It can be easy to think of work as just that – work. That was the case for Ray Roberson, who had been spending his summer as an external affairs intern in his home state of New Mexico. A recipient of the American Indian College Fund Scholarship, Ray knew internships were an important step towards starting a career. What he didn’t expect was how large of a role employee groups would play into his professional life.

“I first learned about ICAE through my boss, but because I was an intern it didn’t feel like the right time to jump in. Joining the group was something I had in the back of my mind in between that internship and returning to AT&T.”

“ICAE” stands for the Inter-Tribal Council of AT&T Employees. As one of our many employee groups, members connect to discuss and support Native American culture and communities. For Ray, joining a group that matched his values and interests opened up an opportunity to bring his true self to work.

“Before AT&T, I was under the impression that employee groups were only in educational environments; the same way you would find a student club at a school. I wanted to take on more responsibility and knew that ICAE was the one I wanted to join because of how Native American interests are under-represented.”

Open Dialogue

Ray often attends the employee group’s “Tribal Talks”, an open panel where all AT&T employees are welcome to learn more about Native American culture. These sessions give Ray an opportunity to learn more about his heritage, as well as his peers’.

“Oftentimes individuals in the company join in to discuss how it is to work as a Native American in a corporate environment; how they intertwine it with their culture. If you join these talks without any prior knowledge, hearing the perspectives of Native Americans navigating a, sometimes new, largely urban environment is invigorating.”

Outside of Tribal Talks, ICAE leverages larger events such as Native American Heritage Month in November as a national call-to-action to raise awareness and speak about representation. The group also works with local organizations – such as the scholarship that helped fund Ray’s college education – to support students.

Technology’s Impact

As a member of our Finance Learning Development Program, Ray often joins talks held by leaders from various AT&T business units. Technology topics like 5G, AI and overall connectivity are common talking points. That exposure, combined with AT&T’s impact, has Ray interested in understanding how he can pay it forward to the same communities he grew up in.

“Native Americans have had an issue in staying connected, especially during the pandemic. For example, in my tribe, there’s a lack of strong data connectivity. If you don’t have Wi-Fi, you face issues. That’s one topic I’d like to see receive more attention.”

Advice for Native American Graduates

A recent college graduate, Ray still recalls his challenges in starting a full-time career. For Native American students who may be facing them today, he shares the following advice.

“There’s a big misconception that we get into college for free. That doesn’t exist, not for anyone I know. We must continue to garner a strong work ethic and face adversity head-on; don’t be afraid to seek guidance. You have to be aware of resources like the American Indian College Fund and other organizations that help Native American students connect with resources. Getting an internship is critical, and it’s about being yourself. By doing that, you offer yourself more opportunities to work for a company like AT&T.

“Personally, it excites me to be a part of ICAE. I can be at the start of something where we can really make an impact and raise awareness.”

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