Joni Davis' focus at Duke Energy: Build a diverse and inclusive workforce

Joni Davis' focus at Duke Energy: Build a diverse and inclusive workforce

How Duke Energy is working to attract and hire diverse talent and build a more inclusive culture

Duke Energy recently accelerated its targets for more diverse representation, and new Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Joni Davis is leading the effort. Davis started her job six months ago, with a goal to not only increase diversity at the company but to strengthen a culture that supports it.

By 2020, Davis said, the company hopes to have a workforce that’s at least 25 percent female and 20 percent minority. At the end of 2018, Duke Energy’s workforce was 23 percent female and 18 percent minority, compared with 21 percent female and 14 percent minority representation at utilities nationwide in 2018.

Duke Energy’s diversity and inclusion honors

  • Received a 100 percent score for the second year in a row for Human Rights Campaign’s corporate equality index recognizing LGBTQ practices.
  • Recognized by Black Enterprise magazine and Forbes for diversity and inclusion efforts.
  • Given nine HBCUs $1.5 million for academic programs, scholarships and other initiatives focused on meeting the energy industry’s workforce needs.
  • Recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense with the Freedom Award for support of employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserve.
  • Joined the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, a national coalition of 250 business leaders committing themselves to take actions that foster diversity and inclusion.

Diversity includes not only race and gender, but also diversity of thought, cultures and experiences. A more diverse workforce will reflect the customers Duke Energy serves, which, Davis said, will help the company provide products and services that customers want, make the company stronger and encourage innovation and growth. While the company expects additional efforts will increase diversity and inclusion, all employment decisions must be made based on legitimate, non-discriminatory criteria. 

According to a survey by McKinsey and Co., more than half of employees want their company to prioritize diversity. In the past year, Duke Energy has received honors for its commitment to diversity and inclusion from Black Enterprise Magazine, the Human Rights Campaign, Department of Defense and others.

Davis grew up in Charlotte, N.C., and earned degrees from UNC Greensboro and completed the University of Chicago Executive Education Program. She came to Duke Energy 30 years ago as a college intern and has worked in marketing, corporate communications, large account management and community relations. She said her new role is not something she expected, but as a minority female with an understanding of the company’s strategy and culture, she thought this was an opportunity where she was uniquely suited to make a difference.   

In this interview, Davis talked about her plans for strengthening diversity and inclusion at Duke Energy.

What experiences prepared you for this career change?

I think the experiences over time have been a great educational opportunity because I have seen the power of diversity firsthand. As a minority female who started back in the mid-’80s, you can see how the role of females and minorities in the company evolved. You can see how we’ve found our way, leaned in, and really grew and developed ourselves.

You’ve had a lot of roles where you’ve had to talk to people, listen and understand their problems. How is that important in this job? And what opportunities do you see?

2019-0521-Davis-Diversity-400-1

I understand so many of the challenges that Duke Energy has faced, but at the same time, working very closely with customers, I realize they are so diverse. Their needs and expectations are diverse, and I think we can leverage the diversity we have in our company to mirror the communities we serve and understand their challenges. It’s a powerful opportunity to meet their needs.

It’s proven that more diverse companies are often more innovative and creative because, as I just described, people come from different walks of life, and we can leverage that to build better products and services and provide richer experiences. 

Additionally, with this role, I have talent acquisition in my department as well as workforce development. We’re hearing potential candidates ask us, “What is your diversity and inclusion philosophy?” and “What does your workforce look like?” Those are quickly becoming very important in how top candidates render their decisions.

What are your goals for yourself of this department for your first year?

1_dont-miss-a-thing-button2

We’ve already set a stretch target to get to 25 percent female and 20 percent minority representation in the company by 2020. While to some that might seem small, it’s moving the needle. As part of this initiative, we have action plans for each department so we can focus on representation and our culture of inclusion.

It’s one thing for us to recruit talent so that females and minorities want to come to work for Duke Energy, but the other component is inclusion and being sure that we have the right environment. Unless we strengthen our culture so our employees feel valued, welcome, and that they can bring their authentic selves to work, all that effort to attract and hire goes out the window because we won’t be able to retain them.

2019-0521-Davis-Diversity-400-4

Are there things employees can do to help improve that culture?

Employees can be open to the kind of culture we want to create. They can get involved with employee resource groups, and in some business units, we have diversity and inclusion councils, which is a wonderful way to express how that business unit can embrace and celebrate diversity in a way that’s meaningful for that unit.

As we go about hiring and building pipelines to recruit diverse talent, we’re going to tap some alumni to come to recruitment fairs and opportunities at colleges and universities. If students can see people who look like themselves who are advancing and having a great career and experience at Duke Energy, it’s even more powerful.

Referring qualified candidates to job postings is another avenue for employees to help.

What have we learned that will help us hire more women and minorities?

2019-0213-hbcu5383
Jonathan Reddix, left, a student at N.C. A&T University who completed an internship at Duke Energy through the North Carolina Governer's Internship Program for HBCUs.

We’re getting outside of our box. We signed an HBCU challenge where we are doing more recruiting and relationship building at historically black colleges and universities. Also, very similarly, we’re going to organizations to source diverse talent and building partnerships that create sustained pipelines.

It has not been as easy to attract female or minority craft workers and lineworkers. Some of the things we’re doing include working with the Urban League, community and technical colleges and the military to attract more diverse candidates. We’re getting creative in hiring candidates from lineworker schools and making ourselves competitive to get that talent.

It seems like working at a utility is something a lot of people stumble into. How can we make sure people know about these opportunities?

Sometimes people don’t think about Duke Energy and what kind of roles are available. Recently, North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson had a press conference with the presidents of the North Carolina Community College Systems, and he said: “Consider Duke Energy instead of Duke University.”  He was promoting some of our craft work and how you can make a great living here.

A lot of students want to go to college and some don’t. Some want to go to community college or a technical college, so being sure that students understand what type of roles we have is important. Our workforce development and talent acquisition teams are working with community, education and association leaders to be sure we’re raising awareness of the types of the roles we have.

2019-0521-Davis-Diversity-930_201905192204
Davis speaking at a Business Women's Network event, an employee resource group at Duke Energy.

What do you think will be your greatest challenge in this role?

To push the commitment and value of diversity and inclusion deeper into the organization. Each team has unique needs and characteristics, and there are resources to help employees and leaders. Every senior leader has taken an unconscious bias training, and I am confident our leadership will serve as champions. However, it’s not as simple when you get to middle and first-line management to really accelerate impact in a meaningful way. The culture we’re working toward is often built by many managers and supervisors. That is probably the thing that I am most conscientious about. It can happen, but we have to be very intentional and recognize that it will take some time.

If you could say one thing to encourage people to support diversity efforts and be inclusive, what would you ask of them?

To really think about what diversity means to them. In many ways, we’re all diverse. So, think about how that translates into something that’s not threatening – how it can be something powerful versus limiting. We all have different perspectives and come to conclusions in multiple ways because of the different journeys that we’ve been on – that’s the power that diversity can bring.

Recommended Stories