Energizing Diversity & Inclusion

LaTonya King directs Diversity and inclusion strategies for Charlotte, North Carolina–based Duke Energy. In 2012, Duke Energy merged with Progress Energy and is now the largest electric utility in the United States. Diversity Woman talked with King about the challenges of fostering diversity and inclusion in the energy sector.

DW: What common barriers to diversity and inclusion do you see?
LaTonya King: One that I’m intrigued by is unconscious bias. We are just starting to explore how that may be affecting our employment decision making, workplace culture, and employee engagement. I’m excited 
to learn more as we continue our work over the next few years.

One area where we find barriers in the energy sector is in the recruitment, selection, and hiring process. Our industry is predominantly white male, and we are having some difficulties diversifying our craft and technical workforce. For our line-worker classification, we are addressing this by doing a deep-dive review of each step of the process to understand what barriers may exist at each step.

This involves a detailed study of our sourcing strategies and analyzing the application, employment testing, and interviewing practices. We are challenging our own status quo, and we’re seeing positive results from changes made to some of our legacy practices.

DW: Recent research from Catalyst shows that women of color often do not benefit from diversity and inclusion initiatives as much as white women or men of color. What can be done about this?
LK: It’s important to establish and maintain a culture of inclusion. The organization’s formal culture statement, supporting behavioral expectations, diversity and inclusion programs, and practices must all align. This should be routinely communicated from the top of the organization, reinforced through corporate messages, and visibly demonstrated by all company leaders.

It boils down to having a culture that enables women of color to benefit from diversity and inclusion, but that has to be coupled with a concerted effort by women of 
color to courageously establish and nurture relationships and networks that are essential to success. No one can accomplish what they want by doing it alone. So it’s important to get to know your manager and other leaders across the company and build relationships so these leaders get to know you and your capabilities and you aren’t overlooked for opportunities.

DW: As a diversity leader, what’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
LK: Recognizing the complexity and realities of where people are on their diversity and inclusion journey. That diversity strategy implementation is not always as straightforward as we as practitioners would like. It can sometimes be tough getting buy-in from stakeholders, particularly on a controversial diversity topic. This speaks to my earlier comment about barriers driven by our own unconscious biases. It’s important for diversity leaders to recognize and acknowledge where people are on their journey toward inclusion, so appropriate coaching can occur.

DW: What keeps you going when things are hard?
LK: Prayer is at the top of my list. I also have to remind myself that things do not change overnight. Creating a diverse and inclusive work environment is a journey, not a destination.

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