“It seems like that would have been an opportunity to have a woman or a person of color,” King said in an interview at the US Chamber of Commerce Commerce’s National Summit on Equality of Opportunity Thursday. “I’m sure Mr. Stankey is very nice, nothing against Mr. Stankey.”
“Fair challenge,” Stephenson said.
“I will tell you Mr. Stankey has made probably the biggest moves in media, in our acquisition of WarnerMedia, being the first to actually institute and institutionalize diversity requirements in our media business,” he added. I think John is going to prove that he will move the needle for AT&T even further than I took it.”
Stephenson said addressing racial inequality is both a moral imperative and a business opportunity for Corporate America, which he said is having more intensive conversations about the issue than in any point in recent memory.
“CEOs are all leaning forward and saying, ‘Look we do, we have a problem,'” he said. “You cannot watch the George Floyd encounter and walk away with anything other than saying, ‘We have a problem.’ And as a result we have to engage. The business community is finally recognizing and saying, ‘It’s time to engage.'”
Stephenson told King that promoting diversity internally must be a “conscious effort.”
“It’s not going to happen on its own,” he said. “If we’re just left to our own devices, we surround ourselves with people who look like us. … Candidly, me as CEO, I have not done enough. Our efforts, I think they’ve been a really good start, but I think it’s time to step things up.”
Stephenson also took issue with those who specify Black executives must be “qualified” to get hired at companies like his.
“We need to stop qualifying that,” he said. “If somebody’s going to come on the board at AT&T, we obviously are going to make sure they’re qualified. I don’t think we have to [emphasize] qualified with Black.”