In the 25 minutes Cynthia Marshall sat next to Mark Cuban during a news conference earlier this year, the then-interim (now officially full-time) Dallas Mavericks CEO was able to accomplish what few have succeeded in doing with the longtime team owner.
She kept the usually outspoken Cuban quiet.
Marshall appeared in complete control during her first public appearance in her new position. Her goal: to clean up the environment surrounding the Mavericks, whose alleged culture of sexual harassment and domestic violence was outlined in a damning Sports Illustrated article in February. Marshall thanked all the women who spoke out in last week’s report and vowed to make the Mavericks’ workplace a model for other companies to follow.
“I know a lot of this is in the past, and let me make it clear — if it’s in the present, it won’t stay,” Marshall said. “Because my brand is attached to it now.”
“I’m doing this, obviously, because a very passionate and heartfelt plea was made,” Marshall said. “It’s also personal. … I want to do it for the sisterhood.”
Marshall began work at AT&T in 1981, shortly after graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in business administration and human resources management.
After rising through the ranks, Marshall was named the president of AT&T in North Carolina in 2007, and in 2012 she was promoted to senior vice president of human resources/chief diversity officer for the national office.
In 2015, Marshall was named one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Corporate America” by Black Enterprise.
She left AT&T in 2017 to start her own consulting firm.
A female boss once told Marshall she was too ethnic because she wore braids and red shoes with heels. That night, Marshall took out her braids and purchased a pair of neutral shoes. It’s a decision that she regretted, as she told a group of women at the Berkeley Women’s Empowerment Day to “stand your ground and be your authentic self.”
As she tells the story in an AT&T promotional video, Marshall was 11 when a teenager confronted her father at the front door of their public housing in Northern California. Instead of staying in a back room with her siblings, Marshall was curious.
“I came to the front door and saw a young man point a pistol down, actually toward me,” she said. “My father responded in self-defense. Fortunately, it wasn’t fatal.” Marshall said the family was sequestered in the house for their own safety. When she returned to school, a uniformed police officer escorted her.
The violence continued at home. Marshall was once hit so hard by her father that he broke her nose. The relationship was so abusive that the family was forced to leave the house. When they returned, everything was gone except for a mattress.
“He said we’d be hookers on the street without him,” Marshall, who was 15 at the time, said. “At 15 years old, I responded, ‘No, we’re going to be the first in the family to go to college’ … and that I was ‘going to be the president of something’ one day.”
Marshall received a full scholarship to UC-Berkeley. During her first week of college, she received a call from her boyfriend, who told her he was transferring from Fresno Community College to San Francisco State to be closer to her. Marshall’s response was, “I’ll call you when I graduate.”
“I told him I have to focus. I told him I don’t have time for some smooth-talking cutie who wants to play when I need to study.” She kept her word and called him on her graduation day, inviting him to a party. He told her that he could not come because he was engaged.
Marshall was able to persuade him to attend her celebration.
“I’ve been married to that man for almost 30 years,” Marshall said of her husband, Kenneth. “I told him, ‘You were that close to missing your blessing.’”