"It looks like that would have been an opportunity to have a woman or a person of color," King said in an interview at the United States Chamber of Commerce's National Trade Summit on Equal Opportunity on Thursday. "I'm sure Mr. Stankey is very kind, nothing against Mr. Stankey."
"A fair challenge," said Stephenson.
"I will tell you that Mr. Stankey has probably made the biggest moves in the media, in our WarnerMedia acquisition, being the first to institute and institutionalize diversity requirements in our media business," he added. I think John is going to show that he will move the needle for AT&T even more than I took it. "
Stephenson said addressing racial inequality is both a moral imperative and a business opportunity for Corporate America, and said he is having more intense conversations on the subject than at any other recent time.
"All CEOs are leaning forward and saying, 'Look, yeah, we have a problem,'" he said. "You can't watch the George Floyd encounter and walk away with something other than saying, 'We have a problem'. And as a result we have to commit. The business community finally acknowledges and says:" It's time to commit. "
Stephenson told King that promoting diversity internally must be a "conscious effort."
"It is not going to happen by itself," he said. "If we just stick with our own devices, we surround ourselves with people who look like us … Honestly, I as CEO have not done enough. Our efforts, I think have really been a good start, but I think it is time to step things up. "
Stephenson also disagreed with those who specify that black executives must be "qualified" to be hired at companies like his.
"We have to stop rating that," he said. "If someone is going to be on the AT&T board of directors, obviously we will make sure they are qualified. I don't think we have to (emphasize) being qualified with Black."