Building a Successful Diversity Program

Sharon Harvey Davis decided to manage diversity at St. Louis–based Ameren because of what CEO Tom Voss told her in the interview: "We don't know how to do this diversity thing, but we are committed to doing an exceptional job." Here's her story.

After moving up in human resources at companies from McDonnell Douglas to A.G. Edwards, Sharon Harvey Davis landed a job at HBE Corp. where, in 1999, she “went from zero to 60 in terms of diversity.” One of its subsidiaries, Adam’s Mark Hotel in Daytona, Fla., suddenly was at the epicenter of a racial-discrimination lawsuit involving the NAACP and the U.S. Justice Department.

“And because I was probably the only person in HR who could even spell diversity, I was asked to lead the effort,” says Harvey Davis, who was promoted to vice president of corporate affairs and served as a spokesperson throughout the ordeal that ended with a nearly $2-million settlement and compliance order.

“It was a great opportunity to learn just about everything there is to learn in diversity,” Harvey Davis says, noting that the NAACP eventually ranked HBE the No. 2 hotel when she left the company in 2002 to adopt her two-year-old daughter, Cori.

After a seven-month sabbatical, however, Harvey Davis accepted an offer as diversity manager at the St. Louis–based utility Ameren. “I had a couple of offers but chose Ameren because of something CEO Tom Voss said in the interview: ‘We don’t know how to do this diversity thing, but we are committed to doing an exceptional job.'”

Harvey Davis has since helped launch three corporate-wide diversity-training programs for all 9,000 employees, formed a cross-departmental diversity council and rolled out a diversity-focused web site, including quarterly in-house-created media clips. Thanks to the support of nearly 200 corporate diversity ambassadors, she has also formed partnerships with inner-city schools to build a talent pipeline of underrepresented students. One of her proudest accomplishments, she says, is Ameren’s dedicated diversity celebration, which has grown from one day to a full week of diversity speakers, multicultural performances and videos spanning 300 locations.

Click here to see this article as it originally appeared in the June 2010 issue of DiversityInc magazine.

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