencers

My most influential mentor that comes to mind is Andy DeVries, former Vice President of Sales at Teledial America. This mentorship took place early in my career and prior to me starting ChoiceTel. Andy had a way of seeing past my inexperience in leadership and gently focusing me in the right direction. For example, having to drive two and half hours on Monday morning for an 8 a.m. sales meeting, I was not always as polished as I should have been. As a cat lover and also loved by my cats, they loved sitting on my wardrobe in the closet. Their white fur would often remain attached to my clothes, and my eyes did not always catch it on those early morning drives. So, walking into his office, Andy quietly handed me a lint roller and smiled as he walked out. His point was made, and although somewhat comical, his attention to detail across the board has always stuck with me.

Andy recognized my giftings and talents and customized his approach to me in a way that was meaningful. Investing in me with his time, training opportunities, and true care and concern, I knew Andy always had my best interests in mind. He customized his approach to each and every person on his team in a way that they could receive his guidance and mentoring, which created the intended impact. Not only did he mentor those around him, but he also allowed himself to be mentored by others as well. This included those that reported to him, and not just those over him. This has shaped my methodology and mindset and has allowed me to create greater impact with not only my employees and customers, but everyone in my life.

Mentorship Value

Mentorship for everyone is critical to ongoing success – you are never too old for mentorship. Before you can begin to teach anyone, maintaining a teachable attitude has to begin with yourself first. A singular mentor may be lacking certain elements that are required for success, therefore having a wide range of mentors in your life will offer a more rounded perspective. While other women mentors are crucial and very beneficial in the mentoring process, the unique perspective from a wide variety of people in your field and closely related field(s) will improve your overall experience. Consistency in mentorship is equally important as having multiple mentors. Having a regular cadence with those mentors in your life is critical to your growth. Ensuring that the cycle with each mentor is managed in such a way that when your time is concluding, you have another mentor ready to step into that role.

Maintaining consistency of multiple mentors is very important to women as they are growing in their field. It’s one thing to have regular communication with your mentors, it’s another thing to actively apply the principles and methodologies that are communicated. Ensuring that you implement these new behaviors and approaches consistently is critical to growth. If you really want to move to the next level, you have to be open to constructive criticism and new ways to do things. Some of these new behaviors may not feel natural initially. Once you commit to changing your behaviors, reactions, and thought processes, and you begin to see the positive results and repetition of these new behaviors, your perspective changes. Not only does your perspective change, but you begin to grow internally in new ways that you didn’t know existed within yourself. That’s what a new level looks like.

Admired Leaders & Trailblazers

Mary Alice Annecharico was the CIO for Henry Ford Health, an extremely large regional health system with approximately 45,000 team members, headquartered in Detroit. Having started out as a nurse in the 60s and early 70s, Mary Alice had an extremely difficult role as a woman who migrated to technology in the medical field at such an early date. She held many different positions at several health organizations throughout her career. Having a variety of different positions at various types and sizes of organizations, she strategically built her skill set to drive value and demonstrated success throughout her career. Her tenacity and grace are an amazing display of strength and her longevity in health and technology is evidence of her great success and contributions at each of the organizations she served in.

Linglong He, CIO for Rocket Mortgage, America’s largest home mortgage lender with over 100 different companies in many different categories. Being a female in a male-dominated field, not only in the technology field as well as finance, she quickly rose to the top. She has gracefully overcome multiple barriers including gender bias, cultural bias, language biases, and industry biases. Having a 25+ year career at this organization with only 7 people in technology when she started, the department is now 2000+. Her ability to be a technology forerunner, communicate, and tune into how people think and feel along the way greatly contributed to her success. The combination of these attributes allows her to be an effective leader and very well-respected in our community.

The primary reasons I admire these two great ladies are 1) their strength, 2) how they maintained their self-confidence and identity in the midst of great challenges and, 3) their longevity, and 4) their commitment to succeeding despite many roadblocks along the way.

Advancing Gender Parity

Remove your own gender bias first. Just because you are female, does not mean that you cannot excel in whatever your heart desires. You must start with yourself first. In starting with yourself first, you must consciously and purposefully consider your reaction(s) and your natural conclusions concerning what women “should” behave like. For example, men should take the garbage out, and women should do the cooking; men should mow the lawn, and women should plant the flowers. Starting here, begin to free yourself from these foregone conclusions and this will allow you to give yourself more freedom in your own expression of your true giftings and talents in the technology field. Women CAN excel in math and science if you allow yourself to.

Particularly concerning leadership and self-confidence in many male-dominated fields such as technology, women can embrace the same bias as noted above in item 2. This can create a self-sabotaging effect unintentionally. In many cases, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it, and your supporting body language. Ensure that you surround yourself with people who support you in your career and encourage you to reach your potential instead of “putting you in your place.” Enveloping yourself and your career in positive reinforcement(s) internally and externally will propel you in the right direction.

Leading the Next Generation

My husband’s great-great-great-aunt started Smith College for Girls in 1871, and her primary goal was to create equal pay for equal work. It is incredible we are still dealing with this issue after hundreds of years. Clearly, we haven’t produced the answer. Smith College states, “Having a wide variety of female role models tends to boost the aspirations and career achievements of female college students… At Smith, all of the leaders are women.” The normalization of effective women in leadership has not occurred. While Smith College has created an atmosphere of women excelling in their fields and in leadership and thus have created an atmosphere of normalization, the real world still hasn’t achieved this.

There are far too few women in leadership. A unified approach across all barriers; politically, within business, education, and culturally, must take place if we are to truly address gender equity. We are fighting an uphill battle because even in cases when women are excelling in leadership, many of these aforementioned barriers rise up to tear down. Our multi-faceted society is far too fragmented to provide a unified long-term approach for resolution. We have to start somewhere; nothing is insurmountable. Each of the barriers noted are contained within each one of us. Therefore, we must begin at the individual level and the complexity contained within us, and address each of these barriers identified individually. Only then, can we begin to make progress and remove the barriers that cause women to fail, and ultimately lose self-confidence and the will to continue to excel.

About Diane Smith

ChoiceTel’s CEO/President, Diane Smith, has more than 30 years of telecommunications and technology experience across a wide range of specialties including but not limited to: consulting, cybersecurity, public/private cloud, wide-area-networks, expense management, and UC|CC. Diane works across many different verticals, including enterprise and medium-sized organizations. In an effort to give back to the community, Diane has implemented programs to support technology with non-profits to improve communications, reduce costs, and provide overall management services pro bono. Diane has served on the IT Kitchen Cabinet and Broadband Committee for the State of Michigan to improve services to the underserved communities.

Achievements & Recognition

Diane has participated in several government cyber and technology missions and participates on several committees in Michigan, such as the Broadband committee. Having served on the board for Michigan Israel Business Bridge|Business Accelerator Non-Profit, Diane has been on the leading edge of innovation and the partnership between Michigan and Israel.

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