AT&T’s Chief Diversity Officer, Michelle Jordan, stepped into her current role for the company in Summer 2022. The HBCU alumna leads the company’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts across the business, expanding equitable opportunities for employees and the communities they serve.

Starting her career as a chemical engineer after graduating from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) and then receiving her MBA from Kennesaw State, Jordan has now been with the telecommunications giant for 17 years.

"My journey has been somewhat eclectic," Jordan shares. "During the 17 years that I’ve been with the company, I’ve experienced a number of pivots, but a key experience was my transition into the HR field in 2014 as AT&T’s Executive Director of Global Leadership Development. The position seemed like a natural fit and provided me the opportunity to be a driver of building trust and transparency among leadership and employees across the entire AT&T network."

We spoke further with Jordan to learn more about her role at AT&T, the importance of Black women in tech and how her career trajectory led her here.

EBONY: As the chief diversity officer of AT&T, can you tell us about your role and your key responsibilities in driving diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives across the company?

Michelle Jordan: As AT&T’s Chief Diversity Officer, I lead the company’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts. The driving force behind our DEI work—inside and outside our walls—is that when people have access to education, economic empowerment and an inclusive workplace environment—the door to opportunity opens.

As CDO, my focus is on the actions the company can take to create an even more inclusive and more equitable workplace and society by connecting customers and communities to greater possibilities through more than just our products and services.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in promoting diversity and inclusion in the tech and telecommunications industry, and how do you approach those challenges?

AT&T is committed to driving diversity, equity and inclusion, not just within our organization but across the tech industry. One of the greatest barriers that must be overcome is the understanding that the industry’s struggle with diversity is oftentimes not a pipeline problem or a legacy problem—it’s the result of numerous gaps and longstanding inequities that collectively keep underrepresented talent from finding success. From getting diverse talent interested in technology as a career path to ensuring equitable access to programs, mentorship and entry-level and advancement opportunities.

Some of the ways we’re approaching this through our work to help bridge the digital divide, is by bringing programming to underrepresented communities that is intentional and impactful and collaborating with organizations like Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) to recruit talent. 

Can you describe some of the programs and initiatives that AT&T has implemented to promote diversity and inclusion, and what impact have they had on the company and its employees?

As an HBCU alumna, I’m particularly proud of AT&T’s efforts to support Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) through our Dream in Black initiative. The Dream in Black, Rising Future Makers program, provides a spotlight for 25 HBCU students who are making a difference in their community and on campus and provides them with the connections, networks, and opportunities necessary to achieve their dreams. 

Can you share a personal mantra or piece of advice that has helped you navigate challenges and stay motivated in your personal and professional life?

Several years ago, I was on a panel with Ava Duvernay. She shared a message that really resonated with me: “Focus on the work.” That’s when real progress happens—no matter the distractions or challenges I encounter along the way. When I am faced with challenges, I always learn from the experience. That allows me to continue to move through the world with intention and stay true to my values and purpose. In this career and in life, there are a multitude of outside opinions that I have to take into consideration, navigate and overcome, but having a clear vision grounds me and allows me to keep my focus on my goals.  

Can you speak to the importance of Black women being represented in this field? 

Black women are now the most educated group in the United States, but we remain underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. This is incredibly troubling because every day new technologies and discoveries are being made yet Black women aren’t being afforded access to the opportunities, resources and support in their education or careers that they need to participate fully in these advancements and thrive professionally. 

Time and again, research has shown that organizations need diversity of thought to develop cutting-edge solutions to tomorrow’s problems and that diverse teams are more high performing. By creating space for Black women in STEM, organizations can become more innovative and bring unique perspective to the table to harness the full potential of their solutions. 

Any advice for younger Black women looking to take a similar career trajectory, but may feel unsure of themselves?

Uncertainty and fear of the future are something every young professional feels, more so when you think of the unique biases and barriers to success that Black women are forced to confront. Fear is what makes us human, but we can’t allow it to keep us from all we might accomplish as professionals, leaders and changemakers. 

The most important thing to do is face those fears and what may be feeding them. Think deeply about your life and the path you want your career to take. Ask yourself, “what’s holding me back and what can I do about it?” But you must also be brutally honest about the answers because you owe it to yourself to take the actions that are needed to push through, no matter how daunting or difficult they may seem at the time.

Moving forward with your dreams and goals means finding a way to do so despite your fear. If things don’t go as expected or planned, you can still take pride in the fact that you didn’t allow that fear to keep you from exploring a new opportunity or taking a risk. That knowledge can be empowering when you look ahead to what’s next in your career.