How AT&T Innovates with Employee Resource Groups

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With the importance companies place on Diversity and Inclusion, many use Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to help them improve and build a successful program.  Typically, the definition of an ERG is an “employer-recognized group of employees who share the concerns of a common race, gender, national origin or sexual orientation”.  It is important to note that these characteristics are protected by law and in many companies are protected by policy as well. 

An Evolving History

One company well known for their ERG program is AT&T, so let’s take a look at this corporate giant to see how they’ve integrated ERG programs into their business.

With the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, the groundwork was laid for the company that would be AT&T.  Once known as “Ma Bell”, the brand is known for their innovations in communications.  By the 1970’s, it had almost one million employees and was the largest company in the world.  Once considered a “natural monopoly”, AT&T reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice in 1982.  They divested 22 regional companies and by 1984 these divisions were re-organized and converted into 7 regional phone companies which included Nynex, Bell Atlantic, Ameritech, BellSouth, Southwestern Bell Corporation, US West and Pacific Telesis Group.  This group became known by the nickname “Baby Bell’s”.

However, AT&T had retained its Western Electric Subsidiary, which manufactured telephones and other equipment and the Bell Telephone Laboratories, its research and development branch.  The “breakup” also freed AT&T to compete in the areas of data processing and computer communications.  Other successes they experienced were the development of many of the major technical advances in telephone service, switching systems, transoceanic radiotelephone links, and early-warning radar systems for the U.S. Department of Defense. 

Communicating Diversity While Building Engagement

As a company built on communication, it isn’t surprising that AT&T has applied their core product solution to its employee relations as well.  And in the last few years, AT&T has been recognized for its progress in employee satisfaction and engagement.  In 2016, they were ranked #10 in Best Workplaces for Diversity 2016 and ranked #93 out of 100 on Fortunes 2017 100 Best list. In 2019, they came in at #6 in Best Big Companies to Work for.  Showing commitment to their employees, in 2016 AT&T began an update of their technology and worked to train over 100,000 employees on the new programs instead of recruiting a new influx of tech-savvy talent. Also, in 2016, AT&T filled more than 40% of open positions with internal candidates.

To take their employee commitment to another level and to keep up with the rapidly changing world, AT&T has found success with their Employee Resources Groups.  And with these groups, AT&T has been as innovative regarding employees as it has been with technology.  Globally, the workforce has a combined 130,000 members in their twelve Employee Resource Groups and its thirteen Employee Networks (EN’s).  These twelve organizations help members grow both professionally and personally, which in turn helps AT&T achieve their annual goals. 

Current AT&T ERGs include:

·      InspirAsianInspirAsian is the ERG for Asian/Pacific Islanders and fosters development and leadership opportunities for its members

·      HACEMOS -  The Hispanic/Latino Employee Association of AT&T is for those of Hispanic or Latino descent to support one other to succeed professionally and personally through networking and volunteering.

·      LEAGUE at AT&T  - This ERG represents the LGBTQ community and their allies and looks to champion diversity, professional development and community involvement.

·      Ability – Ability is the ERG for AT&T employees with disabilities.  This group provides understanding, awareness and resolution of challenges facing individuals with disabilities.

·      AT&T Veterans – Supporting reservists and active duty military along with their families this AT&T ERG provides service, support and networking for veterans.

·      FACES- The goal of the Filipino American Communications Employees of AT&T (FACES) is to promote a multi-cultural perspective for both employees and customers.

·      ICAE - The Intertribal Council of AT&T Employees brings awareness and opportunities for cultural development, career advancement education, understanding and the well-being of all employees and specifically for Native Americans.

·      OASIS - The Organization for Asian Indians ERG  helps global members identify ways to leverage their talent, connections and engagements to drive leadership and recognition opportunities.

·      oxyGEN – This ERG attracts, develops and helps in the retention of current and future leaders with AT&T.  This is promoted by using innovative programs and fostering cross-generational dialogue.

·      Professional 50 Forward – Another important cross-generational approach is this ERG which supports a multi-generational AT&T workforce and sponsors programs and activities oriented to professional development and workforce reentry to name a few.

·      NETwork -  Black Integrated Communications Professionals  - This group promotes the African-American experience within AT&T and pursues inclusive activities to unite all who share core values.  This group is the oldest ERG at AT&T and with 12,000 members is the third largest.

·      Women of AT&T  - Women of AT&T looks to connect and inspire members to achieve their personal and professional goals and make their community a better place to live.

AT&T ERGs and the Impact on Inclusion

These groups provide a way to for AT&T employees with common interests/backgrounds to connect and it gives employees the opportunity to be heard, valued and engaged.  Cooperation is fostered as the groups allow connections to be built not just within teams, but across them as well.  As they understand both the customer and the business drivers better, this gives AT&T greater insight into the employee life-cycle, which in turn allows HR and others to improve on processes like onboarding.

The company also hosts an annual conference for members of all ERGs to come together.  At the convention, cash prizes are given away to help fund events and other opportunities throughout the year.  In 2018, three of the groups (HACEMOS New Jersey, oxyGEN New Jersey and FACES Northeast) worked together to help at-risk high school kids in the New Jersey area with an Internet of Things device known as the microbit.

Overall, ERGs benefit employees by:

·      Creating an opportunity to be heard, valued and engaged.

·      Helping gain a better understanding of who customers are.

·      Gain insight on business performance.  At AT&T, ERG’s have developed into a win-win for both employees and the company as they have helped to improve workplace diversity.

As many companies struggle with achieving a truly measurable and vibrant definition of inclusion within their culture, AT&T’s ERGs have accomplished this by focusing first on inclusion.  And by giving these groups a high degree of autonomy to spend and focus on issues the group determines are vital, AT&T has invested in itself by investing in the trust and experience of each group’s members. AT&T ERGs have their own website to inform and advocate as they require. These groups have matured and grown within the company to help achieve a high level of diversity as well.  As a result, AT&T today has 37% of all leadership positions held by women and 38% held by persons of color.  This has also led to an 85% overall retention rate companywide.

This diversity, while reflected in positive diversity statistics, was achieved by tackling inclusion and by pursuing a path of including diversity and inclusion as part of their core values.  Because of the efforts of its inclusion efforts through its ERGs, AT&T has achieved numerous milestones in D&I:

·      2019 – 100% on Corporate Equality Index, Human Rights Campaign (fifteen years in a row)

·      Black Enterprise’s 50 Best Companies for Diversity list 2018

·      Top 20 Employee Resource Group of the Year for HACEMOS in 2018 by Latina Style Magazine.

·      Top Companies for Executive Women 2018 by the National Association of Female Executives

·      2018 Best Place to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality by the Human Rights Campaign.

These, and many other awards and recognitions highlight the value of AT&T’s effort to build genuine inclusion that is a vital part of corporate culture.  This experience can serve as a guide to all companies building and improving D&I, especially for those looking to move beyond metrics for a system of inclusion that is truly part of corporate culture.  

Looking to make your ERG program more robust? Schedule a demo with Five to Nine to see how our platform can help manage your most important resource groups.

Pedro Suarez