Today, AT&T’s board of directors named William Kennard to serve as its new chairman, replacing Randall Stephenson as chairman effective January 2021. Kennard will serve as an independent chairman, which means he’s not also the CEO of the company. Kennard’s been on AT&T’s board of directors since 2014, where he currently serves on the corporate governance and nominating committee and the public policy and corporate reputation committee.

Kudos to AT&T for selecting an African American for this top position.

Kennard is well qualified. He served as general counsel to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission from 1993 to 1997. And in 1997 he became the first Black chairman of the FCC, a position he held until 2001. From 2009 to 2013, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union. He also has held positions with The Carlyle Group, a global asset management firm, at which he led investments in the telecommunications and media sectors. Kennard received his bachelor’s in communications from Stanford and his law degree from Yale.

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“Bill’s deep knowledge of communications, media and technology, proven leadership and broad experience across capital markets and government uniquely positions him to serve as AT&T’s new chairman,” Stephenson said in a statement.

This summer when the country was engulfed in racial protests, Stephenson said, “It’s time that we step up. Corporate America cannot sit this one out.” He said company employees had started asking where AT&T stood on these issues. “We can’t tell our employees ‘It’s not our swim lane.’ Our employees expect us to engage.”

Wireless is dominated by white men

I’ve only been covering the wireless industry for about two years. But it became obvious to me last November when we held our “Most Powerful People in Wireless” contest that this industry is dominated by men, mostly white men.

You can see from a quick glance at our 2020 Most Powerful People chart what I’m talking about. There’s only one woman among the 26 contestants. Thank you to Charter’s CTO Stephanie Mitchko!

2019 Most Powerful People in Wireless Tech - Round 1

We caught some flak for this lack of diversity, ourselves. But honestly, it’s not that easy to find powerful, diverse people in wireless.

I don’t have anything against white men. I’m married to one. And I understand that some of this lack of diversity is a legacy thing. Twenty and 30 years ago there weren’t as many women and people with different heritages majoring in engineering and entering the telecom industry in the U.S.

But still.

It takes effort to be inclusive, but it’s worth it.

Prior to coming to FierceWireless, I worked for three years covering the virtualization of networks. This coverage mainly took me to Silicon Valley where I was kind of blown away by the diversity.

It was exciting to attend big conferences – like AWS re:Invent – where so many different kinds of people were represented at the highest levels. People from countries all over the globe, with different skin colors, different clothes, different body shapes, different accents all coming on stage one after the other. The common denominator was their incredible intellectual capacity.

The experience also caused me to notice my own unconscious biases. I can remember some beautiful, glamorously-clad women and thinking “…and they’re also programming geniuses; I wouldn’t have guessed that.”

I remember attending a Huawei event in Shanghai, which included some presentations from young Chinese entrepreneurs. One guy had founded a super successful bike-sharing company. He looked like he was about 16 years old.

I want the wireless industry to do better. I want executives to make an effort to reach out and mentor young people who don’t look exactly like themselves. Let’s begin by coming up with a more diverse slate for our 2020 Most Powerful People contest.

Please contact me at [email protected] with your suggestions for this year’s contest. – Linda

“Editor’s Corners” are opinion columns written by a member of the FierceWireless editorial team. They are edited for balance and accuracy.

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