What do you get when 2,000 individuals from around the world come together to celebrate diversity, practice inclusion, and listen with open hearts and minds?

A lot of great vibes to be sure, and an equal amount of good will. But more than anything, you get to see how people from vastly different backgrounds can come together in harmony and learn from each other. And in today’s hyper-politicized, often-polarized environment, that’s hugely reaffirming.

This past weekend, AT&T wrapped up its 10th annual Employee Resource Group Conference. One of the biggest meeting spaces in the Sheraton Dallas Hotel could barely contain the enthusiasm that spilled out. There were many great moments that I’ll carry with me, but a few stand out.

The theme of the 2018 conference, “AT&T Is All Of Us” was a simple, yet effective one, and it carried through every session. We honored our ERGs and champions of diversity and inclusion for their great work and commitment to improving our communities. I don’t envy the judges who evaluate the entries. Our ERG members make their job tough by raising the bar each year with their accomplishments. One of my favorite moments was when we unveiled a new award — called Better Together. The winners showed how local ERG chapters collaborated, just like our employees and work groups do to innovate in our business.

An excellent example was the micro:bit project, which our HACEMOS New Jersey, oxyGEN New Jersey and FACES Northeast teams undertook to help at-risk high school kids this fall. These ERG chapters put in several hundred volunteer hours and worked with an Internet of Things device, known as a micro:bit. It’s a tiny, programmable computer designed to make learning and teaching easy and fun. Best of all, it will help engage students in the New Jersey area by lowering barriers to learn when featured on HACEMOS’ High Tech Day in October. This is one example – there are many – of using our expertise as a global communications company, our people’s passion for helping others and of course, our willingness to collaborate, to make a difference in people’s lives.

We also heard from the CEOs of our 4 AT&T companies and from our new colleagues at WarnerMedia on the important role diversity and inclusion play in their specific organizations – and we were thrilled to see a half-dozen or so affinity group leaders from AppNexus attend our celebration.

Our special guest speakers were inspiring, funny, and brought diversity and inclusion to life through their own personal stories. I found the story of Bill Kennard (currently an AT&T board member, and former FCC chairman and U.S. ambassador to the European Union) particularly fascinating. As a black leader who has had many more opportunities than my ancestors, I certainly understand Bill’s appreciation for what he has accomplished and the significance of “being first.” Our special surprise guest — TV personality and outspoken author Jen Hatmaker — was also a perfect choice to augment our “AT&T is All Of Us” theme. Jen talked about why it’s important as people to care about and lift up others, regardless of the potential criticism that may be directed our way from friends and supporters who don’t value diversity and inclusion.

Our chairman and CEO, Randall Stephenson always shines a special light on AT&T’s D&I efforts. He addressed our conference and spoke with his usual passion about one of the aspects of AT&T that makes us unique: our values. These 8 short sentences speak volumes about our company:

  • Live true.
  • Think big.
  • Pursue excellence.
  • Inspire imagination.
  • Be there.
  • Stand for equality.
  • Embrace freedom.
  • Make a difference.

As a Fortune 50 company, we must maintain our business edge and do whatever we can to win in a very competitive industry. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do it with a conscience and a heart. Our ERG Conference last week, and the wonderful people who came together to make it a great one, reminded us all why that’s so important.