AT&T Diversity Chief: "Diversity Means Creating a Culture" - Black Enterprise

AT&T Diversity Chief: “Diversity Means Creating a Culture”


A 22-year veteran at AT&T, Corey Anthony has held leadership positions in an array of vital areas, ranging from wireless and network operations to finance and global customer service. His current role at the telecom giant, which produced revenues of $160.5 billion and had roughly 254,000 employees on its payroll in 2017, gives Anthony the opportunity to have a “meaningful and lasting impact [and] be able to help shape the culture as we go forward in our business.” In edited excerpts from this exclusive interview, Anthony shares how the application of AT&T’s Diversity & Inclusion Best Practices advances innovative problem-solving, supplier diversity, race relations, and corporate leadership.

Define what diversity and inclusion means at AT&T and to you personally.
Trying to define diversity is almost like trying to define leadership. There are so many different definitions based on whom you happen to be talking to at the time. What diversity and inclusion really means here at AT&T is a couple things that are really, really important. One is being able to attract and embrace the best talent, period. Once we get that talent, being able to embrace that person for the uniqueness that he or she brings to the business, period. Once I have them in the business, diversity means creating a culture in which they can realize their fullest potential. If I’m creating an environment where I am facilitating opportunities so people can realize their fullest potential then we’re at our best in our business. It’s beautiful for both the company and the individual when we have that kind of environment. For me, diversity and inclusion encapsulates that.

Give me an example of how D&I plays a role in AT&T’s innovation and growth.
When we talk about diversity here at AT&T, it’s not just in the traditional sense of gender, race, and ethnicity but also cognitive style. It’s very key in driving innovation in our business. When we put a problem on the table, we want that table to be very diverse so everybody is looking at that problem not through the same lens. We all bring different backgrounds and varied experience sets to the table to try and arrive at the best solution for that problem. That drives innovation because the people who are around that table feel very valued because they have the ability to contribute to that solution, which leads to a better solution and creates this virtuous cycle.

“We embrace talent for the uniqueness they bring to our business, period.”

Too many companies check the box when it comes to diversity. AT&T, however, repeatedly demonstrates transformative D&I leadership. As such, do you share best practices with corporate peers and guide them?
We do. We spend a fair amount of time partnering with other entities, companies, and organizations in not only sharing some of our best practices as they relate to diversity and inclusion but also learning from them. I agree, we’ve been recognized externally as one of the leaders in the space, and we believe not only do we have a responsibility to perpetuate diversity and inclusion inside of the business, but we also have a responsibility to do what’s best for the communities where we work and live, and where our customers work and live.

Do you mandate suppliers to follow suit or do you encourage them?
It manifests itself in a few ways. No. 1, we model the behavior that we expect from our partners and suppliers. We want to be that example of what a successful business looks like that embraces diversity and inclusion. No. 2, we’re very clear about what our expectations are.

What are your expectations?
That you do everything that you can within your business, if you partner with us, to model the same behavior that you see from us. It’s not a mandate in the sense that we give them a miracle target or anything like that. It’s an expectation that you value diversity in your business in the same fashion that we value it in ours, and then we expect to see empirical evidence of that as well.
We take another step. We literally have a program where we help our suppliers identify minority-owned businesses as an example that they can partner with in terms of subcontracting and other relationships to meet our needs. It isn’t just a conversation we’re having. It isn’t just us modeling it. We’re also giving them tools and actually helping them to be able to achieve that in their business as well.

A member of the Billion Dollar Roundtable—corporations that spend $1 billion or more with minority suppliers—AT&T has also led when it comes to procurement spend among such firms. How can its approach to supplier diversity be replicated?
There are a number of reasons why we’re successful. One very important reason is our chairman and CEO Randall L. Stephenson has been very clear about his expectation of the business. I would argue that everything around diversity and inclusion has to start with leadership. For us, that means the board of directors and our chairman have been very clear about the expectation for AT&T as it relates to supplier diversity.
Two, we look at it as a partnership. We work with the supplier community to help them, in some cases, build their businesses [so they’re] able to partner with us at the scale in which they have to work with us.

You made a point that AT&T’s diversity and inclusion mandate comes from the top. Last year, the CEO went a step further in an address to the staff, stating the importance of having an honest conversation on race. That’s basically unheard of in corporate America. Tell us the impact of that statement and how you’ve created a program to foster such discussions.
Randall’s remarks at last year’s Employer Resource Group conference was one of the more interesting dynamics I’ve seen in our business. I will tell you a couple things. It wasn’t planned. His remarks were heartfelt, and they were his. What made that so interesting is that we didn’t plan for it to go external. The really beautiful part about what he did was give us all the permission to have the conversation inside of the business. He was the first one to do it. He did it in a very eloquent, very thoughtful way. He set the example for the business.
What we did was say: “OK, now that Randall has opened that door, we want to have those conversations. We want to have those effective, productive conversations in the business. How can we help facilitate that without turning it into a program that everybody has to do, and track it?” We didn’t want it to be a top-down program approach. We wanted it to happen more organically. In HR, we said: “What we will provide is not a structured program, but we will give you some tools to help have those conversations.” We did that, and we called it, “Tolerance to Understanding.” A key part of his message was cowards simply tolerate. We really need to move to full understanding, embracing. As a leader of your team, you decide, “I want to have a similar conversation with my team,” then we will give you some tools and resources, sometimes in the form of a person, that will help facilitate that conversation on your team.

It’s been extremely valuable. We’ve had thousands of people who have been impacted by these conversations. They have been springing up all over our business even to the point that it’s not domestic only. We’re having some conversations across the globe now. It’s been a key inflection point for AT&T since he made those remarks last fall.