An Amazing Tapestry

Our focus on inclusion and diversity has improved both the organization and the industry.

by Rhonda Carter Adams, Illinois American Water
Rhonda Carter Adams

On January 16, 2020, American Water celebrated diversity and inclusion with the company’s first Inclusion Day. Via a live national broadcast to all employees, Susan Story, American Water president and CEO, signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge, continuing the company’s work to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace. American Water employees also participated in signing a pledge personalized by Story, which read in part: 

“We are all indeed beautifully different—with our own perspectives, experiences and backgrounds. We are like threads in a colorful and beautiful tapestry—each vibrant and impressive on its own, but creating a unique and incredible work of art when we bring our threads together for our common purpose.”

As the diversity lead for Illinois American Water, I work in a space created to celebrate our uniqueness and bring people from different backgrounds and experiences to work together. But I’m not alone. I found the pledge to echo what all of us on the Illinois American Water team pursue every day. 

Meaningful Milestones
I’m proud of our team and what we’ve achieved on our inclusion and diversity journey. In fact, last year, Illinois American Water was recognized with the 2019 Inclusion and Diversity Award by the National Black Chamber of Commerce. The company’s commitment was also recognized in 2018 by the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce and by the East St. Louis branch of the NAACP in 2017 and 2018.

These awards represent a focused and meaningful effort put forth to increase the company’s partnerships with minority businesses, diverse suppliers and diverse employee candidates. Together, our team has achieved the following milestones:

  • The value of goods and services Illinois American Water purchased from diverse suppliers in 2019 was sustained above 50 percent. 
  • In 2018, more than $72 million was spent with small and diverse business owners, representing 52 percent of the organization’s purchases. 
  • Since 2014, the value of goods and services Illinois American Water purchased from diverse businesses has increased by 48 percent—more than $68 million. This represents a 25x increased spend with MBE-certified suppliers and a four-fold increased spend with WBE-certified suppliers (minority- and women-owned businesses, respectively). The company meets annually with entrepreneurs, business owners and contractors to help maintain a steady pipeline of diverse suppliers. 
  • Illinois American Water partners with organizations to host and attend diversity outreach events to identify potential new employees with diverse backgrounds. The total diverse employee population at Illinois American Water has averaged 30 percent.
  • In 2015, Illinois American Water joined other utilities in forming the Illinois Utilities Business Diversity Council. This council is designed to grow business opportunities for diverse suppliers through closer collaboration, technical development and sharing of best practices.

Making a Difference
This work not only betters our organization, but the industry as a whole, while creating opportunities for others to be successful in the communities we serve. All of our employees are a part of our amazing tapestry. Together, we can develop the next big idea, delight our customers, make a difference in the communities we serve, grow our company and create a future of success. PM

Rhonda Carter Adams is Illinois American Water’s diversity lead. She was recognized by Who’s Who Diversity in Color (WWDIC) in the Most Intriguing People category.

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