The Power of ERGs, the Importance of Mentors, and Why It’s a Good Idea to Just Be Yourself

A discussion with Corey Anthony, Senior Vice President, HR & Chief Diversity Officer – AT&T

Corey Anthony, who was named AT&T's Chief Diversity Officer in the spring, is from the small town of Jewett, Texas, and was the first member of his family to attend college. He learned leadership skills through the course of his career and picked up valuable insights from mentors along the way. Corey believes in the power of diversity and inclusion to drive innovation and business growth — and as the leader of one of the top D&I programs in corporate America, today he's building on past successes.

Shane Nelson and Carolynn Johnson recently sat down with Corey in his office at AT&T's Dallas headquarters for a wide-ranging, candid discussion about what he brings to his new role, his career at AT&T and how one mentor played a pivotal role in his development.

Shane: AT&T has a history of moving line of business leaders into the Chief Diversity Officer role, signaling that diversity is a business imperative. What are you looking to bring to the role?

Corey: That's a good observation. All three of my predecessors in this role had operational experience, and you're right, we do believe this approach signals to the company and to the public — that diversity is a business imperative at AT&T. It helps to have a deep understanding of the operations side of the business — and that's what I bring with me, just as my predecessors did.

Shane: How does that background influence you in this new role?

Corey: I'm an operations guy. I've been here 21 years and almost 19 of those have been in operations. I tend to have credibility with leaders across the business because I understand the challenges they're facing. I can talk their language and understand their challenges because I've lived it with them. And I can challenge them to do things even better in terms of D&I with credibility.

Having that credibility makes it a little easier to have the conversations and my operations perspective causes me to always be results-oriented. AT&T is a results-oriented company, so I come into this role asking questions, like: How do we improve on our results? How do we define, track and reward success? And how do we hold people accountable? That's an operations perspective.

Shane: AT&T has a dozen ERGs and 112,000 memberships. You co-founded a chapter of AT&T's African American ERG and serve on several other ERGs. What has been your experience with ERGs in terms of the role they play in helping the company achieve its objectives?

Corey: I had an opportunity to co-found the Kansas City chapter of Community NETwork, which has since been renamed The NETwork, early in my career, and I've been involved with them and other ERGs ever since. Our ERGs are critical on several fronts. First, they give our employees at every level a voice. The way we manage and interact with our ERGs, that voice can be heard by anyone — up to and including our CEO, Randall Stephenson. We're a large company, so there aren't too many ways a frontline employee can have a direct audience with Randall or a direct line to me as an officer to talk about issues. The ERGs are good for that.

ERGs are also important from an engagement perspective. Employees feel more engaged because they know they have a voice. And ERGs are critical from a leadership perspective. You get a chance to hear directly from more people – to interact with a wide range of employees in the context of D&I. Without ERGs, it would be a lot more challenging to make that happen. You put all that together, and yes, ERGs are core to who AT&T is as a company.

Shane: Did you have mentors and sponsors throughout your career?

Corey: I absolutely had mentors throughout my career. I was extremely blessed. My first job in the company was in Wichita, Kansas. That was when we were Southwestern Bell, one of the original Bell operating companies. When I started, the person leading that region was Ray Wilkins, who went on to become a direct report to the CEO.

Ray had a very successful career. He was a VP at the time, and he cared about his new employees. That was a priority for him. He took me under his wing and I had the opportunity to learn from him. That was important for me and critical in terms of what I went on to do.

Shane: How did that mentor experience help? Could you have advanced as far as you did without a sponsor?

Corey: I had a good leader I could learn from directly. I could observe; I could watch him, because I was in his organization. I could see how he was leading and running his teams. By being his mentee, I got a chance to see it up close and personal. That was a beautiful thing. The second reason it was so important for me is I didn't come from a background and a family that had a lot of professionals. We didn't have any, in fact. I was the first person in my family to go to college. I had two first cousins who went to college, and they were teachers. So, I didn't know anyone in a corporate or professional environment firsthand.

Shane: Ray Wilkins was a Black executive. Did you sense then that diversity in the C-suite was expanding?

Corey: He was the first Black executive I could reach out to, and that I got to know personally. He was the one who made me believe anything was possible — that a Black male could be a senior executive in this business, or any business. Ray made that real to me. It just so happened that he was my mentor as well, and it was my first job, so to this day, even though he's retired, he's still a mentor to me.

Shane: Did that influence your own participation as a mentor?

Corey: It did, and it's a big part of the reason I spend a lot of time mentoring. I know how much I benefited. I have a ton of mentors and mentees, both inside and outside of AT&T, and at all levels in the business. I have mentors who are in levels higher than where I am, and I have mentors in the business that are four or five levels below where I am, because they're insightful and they give me honest, candid feedback. And I have mentees across the same spectrums. We share perspectives that we might not be exposed to otherwise.

Shane: What advice can you give on developing executive presence?

Corey: I think it's important to define what we mean by “executive presence" because I've found that it means different things to different people. I think it has a lot to do with one's ability to articulate and communicate well: How do you interact with and come across to people — and to executives specifically? My recommendation is to develop those skill sets. For most people, they're not innate. They have to be developed over time. My advice is to put yourself in situations where you have to use those skills. Look for opportunities to lead your peers. If your knowledge is not as deep on a particular subject, study that subject, and learn how to communicate about it effectively. The same applies for interacting with senior leaders. Get yourself into positions where you have the opportunity to interact with them. Then polish and hone your skills and develop your own executive presence.

Carolynn: How important is it to just be yourself?

Corey: That is so important. Be who you are, especially in terms of developing an executive presence. I see people try and mimic others' style of delivery, for example. That's a mistake. Do what works for you. Be who you are. I'm a country boy; that's who I am, that's part of me. I like to have fun — but I'm candid and direct. I bring these attributes to everything I do, including my executive presence.

Carolynn: Does that leadership style make you effective in your role?

Corey: I think so. I tell people to embrace who they are. Bring your good qualities to the forefront. When you do, you come across naturally — and people will gravitate toward you. They'll see you as someone they want to connect with. And to me, that's what leadership is all about.

Wells Fargo's Le Nette Rutledge Talks Transferrable Veteran Skills and Why it's Important to 'Show Up'

Rutledge, a Senior Learning & Development Consultant at Wells Fargo, talks about her journey transitioning from the U.S. Navy and why it's important to allow your authentic self to show up whether in the military or Corporate America.

Le Nette is a Learning & Development Sr. Consultant within Talent Development & Organization Effectiveness (TDOE) at Wells Fargo. She facilitates courses and programs providing leadership coaching that reinforces the vision and values of the Company for team members across all levels of the organization. Le Nette's 'why' in life is "…to courageously and compassionately impart excellence in every life, place and situation" presented to her.

Le Nette joined Wells Fargo in 2009. Prior to that, she served as a leader of learning teams for Fortune 100/500 companies to include QVC, Inc.; Lowe's Companies, Inc. and Family Dollar Stores, Inc. She retired from the United States Navy after ten (10) years of service. During that time, the fields in which she focused included Leadership Development, Facilitation/Instructional Design, Career Counseling (specifically recruiting) and Anti-submarine Warfare.

Le Nette holds a B.A. in political science from Norfolk State University in Norfolk VA and has begun work on a M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. She holds Lean Six-Sigma green belt, Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and various coaching certifications.

DI: Tell us a little bit about what it was like transitioning from the military to Corporate America.

Overall, it was fair. I had served in the US Navy for close to ten years. Prior to that time, I had held (what I refer to as ) my first 'real' job as a Bank Teller. The thought of re-entering corporate America and now having a son for whom I needed to provide was a bit intimidating. Thankfully I had a really good Transition Assistance Program experience that equipped me with information and resources to begin seeking employment. I was unemployed for approximately one year before finding continuous employment.

DI: Were there any skills you developed while in the military that have been useful in your current role?

While my primary area of expertise (rating) in the Navy was not directly applicable to most occupations in the corporate sector, the opportunities to direct teams and hone my leadership skills proved to be a great asset. Additionally, collateral assignments provided exposure to and experience in various HR disciplines. For example, since I was a Naval Instructor I learned about facilitation techniques, principles of instructional design and evaluation program effectiveness. As a result, I was able to easily transition into Learning & Development as a civilian occupation. The time I spent as a Naval Recruiter exposed me to recruiting practices, policies and experiences that were helpful when coordinating/supporting mass recruiting efforts (i.e. job fairs, seasonal hiring, conferences, etc…) in the corporate arena.

DI: Were there any ERG's, programs, or even some personal methods used to help with the initial transition of getting acclimated to a new workplace?

Great question! This is where for me there was a most noticeable void. Prior to Wells Fargo, employers with whom I worked offered nothing to assist Veterans with the initial transition. If I found an external resource that could help in my transition, my employers were typically supportive. But again, they offered/developed nothing. It would not be until several years later when joining Wells Fargo that I would (for the first time since I exited the military in 1998) have an employer who offered internal resources/programs to assist members of the military community within the organization.

DI: Also, did you always have an idea of what career or industry you wanted to pursue post-military life?

This question makes me smile. Actually, I credit the Navy with helping me realize that creating consistent and compelling learning experiences was my sweet spot; the point at which what I can do, what others need me to do and what I love to do converge. Since exiting the military, no matter the position or employer, some component of Learning & Development has been a critical component of my job responsibilities. So, a huge 'shout out' and "thank you" to the Navy for helping me discover my passion.

DI: Lastly, there are stereotypes that women can't handle the mental strain of combat or aren't strong enough. In what ways have you personally opposed these gender stereotypes in the military and continue to do so in your new role?

People will think what they think until they are willing to be open to new and different perspectives. For me, it's not so much about challenging stereotypes but rather ushering in a paradigm shift. Reality is, yes. For some women the mental strain of being in combat is more than they can bear. AND, the same is true for some men. Whether I failed or succeeded at points in my military career, it wasn't because I am a woman. It was because I am human and imperfect. This is not to say that others have not had experiences tied to gender stereotypes. It is to say that adversity due to gender was not my reality.

That being said, it is no secret that (generally) women disproportionately face certain dynamics in corporate settings than our male counterparts do (e.g., glass ceiling, equal pay, etc…). How do I usher in a paradigm shift/challenge stereotypes? I simply show up. As my best, authentic, unrelenting self – I show up. I do my best. I challenge the status quo if there is viable challenge to be made. And, I focus on helping others realize and walk their full potential. I'm a woman. When people see me, they know that. So, just in my showing up in this authentic yet results-oriented way, I offer the opportunity for others to reconsider gender stereotypes and shift their paradigm. As my mom would say at times, "Sometimes you have to show 'em rather than tell 'em."

I heard one Wells Fargo leader share this, "The military is a microcosm of society." This is so true. The same stereotypes that abound in society exist in the military…because those who serve in the military bring with them the life experiences, assumptions and beliefs of the societies of which they were previously a part.

Kaiser Permanente's Anthony B. Coleman: Veterans Should Discover Their Passion and Allow it to Lead to a Profession

Coleman, talks with DiversityInc about his journey transitioning from life in the U.S. Navy to working as an Assistant Hospital Administrator for Kaiser Permanente.

Anthony B. Coleman, DHA, is the Assistant Hospital Administrator (Operations Support) for Kaiser Permanente, Fontana and Ontario Medical Centers.

He was born at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center. At 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy serving aboard the USS Pioneer (MCM 9) and USS Ardent (MCM 12). After completing a full sea tour he was transferred to shore duty, and earned a Bachelor's degree in Workforce, Education and Development, as well as a Master of Health Administration.

He later earned a commission as a Naval Officer serving in various roles overseas and afloat, including Chief Financial Officer at U.S. Naval Hospital Beaufort SC, Human Resources Director at U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka, Japan and Medical Operations Officer onboard the USS Harry S Truman (CVN 75) nuclear powered aircraft carrier.

Anthony retired in 2016 with 20 years of honorable service and holds a Doctor of Health Administration Degree and currently serves as the Assistant Administrator (Operations Support) for Kaiser Permanente Fontana and Ontario Medical Centers.

DI: What was the initial transition like going from the armed services to a civilian career?

My initial thoughts on transition brought unnecessary anxiety. However, when I learned that my preceptor was a retired Air Force Colonel, it helped put me at ease about the transition. On my first day at Kaiser Permanente, the staff and physicians welcomed me and ensured that I had the support I needed to make a successful transition.

DI: What are some skills or habits you developed while serving in the military that have helped you in your current role?

Two things stick out in my mind as important.

The first is transitioning mindset from duty to desire. I joined the navy at 17, and during the first 3-5 years of my military career I didn't realize I was part of something bigger than myself so I competed tasks out of obligation (duty). After completing my first full sea tour, I realized how my efforts contributed to the overall mission of the U.S. Navy and the duties I carried out started to come from a desire to do so. This realization helped shape my leadership style and how I groomed young sailors early on in their enlistments. I wanted them to realize their very important part in the overall U.S. Navy mission and motivate them to bring their "A" game every day.

This has helped in my current role overseeing nine non-clinical departments (Housekeeping, Food and Nutrition, Engineering, Construction, Parking, Safety, Property Management, Telecommunications, Security and Supply Chain Management) where the majority of the employees I oversee are entry-level and can feel disconnected to health care because they are not physicians or nurses. However, I stress to them as often as possible that whether their job is to nourish the patient, clean and disinfect a patient room, make sure life-saving equipment is in working order, or any other of the hundreds of non-clinical functions they perform day in and day out, they too are vital to a patient's health and healing.

The second is attention to detail. Most times, my staff are the first and/or last interaction our members have with Kaiser Permanente. It is crucial for them to pay attention to every detail about the patient they encounter because each and every detail about the patient, large or small can help us do a better job in serving them. Sometimes, it may be as simple as a smile or word of encouragement that could make all the difference in the patient experience.

DI: What career advice can you offer to veterans or current military folks who are looking to pivot, and what types of jobs should they be looking for?

Stay current in world health affairs, as well as the political climate in the US. Now more than ever, politics are shaping our approach to health care and vice versa. Veterans and current military members should make sure they have an idea of where civilian health care is, as well as where it's going in the future, so they can demonstrate their value to potential health care employers.

Devote time to discovering their passion and allow it to lead them to a profession. So often, when military members plan to transition to civilian life, they tend to focus on their ability to continue providing for their families beyond military service. This can cause us to accept positions for the sake of securing post military employment, or accept positions that are not aligned with our core beliefs, or passion.

DI: Did you always have an idea of the type of career you wanted to pursue after the military?

Yes. As a matter of fact, I began planning my exit from the military in 2005 when I discovered my passion for eliminating health disparities however, because I was a single father of a 5 year old girl, my mom convinced me to complete a full career first.

In 2004, the Navy sent me to graduate school to learn how to be a health administrator. During the summer of 2005, I interned at Wallace Thomson Hospital in rural Union County, South Carolina. While there I met a kitchen worker who impressed me with her skill in preparing meals for all of the sick patients at the hospital, specific to their individual needs. Her name was Pee Wee and even though she never finished high school, and worked a second job to make ends meet she somehow found a way to show compassion for each patient while contributing to the healing environment.

After the rotation was complete, I went back to finish graduate school and learned that Pee Wee died of a stroke. She was 52. Her death really affected me and I began to look at how a person in America could die so young of a preventable health issue. That's when I learned about health disparities and discovered my passion for eliminating them. I understand that I may not be able to complete this task in my lifetime however, I am completely comfortable with making it my life's work at Kaiser Permanente.

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