AT&T is putting a major investment where its heart is, and that’s in students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The global telecommunications company is committed to partnering and providing resources, both monetarily and professionally, to the HBCU community for the development of future movers and shakers, through its Dream in Black, Rising Future Makers program. MADAMENOIRE spoke with AT&T’s chief diversity officer, Michelle Jordan, an HBCU alumnus who helped support the launch of this much–needed and inclusive initiative.
MADAMENOIRE: Before we get started, I want to know a little bit about you and how you’ve become the chief diversity officer for AT&T.
Michelle Jordan: Thank you, Ida. I always say that I’ve had somewhat of an eclectic journey to get to this place. My formal training is as a chemical engineer and I found myself in the telecommunications space about 16 years ago. I’ve seen a variety of places in this business, and I believe strongly, Ida, that all the areas of the business, whether it be since I’ve been at AT&T, or prior to AT&T, have given me the benefit of seeing the world from so many different vantage points. That has prepared me to be able to carry the mantle and make sure that we’re creating space, safety and opportunities for everybody to be heard, to be seen, and for me to apply an inclusive and empathetic lens to our DE&I work. I couldn’t be more honored and excited to have an opportunity to intersect passion, purpose, and everything to be able to drive progress in this space.
I appreciate that AT&T has stepped up to do this work and that you are on board to do that work as well. A lot of companies say what they would do. But what we’re witnessing, particularly in this partnership, is a commitment, a true commitment. How was this partnership spearheaded, like, what sparked it? What’s the catalyst?
Thank you for that recognition of the work and the commitment that AT&T has made in walking the talk. We’ve been at this for a long, long time. To really put it in perspective for you, our employee resource group that’s been in existence for the longest, is 53 years old. AT&T has been at this for some time, and I couldn’t be more honored to partner with the company and carry this mantle in terms of our Dream in Black commitment.
What sparked this for the company was this recognition that we have an opportunity to make sure that no one is left behind, and that we’re investing in all institutions and identifying sources for talent, incredible talent that may otherwise be forgotten or missed. Our partnerships with HBCUs allow us to create opportunities for those students to be able to navigate and be equipped with resources to help set them up for success.
That’s what Dream in Black and our commitment to HBCUs is about. This program gives us an opportunity to spotlight 25 HBCU students who are making a difference in their community and on their campuses. We’re able to support them with spaces and opportunities to make connections and build networks – giving them a chance to achieve their dreams and for us to help them make their own dent in their communities. So, we’re excited about this opportunity that we’ve created. We’ve continued to evolve over the last couple of years and will continue to make this investment. And we also support their development through mentoring and workforce readiness. And we’re excited about that.
That’s a big deal, that you all are not just working with the universities and the institution itself, but working directly with students and involving them in this process and providing them opportunity. I must say that’s not a common practice. What’s the biggest driver for continuing this initiative? What keeps you going? What keeps you invested?
As a proud HBCU FAMU grad, and as a mother of a son who attends Hampton University, I personally feel a strong connection to AT&T’s efforts to support Historically Black Colleges and Universities. I consider this divine, to have this opportunity to carry this mantle. And so, when we shine a light on these students, Ida, and we’re able to showcase the amazing talent, the amazing intellect and intelligence and innovative thinking that they have to offer, not to mention the impact that these students are making in their communities, it’s a no–brainer for us to continue to make this investment. That’s what keeps us focused and keeps us committed and dedicated. The hope is that the students are seeing the value in this as well, and we believe that they are.
Did you do anything different this second go around than you did the first go round?
We’ll continue to make sure that they receive 5Gs ($5,000), they will also still receive the 5G phones. But the things that will be different this year are the length of the program and the opportunity they have to be spotlighted is something that’s different. We’ll also have an expanded list of supporters who will provide mentorship for these students on their journey.
You mentioned mentorship with the celebrities; are AT&T upper managers and C-suite executives involved directly in the mentorship?
Absolutely. I mentioned earlier that we provide mentoring, and we provide opportunities for students to intern with AT&T. We provide workforce readiness resources for these students through our internal program that we refer to as our Future Leaders program. This program pair HBCU students with executives internally. That mentorship doesn’t stop when their internship ends. Those relationships continue beyond the time that those students are here with us for their internships.
And for our HBCU Rising Future Makers program – which is about spotlighting 25 students who are making a difference in their communities – is managed not just through mentorship with celebrities, but there are many of us internally who also get engaged and participate in programming. Whether it be mentorship or roundtable discussions. There are many of us who are very much engaged in that way as well through both programs.
I know you’re saying both programs are distinct– the Rising Future Makers and Black Future Makers–but is there a pipeline that would lead to working with AT&T in the future?
That is absolutely our hope with the AT&T Dream in Black, Rising Future Makers. It is our hope that these students would want to come and work at AT&T, to bring value and make an impact within the company and continue to be nurtured on their developmental journey. The sky is the limit. So, in terms of the relationship, we want to make sure we continue to reinforce and build that with these students. And so, whether it’s coming to work by way of a talent pipeline, potential suppliers, customers, community, thought leaders – we want to make sure that we not only open the door, but we keep that door open.
You touched on this, but tell how the AT&T Dream in Black Rising Future Makers initiative aligns with AT&T’s diversity, equity and inclusion directive?
A big part of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion directive involves bridging the digital divide. AT&T is uniquely positioned with the resources that we have and our core competency to play a lead role in bridging the digital divide—which is the gap between those who can fully participate in the modern online world and those who can’t. Our focus on the digital divide is directly tied to our commitment to increase workforce representation. And so, with our partnership and investment in HBCUs, we’re committed to making sure that students in marginalized communities across the nation have access to the digital tools that they need to succeed. That is where and why we’re focused on leveraging our core competencies and our resources to make that impact. That’s a big part of our DE&I efforts as well.
Michelle, I love this initiative. I’ve enjoyed reading the student profiles and seeing what they’re into, where they are headed and experiencing their joy through this opportunity. And again, I can’t thank you enough. I want to also highlight that I am stoked that a Black woman is at the helm of all of this.
I really appreciate that, and it’s an honor. We’ve got a lot of work to do, a lot of work that lies ahead. I’m optimistic about the journey and I am excited for these students that we have an opportunity to spotlight through AT&T Dream in Black Rising Future Makers.
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