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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: The Importance of Staying Connected

Sharon Harvey Davis, Vice President, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion & Chief Diversity Officer, Ameren

Sharon Harvey Davis, Vice President, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion & Chief Diversity Officer, Ameren

2020 has been a year of unprecedented challenge and change.  We have witnessed news and events that are disturbing and touch many emotions, thoughts and feelings.  Cutting through the clutter of messages that come our way each day can make this difficult challenge seem insurmountable.  Messaging in the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) space has been particularly challenging. Messages of unity compete with messages of division.  Aspirational messages compete with messages of doom and gloom, and ‘can-do’ messages compete with ‘can’t happen’ thinking. 

These challenges have forced us at Ameren to not only alter the content of our messages, but also compelled us to use new technologies for communicating. We started by developing a theme of The Courage to Live Your Values in Uncertain Times.  This centering of our message, along with new ways to use technology, are some of the enhancements we use to share our diversity, equity and inclusion programs and resources to meet the challenges of keeping our co-workers and communities informed, engaged and connected.

"Aspirational messages compete with messages of doom and gloom, and ‘can-do’ messages compete with ‘can’t happen’ thinking"

In June, we invited over 600 co-workers and community leaders from across the nation to participate in a virtual Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leadership Summit designed to deliver best-in-class learning and engagement experiences. This was Ameren’s fifth DE&I Leadership Summit but, as a result of the pandemic, it was the first to be held virtually.

While the pandemic certainly presented a number of unforeseen obstacles to executing the summit, the national (and global) unrest around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion crystallized the need to provide this type of inclusive forum and learning opportunity. With the theme of “The Courage to Live Your Values”, we set out to put together a dynamic, multi-faceted virtual program that sought to:

• Reinforce understanding of the connection of DE&I to business effectiveness and performance.

• Inspire leaders to embrace personal accountability to take action to support DE&I in their respective spheres of influence.

• Encourage expanding spheres of influence within their organization and community.

• Grow awareness of the role that DE&I plays in producing organizational results and aligning with its culture and values.

We invited attendees to create Commitment Cards, where they stated specific actions they would take to further diversity, equity and inclusion in their workplace and community with specific individuals or groups within a specific timeframe. They were then invited to share their commitments with an accountability partner.

In tandem with the 2020 DE&I Virtual Leadership Summit, Ameren reinforced its commitment to DE&I and declared it to be a new core value. To support this new value and Ameren’s commitment to it, we announced the ConvERGing: Learning and Action initiative.

ConvERGing: Learning and Action enables Ameren to leverage partnerships that align with the focus areas of our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Co-workers who participate in this voluntary program will engage in virtual, structured learning and action opportunities with philanthropic, non-profit and community impact organizations that offer training, poverty simulations, historical lessons on DE&I and more.

In August, we hosted our first ever DE&I All Co-Worker LiveCast. This virtual event was designed to reinforce key DE&I messaging, enhance understanding of key DE&I concepts, showcase important organizational commitments and inspire co-workers to find the courage to live their values in uncertain times. All Ameren co-workers were invited to attend one of two sessions to hear directly from our executive leaders about actions Ameren is taking and their personal commitments to living our values.

As a follow up the DE&I LiveCast, we charged Ameren leaders with conducting Be Courageous Conversations within their respective workgroups, provided them with the tools and resources necessary to facilitate these conversations, and reminded leaders of the pivotal role they play in ensuring each member of their organization feels seen, heard, and valued.

The conversations created an opportunity for co-workers to discuss their thoughts, feelings, and experiences at home, at work, and in the community in a safe-to-say environment. We acknowledged that co-worker engagement, understanding and participation, along with the commitment to leading and holding honest, sincere, judgment-free conversations, were essential to the success of diversity, equity and inclusion at Ameren and in our communities.

In April, we introduced a required three-part video training series designed to increase the comfort level of being involved in sometimes difficult dialogues involving diversity, equity and inclusion. Due to restrictions for live recordings and live meetings, the remaining videos in the series were modified to a new format called StoryCasts, and employees meet virtually for group discussions rather than in-person meetings. Recorded via Microsoft Teams, StoryCasts feature co-workers’ personal stories about the challenges of living their values in uncertain times. In addition to being required viewing for our co-workers, StoryCasts will also be made available for external audiences on Ameren.com.

The unique challenges of 2020 provide us the opportunity to act and reinforce our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion each day. Now, more than ever, the ability to build or maintain strong co-worker and community engagement is critical.

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