Boardroom talked to AT&T’s chief diversity officer about the telecommunication company’s plans to foster a diverse talent pipeline.
AT&T Chief Diversity Officer Michelle Jordan is responsible for ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion are embedded into the company’s DNA and business strategy.
Before taking over in her current position, Jordan served as the company’s VP of talent and leadership development. She was head of talent strategy and acquisition, executive experience, and leadership development in that role. Jordan joined AT&T with extensive experience across multiple industries, including executive communications, customer service, product management, strategy, and more. Before jumping into those fields, she even put her chemical engineering degree from Florida A&M University to use for a few years at Honeywell, where she worked as an environmental engineer.
So, how did Jordan end up leading AT&T’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts?
“I feel like every single one of those experiences and seeing the world from various vantage points has prepared me for an incredible opportunity to be chief diversity office for AT&T,” Jordan told Boardroom in an exclusive interview. “We’ve made progress, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Jordan said she didn’t hesitate to accept the top DEI role at AT&T when the opportunity came her way. She is the fifth executive to hold this role at the multinational telecommunications holding company. Jordan is passionate about DEI work and ensuring underrepresented communities are well-represented across every facet of AT&T’s business and operations.
Boardroom recently talked to Jordan about how she plans to hit DEI goals at AT&T and foster a diverse talent pipeline.
A Clear DEI Vision
On a day-to-day basis, Jordan’s work focuses on taking care of her employees, boosting employee engagement, and spending time with her team to ensure the alignment of all of their tactics. At AT&T, the DEI team is housed in HR. Jordan said her team spends a lot of time coordinating and collaborating across various teams to trace how DEI initiatives are progressing.
“We spend an abundance of time making sure that our communications are on point,” she said. “We understand what measures of success look like, and that requires a lot of meetings and stakeholdering.”
Due to the nature of her role, Jordan often feels right in the middle of her work since she’s an executive vouching for the people. While a lot of work, it’s a fun job nonetheless, she said.
“I spend a lot of time with the executive leadership team, so it’s, it’s nothing for me to have a calendar full of sit-downs to provide updates to our executive leadership team on themes that we’re hearing from our employees, areas of opportunity, things we need to be celebrating, where I need their help, and where I need their investment,” Jordan said.
One of the biggest goals Jordan wants to achieve is to make sure professionals and talent from underrepresented communities are seen and heard across AT&T. This goal spans the company’s sponsorships, partnerships, and representation across senior leadership teams.
“A huge area that we’re focused on right now is identifying talent from underrepresented communities,” she said. “Not just racially underrepresented communities, but also making sure that our LGBTQIA community is represented, along with our veterans, disabled persons, and the list goes on and on.”
Another way AT&T is driving diversity is by being intentional about its sponsorships. For example, the company served as the presenting sponsor for the NBA HBCU Classic during All-Star Weekend 2023. AT&T donated $100,000 to the participating HBCUs, Grambling State University and Southern University, to support academic resources, athletics, and wellness services as part of the sponsorship. This is the second year in a row that AT&T served as the presenting sponsor for the NBA HBCU Classic, which is part of the telecommunication company’s strategy to identify talent matriculating through HBCUs.
“That’s one way that we will keep our pipeline flowing,” Jordan said. “That’s one way that we are making a difference. We believe in the community, so we’re investing in that talent pool and paying it forward.”
AT&T reported in 2021 that its workforce had as many as 202,600 employees. When addressing DEI, Jordan said she isn’t just thinking about internal company challenges but also global challenges that might affect people, such as mass shootings, economic instability, mental health, and more. Jordan describes AT&T’s workforce as a small microcosm of society, and everyone shows up from different environments with different needs that she’s charged with remedying.
“Work is a big rock that you’re pushing up a steep hill, and sometimes it feels like the hill gets steeper, and then it flattens because you were able to get some quick wins, and then it deepens again,” Jordan said. “This is an everyday challenge. When things happen outside of our walls, I ask myself, how are we going to show up? What are we going to do while recognizing that we can’t have a stance on every single thing? Still, how do we make sure that our employees’ needs are met?”
Jordan’s biggest obstacle is supporting employees through challenges often out of her control. She overcomes this by consistently meeting with employees, simply asking them what they need, and then meeting those needs.
“That’s a regular part of my rhythm,” she said. “I’m based in Dallas, and I can’t just sit in the ivory tower there, you know. It’s another thing to get out in the field and hear from our employees to help us address some of those challenges outside of our walls.”
Leaning into DEI
Jordan suggests DEI professionals looking to make strides in the industry should ensure they protect their mental and physical health and take care of themselves on this journey.
“You can get so immersed in this work, and if you’re not seeing the progress that you would hope that you would see, it can be taxing. It could weigh on you mentally. That’s why those priorities are so important,” Jordan said. “Define what success looks like and eat at it one piece at a time so that you aren’t trying to boil the ocean.”
DEI isn’t just the responsibility of the chief diversity officer; it’s a team effort. Employees look to DEI leads to connect them to greater possibilities, which starts with cultivating a culture where employees feel seen, heard, and supported.
“Everyone owns and plays a role in creating a culture where everyone feels included,” she said.
Chief diversity officers are often seen as the superheroes of HR teams, but there is no magic behind the real hard work it takes. Jordan expressed that DEI work takes a lot of courage. Passionate professionals drive the work, bolstered by support teams who understand the vision.
“You can’t solve it all. So I think getting really clear on areas where you see where the biggest opportunity exists and making sure that you have the resources you need to tackle it,” Jordan said. “You have to make sure everyone understands where that focus is, how they can help, what their roles are, what the needs are, and what success looks like at the end of the tunnel.”
More Stories on Executives:
Breaking down the 10 highest paid coaches in U.S. sports, led by championship winners Bill Belichick, Sean Payton, and Gregg Popovich….
In the debut episode of ‘AUX MONEY,’ Chase B chops it up with NFL rookie sensation CJ Stroud. Check it out….