Q&A with BRAC’s Diversity Star Award Winner for Large Businesses, AT&T

Meet Sonia Perez

Left to right: Darrell L. Johnson, Jr. of BRAC, Sonia Perez of AT&T, and Jerry Lebold of BASF)

Sonia Perez is the President of AT&T for the Southeast States. AT&T is a wireless internet service provider with nationwide fast, reliable, and secure 5G. AT&T was selected for its exceptional diversity, equity and inclusion practices within the company and the community. Specific practices include its diverse leadership structure, recruitment strategies, employee-led resource groups such as AT&T Veterans Employee Group amongst others, and its dedication to community engagement such as deploying fiber in North Baton Rouge, Baker and other underserved areas in the region and supporting various organizations within the Baton Rouge Area. 

Responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Describe the importance of diversity and inclusion and what it means to you and your business.

At AT&T, we champion diversity, equity and inclusion. We recognize our society doesn’t work if it doesn’t work equally for all. That’s why we are committed to helping solve systemic problems and close gaps that impact the individuals and communities we serve. To help drive change, we’re directing resources and leadership toward initiatives we believe will diversify and strengthen the workforce, advancing economic opportunity and helping narrow the digital divide. We are doing this through our investment in the growth of our talent. We select employees from diverse backgrounds to participate in several leadership development programs such as Women of Color, Executive Black Leadership Experience, Executive Latinx Leadership Experience and others. In our work to build the workforce of the future that reflects the diverse communities we serve, we partner with second chance hiring programs such as OneTen, TORI and the Business Roundtable’s Second Chance Business Coalition.

AT&T has been a DiversityInc “Top 50 Companies for Diversity” for 21 years consecutive years. AT&T earned the prestigious Hall of Fame spot on DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity in 2020 and remained a member of the Hall of Fame in 2021 and 2022. Our Supplier Diversity program (to date, $200 billion spend over last 5 decades) continues to support women, service-disabled veterans, members of LGBTQ+ community and people with disabilities. AT&T has made a 3-year, $2 billion commitment through low-cost broadband offers, network expansion, and charitable contributions, to help bridge the digital divide, which disproportionately impacts people of color.

How do you hold yourself accountable in consistently hiring a diverse workforce?

We recognize our workforce should reflect the diverse communities we serve. To build a diverse and inclusive workforce, we prioritize recruiting and hiring talented people who reflect the world in which we live and work. We also track our progress in these efforts: the percentage of diversity in our U.S. workforce increased to 47% last year, driven by employees in frontline and management positions.

Some ways we are recruiting and attracting talent at AT&T include our recruitment efforts with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and our HBCU Future Leaders Program, a multi-year mentoring and workforce readiness program for HBCU students. We’re committed to upskilling, training and second chance hiring programs such as, OneTen, TORI and the Business Roundtable’s Second Chance Business Coalition.

What are challenges you have faced when implementing your inclusion practices? What did you learn from them?

AT&T recognizes bringing people together from diverse backgrounds isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t just happen. We know being truly inclusive is not only about telling people they are welcome, but showing them they are valued because of who they are and what they bring. That’s why we place our employees and their lived experiences at the heart of our inclusive culture, valuing and celebrating the diversity of their background, perspectives and abilities. When we do this, we create workplaces where all feel valued, respected and empowered. When we create that culture, our employees bring their ideas and make a meaningful impact with our customers.

What advice would you give to local businesses who are trying to implement diversity and inclusion practices into their organization?

When you actively bring diverse views, backgrounds, cultures and talents together, you foster an inclusive environment where employees feel valued, respected and empowered to bring their ideas and help drive innovation, which is the ultimate goal. We understand investing and nurturing talent is crucial for our success, but we also know intentionality is key. That is why I strongly believe that for us to continue making progress towards increased equity and diversity, we must all become champions for that goal and make way for diversity at all levels.

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