Matlock’s Women’s History Month Spotlight
In continuing our celebration of Women’s History Month, we would like to acknowledge another remarkable client, Donna L. Brock. Ms. Brock is the Executive Director of Strategic Communications and University Relations at Clark Atlanta University.
Q: When you were a child, what did you want to ‘be’ when you grew up?
A: As a child, I used to pretend I was an opera star. My grandmother’s greenhouse was my stage. My using her bathrobes as costuming didn’t go over very well, and so ended my career. By junior high school, I was certain I would become a doctor. I won the physics and the chemistry awards in high school, and at one point, spent my free time marveling at Jarvik’s artificial heart design. The deal-breaker for me came when I shadowed an ER physician during my senior year of high school: seeing people in acute pain all day proved overwhelming.
Q: Why did you choose this career path?
A: I grew up on “The Today Show”, “60-Minutes” and rarely missed “The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.” I was intrigued early on—before I even knew what it was—by the concept of agenda-setting, that the media could influence the public agenda. By the time I was in graduate school studying journalism and marketing, I was fully invested in the idea that the responsible practice of public relations was the logical, necessary bridge between increasingly fractionalized channels of information and ever-morphing market segments. Working to make the right things happen and making what happens relevant to others is still exciting, even after all these years!
Q: If you had not chosen this career path, what do you think you would be doing now?
A: I’d probably be an engineer or an architect. Building something from the ground up, or repairing a structure so that it is even stronger or more efficient than its original frame, is fascinating. I’m a great fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies Van Der Rohe, Norma Sklarek and Zaha Hadid. I try to approach my work in public relations and marketing with that perspective: building something necessary, building it well and building it so that it engages people in a meaningful way.
Q: Is it hard to find time for a personal life with friends and family?
A: Absolutely. I work 12 to 14 hours daily, usually six days a week. (I am NOT a workaholic; I simply understand the values of discipline and thoroughness.) That my social life has suffered is an understatement. Fortunately, many in my immediate circle of support keep the same hours. It doesn't solve the problem; but that I have relatives and friends who are understanding, patient and usually awake late at night goes a long way! I’ll do better…next year!
Q:Have you ever felt at an advantage based on your gender? If so, please explain.
A: No; but I’ve never felt disadvantaged either. I come from a line of incredibly strong, extremely smart women whose first focus was always excellence. My father taught me long ago that men and women can both score a win: discipline and perseverance made the difference, not gender. Ironically, from day one of my career, most of my mentors have been men. Any success I've enjoyed is attributed to my work—and my willingness to roll up my sleeves and work harder than anyone else. That is not characteristic of my being a woman. That is my character.
Q: Do you have any favorite moments or situations that occurred during your tenure at Clark Atlanta University that you can share?
A: In general, freshmen inductions and commencements are always great. You feel like 1,000 of your own children are having their best day ever! Also, I have for many years been an advocate against dating and domestic violence. Thanks to the largesse of Verizon Wireless and Avon Products Inc., we initiated an annual educational program, “The Call to True Beauty” on our campus. I have myriad responsibilities and wear multiple hats in my role here. But the world comes to a complete stop when students—male or female—come to me and say, “I think I have a problem, may I talk with you for a moment?” Last year, a student that one of our peer educators helped approached me following a rather crowded program. She quietly hugged me and simply said, “I’m good. Tell everyone, I’m really good.” I heard a new confidence in her voice. No one can manufacture a moment like that one.
Q: What advice would you give to young women hoping to become business or nonprofit leaders?
A: Be unwavering in your pursuit of excellence and be yourself. Trying to emulate others only gets you so far. It is important to embrace new experiences, situations and ideas. But the manner in which you incorporate, apply and present what you learn should reinforce your value to an organization. That value is enhanced by your ability to consistently deliver work that is professional, thoughtful, efficient and clear. These qualities are continuously honed through practice and discipline. Also remember that everyone can teach you something, from the CEO to the custodian, to the summer intern. Look always for the lessons and they will find you.
Q: There is a concern regarding the ‘Glass Ceiling’ for women, with fewer senior roles going to women – or women going for the senior roles. As a ‘glass breaker’, do think there is a key ‘flaw’ that many women seem to have that keeps them from breaking through?
A: Women have been discriminated against in the workplace, for sure. However, I think many women also are risk averse and too often unwilling to speak out or go against the grain. How many times a day do we hear “think outside the box?” I’ve found over the years that many of my female colleagues were overly grateful just to be inside the box. Leadership is not about proving you are an equal individual, it’s about motivating everyone in the company to prove that your company is superior. I’m not all that interested in swimming with the sharks. I think it’s a better use of my time to field the right team, build a superior speedboat and, maybe we’ll catch a few sharks while we’re out making waves!