The LGBTQ+ in Business student organization hosted a panel Friday to hear from AT&T employees about LGBTQ+ representation in the business world, internship opportunities at AT&T and how the company ensures its content is culturally diverse and inclusive.
The hybrid event, hosted in an auditorium in Adams Hall, attracted around ten students coming and going throughout portions of the panelists’ presentation through a Zoom webinar.
The event was organized by economics and linguistics sophomore and co-founder of LGBTQ+ in Business, Joy Nath; Norman Mayor and Director of the JCPenney Leadership Center Breea Clark; and Director of Diversity and Inclusion of the Price College of Business Cordney McClain.
Nath said the LGBTQ+ in Business club wanted to host a panel with “a business side and an LGBTQ advocacy side.”
Jason Bowden, an AT&T employee in the Human Resources department, said it is essential for companies’ long-term success to increase their in-house representation of underserved communities.
“We know diverse teams and inclusive company cultures outperform other companies that don't use those tactics in areas like problem solving, conflict resolution and creativity and innovation. Diverse talent is the future in how we become more collaborative, more adaptive and more resilient,” Bowden said “We're going in and making sure that we're getting real representation from all around that (range)."
Bowden and AT&T’s approach has been noted as effective elsewhere in the business realm. In recent years, more companies have been strengthening their efforts to include practices on LGBTQ+ issues and to raise awareness about public policies regarding the LGBTQ+ community, according to the Harvard Business Review.
According to the Review, LGBTQ+ inclusion is “good for the economy” as public opinion has largely moved against discrimination in the hiring of LGBTQ+ individuals, which prompts many businesses to advocate for non-discrimination protections and come out against LGBTQ+ discriminatory laws, even in places where such laws receive more public support.
A vast majority of companies in the Fortune 500 also have policies prohibiting gender-based and identity-based discrimination, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
A relatively new organization launched in the fall 2020 semester, LGBTQ+ in Business’s founding was a collaborative effort between Nath and Clark that took shape after Nath noted there was no LGBTQ+ organization in the Price College of Business.
“There is a big population of LGBTQ students who are in business and I thought that this representation is needed. Of course there’s the (Diversity and Inclusion Office), but because there’s so much that diversity (and) inclusion has to tend to, sometimes LGBTQ voices are not heard that much here,” Nath said. “Business is a very cisgendered white men dominated field. And so, just getting those voices out and just voicing that we are present here is very important (for when they) get out of the business school.”
As an LGBTQ+ mentor in the OU Gender and Equality Center, Nath said the idea for the organization also came from the GEC informational meetings. He said he later reached out to Mayor Clark for help during the founding process as she had a “bigger network” than him.
Nath said although he wants to work closely within the Price College of Business to increase LGBTQ+ representation, the issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community are not only limited to the business college.
McClain said Nath and Clark reached out to him about being a faculty or staff advisor for LGBTQ+ in Business and he “jumped to it.”
“My position is about inclusion and equity, and since I've been in my seat since November 2019, I've had multiple students (who) approached me about this idea,” McClain said. “Maybe not completely that they wanted to have their own organization, but they wanted a chance for some more intentional efforts to be (made) on that particular demographic.”
McClain said before entering the Diversity and Inclusion position in Price College, most of his experience was dealing with underserved communities in businesses.
“When I started focusing (more) on class, gender equality, and on all these things outside of just being Black and Hispanic, then that (opened) up just a whole Pandora's Box of how corporate America is just not inclusive, and we'll have to focus on individual equity,” McClain said. “One thing I tell people all the time — Let's stop talking about equality. Equality gives everybody the same thing, but depending on where you come from, you don't need the same thing. You need to look at the student, their particular (situation) and see what's best for them.”
The panelists spoke on AT&T’s own diversity and inclusion organization for the LGBTQ+ community within the company — LEAGUE at AT&T.
One of the panelists, AT&T lead operations manager and chief executive officer of LEAGUE at AT&T, Stacey Chosed, said LEAGUE is one of the oldest LGBTQ+ employee organizations in North America.
“(It’s) something to be proud of,” Chosed said. “We fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. We were always fighting for the cause of equality and inclusion among our community and our allies.”
Another panelist, Hope Jackson, deputy national campaign director at the Human Rights Campaign, advocates for the passing of “proactive” legislation that supports the LGBTQ+ community. Jackson made a presentation on how individuals can contribute at the state, local level as well as the federal level to “engage your lawmakers to impact change.”
McClain advised faculty and staff at OU to be mindful of “cultural competency” in dealing with underrepresented communities on campus, as there are words and actions that have real repercussions for students. He also said in order to bring about lasting change — both in the business world and on a university campus — protestors should often keep in mind how to most directly affect the income of the entity their grievances are against.
“Honestly, and not to frustrate any students, but you protesting is not going to do much until that protesting is truly affecting the money,” McClain said. “When you start affecting the leadership, and everybody up top (and) you start affecting their money, and forcing them to change policy, that's when your institution is going to change.”