Mentors usually appear at the beginning of an executive’s career, offering expertise and guidance, providing sage advice, and even opening some figurative doors. But Lennies (pronounced just the way it looks) Gutierrez, director of government affairs for South Bay and Southern Peninsula areas at Comcast, encountered her first mentor when she was just a child. And that was her father, Carlos R. Gutierrez.
“Both of my parents were immigrants from Mexico,” Gutierrez recalls, “so Spanish was their first language. And both of them had been farm workers during their summers in high school.
“Dad always told me that life would never be easy. And he knew that first-hand; he didn’t own a pair of shoes until he was seven years old. He also taught me that I should always stand up for who I am, and remember where I came from.”
The senior Gutierrez provided an ideal model for her. He set out to learn English, put himself through school and eventually earned a JD degree, and was appointed by then-Governor Jerry Brown to the Solano County Superior Court in June 2016.
“His impact on me was tremendous,” Gutierrez says. “Even though he worked long hours, he was always there for me. He was the only bilingual attorney in our area, and I got a real taste of civic engagement when I walked a precinct with him when he ran for a seat on our local school board; he became the first Latino elected to that board. In addition, he helped with the local ballet folklorico and a banda de guerra.”
Gutierrez continues, “And as an adult, I often invited him to speak to student groups at UC-Davis, and at events when I worked in Sacramento. His story of coming to the US as a Mexican immigrant, and putting himself through law school, was always inspiring. And he made it clear that he and my mother, Telly, were equals along the journey. She was always at his side, never behind him.”
Those early seeds of civic involvement began to flower in the director’s senior year of high school. “I had a sort of political awakening then,” she says, “and realized how important it is to give back to one’s community.”
She earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and Chicano/a studies at the University of California–Davis in 1999. In her senior year of college, she spent some time in Washington, D. C. and realized that she could have a great impact at her own state capital in Sacramento, California; in her last position she served as legislative director of the California State Assembly.
After a decade or so, she opted for law school herself, earning her JD degree from UNC Lorenzo Patino School of Law, attending classes three to four nights each week, in addition to holding down her regular job. “When my dad became an attorney, I saw how many people he was able to help, so I decided to follow his path. I really liked the intersection of politics and policy,” Gutierrez says.
A chance conversation with a Comcast employee during a community event steered Gutierrez toward the private sector. “I learned of an opening for director of government affairs at the company. I had seen a high level of dedicated engagement between Comcast and the various caucuses in Sacramento, and so I went after the job.
“First, I had to change my mind set about working in the private sector. Then I had to compete against many other applicants and go through a tough interview process,” she says.
But her tenacity paid off, and she joined the company in 2010.
Typically, Gutierrez functions as “the face of Comcast.” But instead of selling products or promoting programs, she builds relationships between the company and the various communities it serves, such as with the mayors of cities and towns, small businesses, and housing authorities, as well as with local nonprofits.
“I’m not the sort of person who shows up for a presentation and then disappears,” she says. “I’m available for those small businesses and student groups, and I’ll always make sure they get the answers they need.”
Several Comcast programs aimed at closing the digital divide are in her regional wheelhouse. They include Internet Essentials by Xfinity, the digital equity program that provides affordable internet service to the nonconnected, and Comcast Rise, which offers consulting, media, creative production, technology makeover, and monetary grants to people of color and women-owned businesses. “Since the inception of the Internet Essentials program, Comcast has connected over ten million people nationwide,” she shares.
The company is also one of the internet service providers that participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), in which qualified people on public assistance can apply for federal money to help pay their internet service. Gutierrez is instrumental in getting people in her region to sign up.
Gutierrez adds that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Comcast created free, Wi-Fi-connected “lift zones” in community centers nationwide. Lift zones provide free high-speed internet access at community centers and complement the Internet Essentials program for in-home broadband connectivity. The primary application for lift zones was to enable students to participate in distance learning and now has evolved to provide free internet in the community.
Gutierrez has also been involved with various employee resource groups (ERGs) within Comcast, and recently co-led the CA Unidos ERG and sits on the West Division Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council. “Each one has a particular focus such as career development, women’s history, or indigenous peoples’ history,” she explains. “It’s a company-wide effort, but the groups are organized at the local level, to better reflect the needs and interests of those regions.”
Gutierrez continues to serve on boards for nonprofit organizations including the Latino Leadership Alliance, Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE), and the Chamber San Mateo County. Gutierrez was also the first Latina invited to serve on the board of the African American Community Services Agency.
For Gutierrez, representation matters. “I’ve become a sort of role model for Latinas and other people, and that gives me the strength to keep moving forward. It’s important that even kids understand they can someday be part of a Fortune 50 company and still be their authentic selves,” she adds.
Today, Gutierrez still adheres to her father’s motto: “Be who you are.”
“I grew up in a humble environment,” she says, “and I’ve worked hard to get to where I am. And whether I’m working with a mayor or a business executive, I want to be genuine.”