Conversations On Diversity #3: Corey Anthony Of AT&T

Conversations On Diversity #3: Corey Anthony Of AT&T

Corey Anthony is the Chief Diversity Officer at AT&T. In this interview, conducted over email, Corey explains how he sees diversity work in the current moment. Responses have been edited for clarity and length. 

Ilana:

How long have you been at AT&T in your current capacity and what motivates you in your work?

Corey:

I’ve been AT&T’s Chief Diversity Officer since May of 2017 and, before that, spent much of my career coming up through different parts of our business. What motivates me is our company values, a foundation that we’ve established to inspire our workforce and guide decision-making. “Stand for Equality” is an important one, and I’m constantly motivated by the work that I see our employees doing in their conversations and in their communities. 

Ilana:

Do you think the current social moment has changed D&I (Diversity & Inclusion) programming or efforts? If so, how?

Corey:

Yes, but the painful truth is that, while progress in certain areas is real, we have not brought about the type of change we truly need. We’re doubling down on programs and commitments that we know can achieve lasting change. In July, we announced the investment of an additional $10 million to create economic opportunities for Black and other underserved communities, with a focus on workforce readiness, technology and entrepreneurship.

That investment is reflective of a broader commitment to economically empower underrepresented groups and create space for their voices and experiences. For example, we’ve committed to drive $3 billion in spending by year-end 2020 with Black-owned businesses in the U.S. through our Supplier Diversity program. I’m also especially proud of the hands-on role that our employees play, primarily through AT&T Believes, a local volunteer model we developed across 38 cities and in two European countries, to ensure that our support is tailored to the diverse communities we serve.

Ilana:

What do you think are the areas for improvement in D&I going forward?

Corey:

At AT&T and WarnerMedia, we’ve decided to structure our actions around a new commitment to Listen, Understand and Act because we recognize that those are all critical components for successfully advancing diversity and inclusion. That foundation allows us to act and build programming that moves us forward – whether that’s mandatory training on systemic bias, renewed focus on diverse talent acquisition and retention, or how we approach equity and inclusion in storytelling through WarnerMedia.

Ilana:

Given how politicized the workplace is now, how do you think about and navigate situations where people have differences of opinions on highly controversial topics?

Corey:

It’s an interesting question. On one hand, the workplace reflects the society and we know that we’re living in a time of heightened polarization. On the other hand, the workplace is one of the environments where people can easily find themselves interacting with others who have different opinions and experiences than they do on a regular basis.

The workplace could be one of the most effective environments to bring people together and bridge some of those divides. In that context, the two most important components are respect and a clear sense of values. It’s about remembering that first and foremost, we’re all people. Disagreement over a particular issue does not mean that there is no room to find common ground.

Ilana:

Do you think that companies can make public statements on social justice and also be open to employees with different political orientations? If so, how? 

Corey:

Every organization is going to make decisions based on their values. Our value to Stand for Equality is what drives our actions on social justice. For us, equality transcends politics; it’s about treating everyone like a human being worthy of respect and we expect all employees to do that, regardless of race, gender or politics.

AT&T strives to be a place where those are all welcomed and respected equally. That means we want our employees to feel empowered to voice their opinions and actively support the issues they care about, always with respect for those who might have a different perspective or experience. That may come with difficult conversations and decisions and those are the moments that we rely on our values to guide us.

Ilana:

What do you see as the right response to situations when someone feels they’ve been on the receiving end of a microaggression or one person says they are offended by something someone else has said?

Corey:

I think we first need to make the right distinctions. Taking offense at something and being on the receiving end of a microaggression are not the same. Microaggressions are by definition less blatant than overt racism but they have the same discriminatory intent or effect of making someone feel “other” or “less than.” 

When someone comes to you and says that they’ve experienced that, it’s important to show empathy and make sure that even as you gather the facts of the situation, you’re not exacerbating the harm by asking them to justify the validity of their feelings. When it comes to people taking offense, I think the right response is always to engage in respectful dialogue that allows you to see something from their point of view and allows them to see it from yours.   

Ilana:

Is there anything you’d like to add that I haven’t touched on?

Corey:

I think it’s important to stress the urgency behind D&I. It’s not about the changes we make a year, five years or ten years into the future. It’s now. I think if we are consistent and intentional in our actions every day, as individuals and as an organization, we can make a meaningful difference.

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