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Verizon’s Marni Walden on Why She’s Leaving the Company

October 10, 2017, 9:43 PM UTC

Marni Walden isn’t quite ready to talk about her next move.

The executive VP overseeing Verizon’s media and digital business—and the company’s highest-ranking female executive—announced last week that she’s leaving the telecom giant in February. Speaking at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women summit in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Walden stayed mostly quiet about her immediate plans after she leaves Verizon, saying that a non-compete agreement that she signed means she can’t work for any of Verizon’s rivals over the near-term.

The “best part about a non-compete is that it gives you a year to think about what you want to do,” she said.

In explaining the reason for her impending departure, the Verizon exec did not deny earlier reports that her decision to leave involved the realization that she would not be the successor to CEO Lowell McAdam. “There was one other job at Verizon and it became clear that job potentially wasn’t going to be mine,” Walden said on Tuesday.

Walden was also adamant that her impending departure is completely unrelated to the ever more massive data breach at Yahoo, a digital property she currently oversees (along with AOL) after serving as a key figure in Verizon’s drawn-out acquisition of the digital media company. That deal closed in June, nearly a year after Verizon announced the acquisition.

Asked for her advice to employees who find themselves stuck on the corporate ladder, Walden said it’s important to take a risk sometimes. “You don’t always have to stay for the security of what you know,” she said. “Stepping out and being bold is scary at times, but it’s also incredibly fun.” And, while Walden said she’s had an “amazing journey” at Verizon, she added that spending the past few years focusing on digital media and Verizon’s Internet of things business (after heading up Verizon Wireless until 2015) gave her insight into some newer business areas that she might want to explore in her next role—whatever that may be. “We’ll see,” she said at the MPW summit. “What’s important to me now is that the world is not just about telecommunications.”

Additionally, Walden expressed regret for the relatively small number of female executives at Verizon. “I’m disappointed that we didn’t make more progress in that space,” she said, noting that she worked closely with Verizon’s board of directors to improve the gender balance among the company’s leadership. (Walden did point out that Verizon recently hired a woman, Rima Qureshi, as its new chief strategy officer.)

And, when it comes to company’s looking to groom female executives, Walden said “it takes a village” and that the support system needs to start early. “You can’t start at the senior levels,” she said. “You have to start at the bottom and the middle of organization to continue to groom women to be ready. And, bringing men into the conversation is so incredibly important, so that you have sponsorship when the right opportunities come along.”