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Cultivating Culture - Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Report

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Inspiring TVA’s Future Talent

Recruiters employ creative strategies to grow region’s workforce

When Ketha Richardson, president of the East Tennessee chapter of The American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE), walked into the Southeast Lineman Training Center in Trenton, Georgia, he saw students from all over the country – but few from the Valley region.

The training center, a 25-minute drive from Chattanooga, has typically attracted many students from the Northeast.

But Richardson, director of diversity and inclusion and diversity and corporate training at EPB, knew the program could be a great opportunity for more young people from the region.

TVA soon partnered with EPB, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Chattanooga 2.0 and others to create the AABE New Heights Scholarship program. It connects individuals from underrepresented communities in TVA’s region to career opportunities in the electrical or telecom fields.

“Many of us were conditioned that college was the only pathway to a career, but we have to be more creative for this and future generations,” Angela Sims, TVA’s director of Diversity and Inclusion and vice president of the East Tennessee AABE, said. “The smiles on these students’ faces are a testament to how this program is doing what we’d hoped – engaging underrepresented communities and helping us build effective pathways for those who might not have the chance otherwise.”

The program is life-changing for the students, Richardson said.

“Not only are they given the technical knowledge and skills to establish a career for themselves and provide for their families, they also learn life skills, teamwork, communication, time management and much more through the program,” he said. “You see a full transformation in them over the course of the 15 weeks. I see the progress in every interaction I have with them.”

Pathways and pipelines

The scholarship program is an example of the creative partnerships and strategies TVA has developed in the community that supports attracting diverse talent.

Every TVA employee, contractor and retiree has an origin story of how they found their way to TVA. And to continue strengthening a culture of inclusion and success, TVA’s leaders are focused on helping future generations find their way onto the team.

Diverse, pre-employment pathways and pipelines are instrumental in helping TVA uphold its mission of service to the region. To this end, the Workforce Strategy and Development team partners internally and externally to develop relationships with economically disadvantaged and non-traditional workers. Effective recruitment is critical, particularly amid challenges in the labor market.

While the Tennessee Valley region enjoys unprecedented levels of economic growth and development, there are rising environmental and regulatory requirements – and a continuing shortage of skilled labor.

“Even though we don’t know exactly what the future of the region looks like, we know an intentional approach to recognizing and addressing skill and talent gaps will be vital for the success of the region,” Megan Flynn, vice president of Safety and Workforce Development, said. “We have to look at talent pools we haven’t focused on in the past, change their awareness and spark interest before we need them on our team.”

Pipelines feed TVA’s Talent Acquisition team with applications for current and future positions, while pathways help build talent through partnerships with industry, community organizations and trade unions.

“Working with TVA’s labor forecasting and labor supply centers, the Workforce Strategy and Development team will be focused on building programs and processes to assist both internally and externally to ensure TVA has the right skills and talent to power the Tennessee Valley with an agile and diverse workforce,” Jamie Choate, director of Workforce Strategy and Development, said. “We will use strong community partnerships and invest in training and development opportunities in diverse and economically disadvantaged communities that may not have had those opportunities in the past, which will help us drive the culture and mission of service TVA is known for.”

While TVA has always devoted time, talent, and funding to attracting top talent, the Workforce Strategy and Development team will focus on the impact – identifying skill and talent gaps and partnering to close the gaps and build the workforce of the future.

People shaking hands at AABE lineman training

TVA STARS provides preview of the future

TVA’s Student Training and Resource Sharing program, commonly referred to as STARS, is gearing up for its third cohort of students to join the TVA family this summer.

The eight-week program provides high school juniors, seniors and recent graduates the opportunity to work with TVA or at a civil construction job site for the summer. The students gain experience alongside trade professionals while learning to navigate a professional work environment – all while earning income.

The Generation Projects and Fleet Services team created the program to help high schoolers experience TVA from the inside, allowing them to see what a career with TVA or one of its trade partners looks like.

“In high school we hear mostly about the professional lives of our parents or those close to us,” said Scott Turnbow, vice president of Civil Projects, Equipment Support Services and Coal Combustion Products. “This program lets us open up the student’s eyes to a world of possibilities. The STARS program allows us to plant a seed of hope that will continue to grow and benefit the region for decades.”

Many of the program’s students end their summer with new goals and a new career path in mind.

“The passion of our employees here at TVA is undeniable, and their dedication and excitement are what help these students see a future career with TVA,” said Deanna Fults, senior consultant with TVA Generation Projects and Fleet Services and chairperson for that group’s inclusion council. “We relied heavily on employee buy-in, and our teams really stepped up to show our culture of inclusion and welcome these students to TVA.”

The Student Training and Resource Sharing program grew from five participants the first summer to 19 the second year – and the team is eager to help many more students experience this life-changing opportunity in 2024.

Power of the Panel

TVA shapes job interviews to position candidates for success

It’s hard to deny that a job interview is often more than a little anxiety-inducing. Before employees even start day one at TVA, the organization is making strides to create an atmosphere where they feel comfortable, confident, and welcome to bring their whole selves to the table. 

Through the diverse interview panel initiative, TVA can reduce stress and anxiety by providing an interview panel whose demographics better represent a diverse perspective. This creates more ease and provides an opportunity for the interviewee to perform their best. 

A win for all

“We started this initiative in Financial Services because of a recommendation from our employees,” Lyndsay Sneckenberger, senior consultant with TVA Financial Services, said. “The hope is to reduce unconscious bias in our hiring process and ensure diverse perspectives and opinions are being considered.”

Those interested in participating as a panelist in an interview can easily volunteer to support interviews by visiting the Financial Services volunteer page. Offering a spot on the interview panel to a diverse range of employees gives all who work at TVA a say in the organization’s growth, Sneckenberger said. And that’s a win for all.

“From a candidate perspective, having a diverse interview panel can make the candidate feel more included during the interview process and also shows that TVA cares about providing equal opportunities to all employees,” Sneckenberger said. “As a result, Financial Services has seen a significant increase in both interview diversity and diverse hiring since 2021.”

Following suit

Diverse interview panels have now expanded beyond Financial Services, with additional TVA Business Units seeing the benefits an inclusive panel provides. TVA Nuclear is one group that has followed suit.

“Diverse interview panels not only lessen stress but give the interview panel a more accurate representation of the candidate’s skills and true abilities,” Todd Anderson, TVA’s senior manager of radiation protection, said. Anderson has participated as both an interview panel member and a hiring manager for several nuclear candidate selections. 

“In the past, interviews were often a very stressful and straining time for many candidates,” he said. “Coupled with the normal anxiety of interviewing for a new job, differences in the demographic makeup of the interview panel from the candidate often added an extra layer of stress.”

Ashley Johnson, a Sequoyah Nuclear Plant employee concerns representative who has served on diverse interview panels, said this initiative shows TVA is listening and adapting.

“This method helps interviewees feel comfortable to express why they deserve the position without being worried about unfair treatment or bias of an interview panel,” Johnson said.

And the results are clear. “I have noticed an improvement in the performance of employees in interviews,” Anderson said. “They’re more relaxed and the interviews have started to transition from transactional to more of a conversation where the candidate is given the freedom and opportunity to really sell themselves as a person applying for a job and not just a candidate.” 

Three people sitting and talking at a table

Inclusivity takes intentionality

Advancing enterprise-level, diverse panels

TVA began its diverse interview panel initiative because a breadth of perspectives and backgrounds strengthens resilience and decision-making, ultimately helping the enterprise improve its service.

Diversity doesn’t survive without inclusion – but being inclusive takes intentionality, Beau Scott, TVA Talent Management director, said.

For example, all hiring managers have bias. That’s a human condition. Hiring managers naturally tend to favor people with similar backgrounds to themselves, Scott said.

Diverse interview panels are just one way TVA assures a broader perspective is brought into the decision.

Interview guidance for the enterprise encourages hiring managers to select an interview panel of three people with diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and professional perspective.

“All aspects of our selection process are designed to reduce bias and optimize the probability of selecting someone who will have long-term success,” Scott said.

The Right Start

Inclusion and kindness shine in New Employee Experience

Diversity and inclusion are not merely catchphrases, but the fibers that weave the tapestry of TVA’s culture. Beyond employee orientation, deliberate new employee onboarding serves as a pivotal opportunity to reinforce a new team member’s decision to join TVA, illustrate the company’s mission of service and provide new employees with the confidence and connection that will help them feel they belong here.

Culture of inclusion

Due to COVID, TVA’s New Employee Experience was forced to pivot in 2020, offering a virtual experience to ensure the health and safety of all team members. After more than three years of delivering the New Employee Experience virtually, TVA’s Talent Management team is now focused on returning the experience to an in-person activity.

“We’ve heard from new employees that an in-person experience would be helpful, and we want to use the first few days of a new team member’s time at TVA to illustrate our values, mission of service and how every single person is critical to the TVA mission,” Beau Scott, TVA director of Talent Management, said. “In addition to learning where to put in a time-off request and how to reach the help desk, new team members need to understand TVA’s culture.

“Appreciating others’ differences, treating everyone with kindness and respect and ensuring inclusion are vital aspects of employee success, so we want to make sure every new employee leaves NEE prepared to advance our culture of inclusion.”

The Talent Management team expects the in-person experience to launch in early 2024, with a goal of ensuring every new team member has:

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Experienced TVA's values

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Confidence and preparation for success

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Connected with each other, the business and TVA’s mission of service

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A sense of belonging

Nuclear employee onboarding

TVA’s nuclear team understands how a commitment to onboarding leads to operational success. This is why they implemented the Nuclear Employee Onboarding Program. In addition to two days of New Employee Experience, nuclear employees experience an additional two-day deep dive into the history and future vision of TVA’s nuclear fleet and how the enterprise is pursuing that vision through a focus on people, a culture of continuous improvement and inclusion, and pride and commitment to service.

“We started the program at Browns Ferry in 2022 and rolled it out to all stations and the Fleet Center during summer 2023,” Henry Ross, TVA’s HR business partner, said. “When we designed the program, we considered our teammates of today and tomorrow, and how important it is for all of them to understand what makes TVA’s current and future nuclear fleet so exciting and impactful.

“We know employees want more from a company than just a job. They want to understand why they do what they do and how what they do is part of something bigger. They want to understand where we’ve been, where we’re going, how we plan to get there and, ultimately, how they can help.”

TVA’s approach to onboarding new nuclear employees has highlighted meaningful ways to include leaders and long-tenured teammates.

“Our long-tenured employees have answered our call to action and demonstrated a real eagerness to engage in telling our story, while TVA’s leaders are doing more today than in the past to ensure new teammates are onboarded with a deeper understanding of our nuclear operating model,” Ross said.

Moving the Needle in the Right Direction

Inclusion with Diversity reinforces culture of community

Creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable being themselves and expressing diverse viewpoints is a team effort. That’s why Inclusion with Diversity, commonly referred to as IwD, is part of TVA employees’ annual performance goals.

“Having IwD as a performance goal reinforces TVA’s culture of belonging and community and helps to increase awareness of how each person’s individual behaviors make a difference,” Angela Sims, director of Diversity and Inclusion, said.

Employees have suggested many avenues for meeting the goal, beyond just gaining a better understanding of TVA’s annual IwD objectives. They seek out conversations with people who have different backgrounds and perspectives, and they participate in TVA’s many Employee Resource Groups.

“It caused me to take a closer look at what the ERGs are doing at TVA and where I might enjoy plugging in to learn more,” Amy Valovcin, TVA Ethics and Compliance analyst, said. “I went to a few ERG events and was inspired to be more involved in the IwD journey at TVA.”

The Inclusion with Diversity goal also helps TVA’s leaders identify ways to promote IwD in their individual teams, such as supporting diverse hiring initiatives and leveraging their networks to better reach a diverse pool of candidates for new positions. 

“It has also prompted me to have more intentional conversations with my own team members about the culture we have, where we want to be and how we will get there,” Prentice Gilbert, general manager of TVA Central Labs and Services, said. “That engagement itself is fostering more inclusion.”

And as TVA employees focus on their individual IwD goals, the enterprise’s collective goals gain momentum. “FY 2023 marked the first year working towards our 10-year diversity goals and we saw positive momentum in key metrics because of focused programs, strengthened relationships and leadership support,” Sims said.

Leadership representation for people of color and women increased to a respective 10.9% and 19.7%. TVA also saw increased inclusion scores on its FY 2023 employee engagement survey among Veterans, people of color and women – and a higher inclusion score for the enterprise overall.

“That’s one of our most important metrics, as it’s our employees confirming that we’re moving the needle in the right direction,” Sims said. “But we must continue our focus on these important metrics.”

Leadership representation for people of color and women increased to a respective 10.9% and 19.7%. TVA also saw increased inclusion scores on its FY 2023 employee engagement survey among Veterans.

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What is IwD?

At TVA, we focus on Inclusion with Diversity. Our goal is to is to accelerate the impact of inclusion with diversity within TVA and the communities we serve. IwD is a part of TVA employees’ annual performance goals. Employees have suggested many avenues for meeting the goal. They seek out conversations with people who have different backgrounds and perspectives, and they participate in TVA’s many Employee Resource Groups.

Q&A with Diversity and Inclusion Director

Angela Sims talks about the edge TVA gains when fairness is at the forefront

What does workplace fairness mean to you?

When I think of workplace fairness, I think about an equitable approach to opportunities, to assignments and access to senior leadership in terms of mentoring and sponsorship to help inform those opportunities. When talking about fairness and equity, what’s important to understand is that one individual’s circumstances might require what may not look like fairness across the board. When you look at trying to have a workplace where fairness can thrive, it’s that equitable approach and balanced exposure that makes all the difference.

What steps are TVA leaders taking to ensure a fair and equitable workplace for all?

We are equipping leaders to be equitable and more inclusive through IwD leadership forums. We know that our leaders set the tone and the expectations for everyone. We also have computer-based trainings for all employees around inclusive behaviors – what they are and what they’re not, and why they have the potential to be impactful.

We’ve also been working closely with a consulting firm that can provide external insight. A lot of our discussions revolve around inclusive behavior best practices, and how to leverage mentorships and sponsorships, which impacts our recruiting and retention efforts – a perspective that is especially important to our talent team. All of these things result in TVA being more equitable and providing enhanced opportunities for a fair and inclusive workplace.

How does workplace fairness make TVA stronger?

In several ways. When employees feel like they have a fair shot at programs, projects and assignments that help them to grow in their career they feel like they belong, and they want to stay. It helps with retention when an employee truly feels like they’re part of the success of the company.

It also becomes part of our branding for recruitment. What better ambassadors than our employees to spread the word that TVA is a fair and inclusive place to work? If someone sees through our website, hears through word of mouth or experiences through community partnerships that TVA is an inclusive employer, they want to be part of that.

Angela Sims

“When you look at trying to have a workplace where fairness can thrive, it’s that equitable approach and balanced exposure that makes all the difference.” —Angela Sims, director of Diversity and Inclusion

Labor Leads the Way

Union partnerships keep the river flowing, lights glowing

For decades, union partnerships have been a leading force in strengthening TVA and helping the seven-state region flourish.

“Since the inception of the TVA Act, our labor partners have worked alongside TVA to engineer, build and operate every facility across our enterprise,” Will Trumm, vice president of TVA Labor Supply and Partnerships, said. “Today, 62% of our workforce is represented by a union, and that’s where many TVA leaders started their careers.”

Alongside playing a central role in TVA’s success, unions have enabled the American dream to take root in the Valley region by providing excellent jobs.

“Our union partnerships have kept the river flowing and lights glowing for more than 90 years and they’ve helped provide careers that grow the middle class throughout the region we serve,” Trumm said. “They deliver the highest professionalism, skills and safety focus of any workforce across the country.”

TVA’s union partnerships ensure the enterprise remains a diverse and inclusive workplace that is representative of the communities TVA serves.

“Over the past 12 months, we have created Memorandums of Understanding that lower the real or perceived barriers of recruiting diverse applicants around the nation,” Trumm said. “We have worked with our union partners to go into underserved communities and create pipeline programs that have advanced the diversity of employees coming into TVA.

“At the same time, we are focused on going into public schools, trade schools and colleges to focus on diversity recruiting, while expanding hiring pools to ensure we are creating pathways to middle class jobs for everyone. These programs include the Apprentice Readiness Program, MC3, lineperson programs and Helmets to Hardhats for Veterans exiting the military.”

Will Trumm

Quote by Will Trumm, Vice President of TVA Labor Supply and Partnerships