Jennifer Artley of BT Global: Why we should reimagine a society where we operate from a genuine place of ‘humanhood’

I like to re-imagine a society where we operate from a genuine place of ‘humanhood’. I envision this as interactions where we are present, curious, open-minded and willing to pause for consideration before reacting. That kind of mindfulness requires a special muscle, developed cumulatively by practice. I would ignite a movement that would bring mindfulness classes into the school system, starting as early as kindergarten. The idea is to introduce the practice at an early age and develop the mindfulness muscle just like we develop reading or math skills. The more we habituate mindfulness, the more available we are to operate from a place of humility instead of ego, to be curious instead of judgmental, and to be expansive instead of exclusive.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Artley, President of the Americas at BT Global.

Jennifer Artley is President of Americas at BT Global and managing director of the technology, life sciences, and business services vertical. Jennifer has more than 20 years of technology and business development experience, previously serving as Chief Operating Officer at BT. Global Telecoms nominated Jennifer as one of ’50 women to watch.’

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

After college, I landed at a boutique strategy consulting firm, specializing in benchmarking and competitive analysis. Within a year I was presenting to senior level clients — scared to death but determined. I left because I finally figured out how to leverage my Russian studies degree and took a position with Booz Allen, working in Moscow for a year as a consultant. It was exciting work and exciting to be living abroad. But…I started to feel the need to prove myself. I applied to business schools and ultimately went to the University of Pennsylvania, where I earned a MBA from Wharton and a Masters in International Studies from the Lauder Institute.

After my MBA, I thought about which industry I wanted, and I landed on telecommunications. The irony here is that I didn’t have a technical bone in my body! I moved out to Colorado and accepted a position at Level 3 Communications in its corporate strategy team, in an industry we all know lags with women in leadership positions, and in general.

I’m now at BT, which is a very globally minded company, and I couldn’t be happier. I get to tap into my language skills and international experience every day. I am in a leadership position in an industry that only has about 40% women. I moved from COO to CEO for the Americas at a time when our company is transforming. I love it.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Shortly after joining BT I had an opportunity to establish a new project that was a bit of a disruptor to our fairly siloed (at the time) organization. It ended up being an experiment in human sociology, but with great business benefits. A colleague of mine and I assembled a team of people across about a dozen functions to meet and talk about our network strategy in the U.S. At first, people were uncomfortable — they were waiting to be told what to do, they wanted a dashboard and a spreadsheet. Our intent was to just get the variety of voices in the room and see what we could organically explore and discover in group discussion. I think the reason they initially attended the meeting was because I was the senior leader and they were being respectful but, after a few awkward starts, what began to unfold was not just a new network strategy but the opportunity to create cohesion across the business. We set a new strategy and changed the way we negotiate with suppliers, saving millions of dollars with our telco spend. We were more aggressive, and, through our successes, we were shaping the rest of the company’s views on access technologies. Ultimately all that work led to a completely new approach to our network strategy globally. It fascinates me how the power of curiosity — exploring for the sake of discovery without a set rubric — can pick up such energy so that what is discovered becomes a new way of working. That project carries on impactfully to this day.

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?

BT’s global headquarters are in London and prior to COVID-19 I traveled there often. As an American, some words don’t quite exchange evenly between our versions of English. Did you know “pants”, in the U.K., refers to undergarments? Well, I did, but had completely forgotten! While talking with a circle of male colleagues, I mentioned I’d ripped my pants and didn’t have any others for this trip — to which, eyebrows were raised, and l swear I heard an audible “gulp”. What’s more mortifying than having to listen to the boss talking about her ripped undergarments! Now, I have to keep “trousers” on the forefront of my mind when talking to my colleagues across the pond!

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?

This is absolutely true, and I certainly have been on the receiving end of great support along my way. Years ago, I worked at a company that was going through major restructuring after a huge acquisition spree, and within that change, out came a new position: Director of Offer Management for International Carriers. I felt like it was a perfect fit for me. The job description married all my work experience in technology and business with my personal passions for international culture and nuance. The problem was, I wasn’t at all considered “international” at the current company. They only knew me for corporate strategy and product management for a domestic market and were hard pressed to be convinced otherwise. I sat down with a coworker who recognized I was precisely qualified for the role and who was infectious in her encouragement that I pursue the job. She gave me the confidence to do just that. When I was on the fence about my capabilities, she gave me the support I needed to draw from until I could press on with my own firm confidence. She and I ended up as excellent business partners for many years.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

What works best for me is a recipe that is 2 parts preparation and 1 part release. I spend quality time doing the necessary research, drawing up an outline, and drafting my remarks. Sometimes I need to go through the motions of delivering the speech or thinking through out loud how I believe a challenging meeting may play out — whether that’s in the mirror, to my dog, or to all the plants in my backyard. I build my confidence by studying my subject and getting very comfortable with the material. And then…I let it go. I put it down. I walk away and take time to exercise. I let all the preparation set in and congeal while I move on with the day.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

There are two reasons that are top of mind worth spelling out. The first is diversity of thought. This is what sparks creativity and drives innovation. If we all think the same way and are sitting around a table, we’re probably going to land on the same-old, same-old. Our experiences influence our thinking minds and having a richness of perspectives around the table means that we are going to attack a challenge or an opportunity from many different angles, with the output being a solution that stands a better chance of supporting the greater good. The second reason is about representation and identification. With diversity across the executive team, it opens a space for belonging. What I mean by that is, it changes the dynamic from conforming to a “white standard” to creating an environment where people can be true to themselves in addition to being good at whatever they do for a day job. It’s also about identifying with who’s represented across the boardroom and seeing a career trajectory that is inclusive — and ultimately, possible.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

I advocate for starting with educating oneself and going deeper than surface level. Absolutely that means through reading, listening or watching from a variety of sources. It also means reaching out and mixing with people who you might not mix with normally. The more can we can engage with each other, the more we can begin to shift our understandings (or lack thereof), increase our sphere of inclusion, and build upon our empathy. There is some mandating of education that can be done and frankly, must be done — but it is incumbent on each person to access their own inner reserve of accountability and want to educate themselves. In this way, as business leaders, we can start with ourselves and leverage our position of influence to model that behavior.

I’m also convinced that we need to truly commit and adhere to whatever standards of betterment we put in to motion. If we decide X amount of new hires will be from Y underrepresented group, then let’s not concede the requirement. It’s happened to me a few times where a position will be posted that we’ve specifically committed to hiring a female candidate for, yet after a month of receiving applications, all that’s come across my desk are male candidates. It’s not enough to be told “that’s just who applied” or “we just didn’t have any interested women”. It’s one thing to set a standard and say it’s a good idea. It’s another thing to raise the bar and not allow anything BUT the good practice.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

What is different for an executive is the 360-degree scope. Many on my team carry a fiduciary responsibility, manage internal teams, cultivate customer relationships and interface in public arenas — which are also elements of my role, as well. Where it differs is around scope — with more scope, comes more access. Because of where executives sit, they have broader visibility across the organization and are able to connect dots and remove obstacles by leveraging a greater universe of capabilities. It’s the skill of the executive to understand where to draw from or who to draw in, in order to make the magic happen.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

The biggest myth is that senior executives have all the answers. I don’t believe senior executives have all of the answers. I do believe the role of the senior executive is to facilitate the coming together of the right, diverse minds to drive to the best answer, conclusion or roadmap.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

On a personal level, the quality of my voice is soft. That’s not to say I am a soft-spoken person. Rather, the quality of my vocal tone is soft. That means that I often must tap into physical strength to project and command vocally. Men, with deeper registers and vocal tone, are often more easily heard in most settings without having to exert extra effort.

On a wider level, I think we operate differently when it comes to confidence. You might have heard the old quip about how when a woman reads a job description and only identifies with 80% of the capabilities. She thinks: Oh, I can’t do that yet, I need to learn more first. Alternatively, when a man reads a job description and only identifies with 50% of the capabilities, he says: That job is for me!

There’s a confidence factor that starts early and can stay with us. I’d like to think that is changing and whatever imposter syndrome women have carried around is fading generationally. I watch my daughters and see they are presenting all the time at school — meaning, they are accustomed to being a voice in the room and participating in a way that’s more equitable than when I was their age.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I thought I would be spending the majority of my time with customers. I underestimated the time consumption of planning and governance!

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

I wouldn’t give women or men different advice. I would tell any leader that if you want your team to thrive: See the people. That starts with being present in your communications and interactions, giving the respect of your focused attention. It’s also about understanding strengths and weaknesses so that when there is an opportunity to solve a new problem, you’ve seen your people and you know who to tap for the project to drive change.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I like to reimagine a society where we operate from a genuine place of ‘humanhood’. I envision this as interactions where we are present, curious, openminded and willing to pause for consideration before reacting. That kind of mindfulness requires a special muscle, developed cumulatively by practice. I would ignite a movement that would bring mindfulness classes into the school system, starting as early as kindergarten. The idea is to introduce the practice at an early age and develop the mindfulness muscle just like we develop reading or math skills. The more we habituate mindfulness, the more available we are to operate from a place of humility instead of ego, to be curious instead of judgmental, and to be expansive instead of exclusive.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I whole-heartedly believe there is magic in collaboration and I’ve seen that play out time and time again. There’s an old African proverb that often runs through my mind, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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

If Michelle Obama is part of your readership, please do tag her! I’d love the opportunity to sit across the table from her and hear anything she has to say. She’s seen America and the world. She’s experienced America, and the world, in such meaningful and intimate ways — while wearing many hats: as a woman, a mother, an advocate, and of course as First Lady. She sets the bar for intelligence, caring, class, and gravitas.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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