December 2008


Diversity, it’s good for business

“Diversity is more than race and gender. It includes age, religion, geographical roots, language, point-of-view, and levels of ability and disability. To adapt a great quote, it’s not what TVA can do for diversity. It’s what diversity can do for TVA.”

Peyton T. Hairston Jr., senior vice president, Corporate Responsibility & Diversity

Natalie Norwood, administrative specialist in the Office of the Inspector General in Knoxville, has worked at TVA 28 years. There’s nothing unusual about Norwood’s appearance, the way she does her job or her work space decorated with pictures of her daughter and two sons.


A 28-year TVA employee, Office of the Inspector General’s Natalie Norwood was born legally blind.

What is unusual is that Norwood was born legally blind, the result of a defect in the birthing process. In technical terms, her disability is “high partial” blindness.

“I can walk and get around,” she says, and she does her work with help from adaptive technology like a 24-inch screen that displays large type and a phone with high-contrast display.

“My office is very supportive, and the equipment makes me feel comfortable,” she says. Over time her sight will deteriorate, requiring more adaptive technology. “It’s important for me to maintain for as long as I can.”

Norwood is one of about 50 TVA employees with targeted disabilities; they’re just under one half of 1 percent of the total workforce.

“TVA’s goal is to recruit highly-skilled and diverse employees at all levels of the organization, particularly among our executives, senior managers, and other managers, as well as engineers and craft employees working in our plants,” says Vyrone Cravanas, manager of Diversity and Labor Relations.

“At TVA, we are aware of the growing diversity of our customer base and the importance of attracting the most qualified employees. Diversity is one of the keys to meeting both those needs.”

Norwood, from Fayetteville, Tenn., went away to the Tennessee School for the Blind in Nashville from age 4 through high school. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University, she got a job with TVA in Knoxville, working in Central Travel Services, then Personnel, then, 22 years ago, became a charter member of OIG.

She also is the single mother of triplets – sons Cody and Craig and daughter Christina, now in high school. Their father, Kenny, died when they were 3 years old.

With a lifetime of learning to be independent, Norwood gets to and from work on the Knoxville bus system’s lift service. She walks or rides with friends to Butler & Bailey, the neighborhood supermarket. Still, it has often been a challenge to get the kids to doctor’s appointments, especially unplanned ones. Many times she has been helped by friends at the Rocky Hill Baptist Church. Other times she took a taxi.

Facing challenges with a positive attitude

“A diverse workforce leads to more creative ideas and more effective solutions to our business needs,” says Stacie Sparks, manager, IT Planning & Compliance in Information Services in Chattanooga. She also serves as the Corporate Lead for the Regional Diversity Council – Corporate Team. (See “The value of diversity” on page 2.)


Thomas Walls, programmer analyst in Information Services, and Stacie Sparks work together in a conference room outside the IT Command Center. She says Walls partners with her and Power System Operations Transmission Operations & Maintenance representatives in the development of IS Service Level Agreements.

Sparks has severe scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, first detected when she was 12. She was immediately scheduled for surgery, without which the doctors estimated that she could have died by the age of 21.

“I had two pounds of metal rods attached to my spine,” she recalls. “When I was 20, I had surgery to remove the instrumentation. By looking at me, you can’t tell that I have any limitations whatsoever. Mainly I have restricted lifting, sitting and standing tolerances. There are times when I have to stand up and walk around or ask a co-worker for assistance.”

Sparks joined TVA as an intern eight years ago, after earning her Business Marketing degree from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, with support from vocational rehabilitation and disabilities services. Since then, she has earned her MBA at UT-Chattanooga, and most recently completed the Vanderbilt University TVA Leadership & Management for Accelerated Performance Program.

Today, she says, she remains diligently aware of the need for respect and inclusiveness, and she uses “positive perseverance” to deal with difficulties.

“I believe everyone has adversities in life to overcome. We each have the opportunity to use those challenges to shape our attitudes and diversify our abilities.”


Diversity in hiring brings out the best

John Underwood, nuclear assurance manager at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, had 15 positions open for Radiological Chem Technicians. In support of TVA’s diversity initiative, he specifically sent a diverse representation of his employees to job fairs at Alabama A&M, University of North Alabama, University of Alabama–Huntsville and Athens State. Underwood told his recruiters that they were to seek the best, brightest and most diverse applicants that could do the job, and they were to encourage and instruct anyone they felt could meet the standards to apply online.

“We had more than 150 apply on that specific job,” says Underwood. “HR made a cut to 69. I then took a diverse group, and we cut the list to 30. Next, we set up a diverse interview panel and let them conduct the interviews and score them. After that, the process was easy. We had the best of the best right in our hands.”

In the end, 10 of the 15 hires fell under diversity categories. “You should see this group,” says Underwood. “They are absolutely top-notch. I may be working for them in short order.”


Wince Brown (left) talks with Nuclear Assurance Manager John Underwood. Brown, a chemical technician with TVA since 1985, helped interview the candidates.