Female Firsts at AT&T

Female Firsts at AT&T, pictured clockwise starting at top-left: Erna Hoover, Shiz Suzuki, Emma Nutt, Suzanne Nagel, Virgina Dwyer, Marilyn Laurie, Shirley Jackson, Monica Mehan, Anne Chow, Marian Shepard

Female employees at AT&T come from a long line of trailblazers who broke barriers, created innovative products, helped diversify the company and increased the number of executive women in its ranks.

Among them are people like Anne Chow, who in 2004 became one of the company’s first Asian-American female officers. And, Shizuka (Shiz) Suzuki, who in 2017 became the first female appointed as assistant vice president for sponsorships and experiential marketing.

Women pioneers have been a part of AT&T since 1878. That’s when Emma Nutt joined a team of teenage boys at a telephone exchange in Boston to become the first female operator. Within a few years almost all the telephone operators were women. Those female operators rose to the occasion during World War I, operating the telephone switchboards for the U.S. Army in France.

(Nutt’s groundbreaking role in our industry garnered her a spot on the National Days of the Year Calendar, with September 1 denoted as Emma M. Nutt Day.)

Women’s History Month is the perfect opportunity to celebrate female firsts at AT&T.

“We have a number of pioneers we can point out, people like Elizabeth Wood, like Erna Hoover …,” said Sheldon Hochheiser, AT&T’s Corporate Historian. “These are women who managed to succeed and have solid careers in what was considered men’s spheres in a society that was enormously different than ours today.”

In particular, Hochheiser said the operator profession became known as women’s work when the telephone was still in its infancy.

“As a result, AT&T and its subsidiaries became the largest employer of women in the United States,” he said. “At its peak, in the early 1950s, AT&T employed over 200,000 women as telephone operators.”

A couple decades later, AT&T became the first company in the country to form an Employee Resource Group for women. More recently, Chow created the company’s first Women of Business Employee Network. Chow, AT&T’s president of National Business, said she saw a need for more specific networking and mentoring for women in that area.

Other notable firsts for women at AT&T:

  • Elizabeth A. Wood – In 1943, she became the first female MTS (Member of the Technical Staff) hired at AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories. Thus, the first woman with the rank of full researcher.
  • Erna S. Hoover –In 1964, she was the first female appointed a supervisor at AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories, and later, the first female department head. She earned the distinction of becoming one of the first people in the United States to be granted a software patent.
  • Suzanne Nagel - Joined AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1972.  She supervised the team of researchers working to improve the design and fabrication of glass fibers used in all modern telephone cable. Holds a patent for lightguide fabrication.
  • Shirley M. Jackson – In 1976, she became the first black female Ph.D at AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories. Her groundbreaking work in theoretical physics, included the properties of semiconductor strained layer superlattices.  
  • Virginia A. Dwyer –She was appointed vice president and treasurer of AT&T in 1979, becoming the first woman to reach the level of officer at AT&T and one of the first women to reach the highest level of a major American corporation. 
  • Marilyn Laurie – She became the first female executive director at AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1980 when she ran the Public Relations and Employee Information Division. She held several other offices, including executive vice president for AT&T Brand Strategy & Marketing Communications. 
  • Marian E. Shepherd - In 1983, she became the first black female director at AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories when she ran the Staff Personnel Utilization Center. 
  • Yvonne M. Shepard – She was the first Hispanic female director at AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1986, overseeing the Business Planning and Quality Management Center. 
  • Monica M. Mehan – In 1992, she became the first woman to head one of AT&T’s major business units, as president and CEO of American Transtech. 
  • Shizuka (Shiz) Suzuki – In 2017, she was named the first female assistant vice president of sponsorships and experiential marketing, leading partnerships with the NBA, Major League Soccer, AT&T Tribeca Film Fest, The Masters and AT&T’s first partnership in eSports.
  • Anne Chow – In 2017, as president of National Business, she created the company’s first employee network solely focused on women in business. The Women of Business Employee Network cultivates the development and advancement of women in business leadership roles and has more than 4,700 members in 23 countries.