Diversity & Inclusion

Personal Experiences Drive Passion for DEI and Helping Others Boost Their Careers

It’s perhaps natural that so many of the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leaders we speak to in our series on chief diversity officers (CDOs) and those in similar roles are people of color. They frequently cite their firsthand experiences with disparate treatment and professional opportunities when explaining why they chose to pursue such a career.

jami de lou diversity cox
Jamie de Lou

Our subject for this installment is Jami de Lou, director of inclusion and diversity at Cox Enterprises. She is quick to point out that as a white woman, she doesn’t fit this traditional mold; however, she credits her experience growing up in and raising a multicultural family, as well as her experience as a first-generation college student helping pay her own way through school, as key influences in her passion for DEI.

A Background in Helping Others Get Ahead

de Lou credits her early years teaching in high school and college, her graduate work, and professional speaking with giving her the critical skills she utilizes in her human-centric design approach to DEI work. “As someone who could not afford to accept unpaid internships, and who cares deeply about early access and exposure to professional careers, I advocated for young people by creating pipeline programs and internships resulting in life-changing career opportunities,” de Lou says.

Before joining Cox, de Lou spent the bulk of her career driving inclusion culture change at professional service firms, legal, and consulting. At full-service law firm Jenner & Block, de Lou worked with incredibly talented lawyers and professionals who were committed to pro bono, especially human, LGBTQ+, and civil rights. “During my tenure, I was tapped to lead talent development, in addition to diversity and inclusion,” she says, “which is where I honed strategies to embed equity and inclusion into all people processes – talent acquisition, on boarding, performance management, and beyond.”

Heeding a Call to Action

de Lou often credits Rick Palmore’s 2004 statement “A Call to Action—Diversity in the Legal Profession” as a key influence in her career trajectory. “Rick spoke at a diversity session at a conference I attended,” she explains. “I told him about my background and passion for creating change and advocating for inclusion and diversity. Rick encouraged me to work within the legal industry, as they would need people to help drive change. So, I spent a significant part of my career in professional service firms, legal and consulting before joining Cox.”

Despite not being a part of a minority community herself, de Lou says her upbringing in predominantly Hispanic and African-American communities caused her to witness firsthand the many inequities faced by people of color, even if she didn’t directly experience them herself.

“Working as a white woman in ID&E may seem unusual to many,” de Lou notes, “but I use storytelling to model vulnerability and transparency to lean into this difference. I learned to adapt to others and bring more of what I learned into my worldview and decision-making. That privilege is something I navigate in and out of with my own multiracial, multicultural, and multilingual family with every microaggression that happens in a store or restaurant when someone doesn’t think we are family because their Black and Brown faces don’t match mine.”

Promoting DEI at Cox Enterprises

At Cox, de Lou continues, “we have a long history of supporting ID&E. The Cox family has always been committed to building an organization that supports people from all walks of life.” She points to several practices focused on supporting DEI: 

  • Talent practices are reviewed and continually improved to drive talent and promotion best practices and executive diversity based, in part, on retention and exit interview feedback. 
  • Cox has implemented new enterprisewide supplier diversity investment and development goals across its divisions and has developed initiatives to help diverse-owned businesses grow, thrive, and compete through tools such as continuing education programs and investment in underrepresented funds and businesses.  
  • A holistic DEI training road map for all employees empowers them to champion inclusion and diversity and provides enhanced resources and tools.  
  • Government Affairs and Community/External Relations identifies specific company actions to make a difference in racial discrimination, criminal justice, and quality education, as well as to map out participation from the corporate level to individual employees. 

Cox has also implemented a number of employee resources groups (ERGs) to provide employees with an opportunity to share diverse perspectives of various kinds and to have a voice to further input and understanding.

ERGs at Cox

Cox supports 13 ERGs for its staff of almost 6,000 employees, and more than 60 events are hosted every year.

“Cox employees can join any of our ERGs, which all have chapters across our divisions focused on driving ID&E through education, professional development, business and market insights, and community engagement,” says de Lou. “Our ERGs are amplifiers of employee voices to help Cox drive not only our ID&E strategy but also our company’s purpose, which is to Empower People Today to Build a Better Future for the Next Generation.”

de Lou adds that employee feedback on Cox’s approach has been very positive. “We will continue to listen and remain flexible to ensure we stay in tune with the diverse needs of our employees, customers, suppliers, and the community.” 

An Internal and External Focus on Diversity and Inclusion

Supporting internal diversity through recruitment has increasingly become a priority for organizations across the United States—and Cox is no exception. But where it stands out is its comprehensive approach to supporting DEI.

“Everyone, regardless of age and experience, wants to feel as though their organization was designed with them in mind,” says de Lou. “They want companies to reflect the businesses, clients, and communities in which they live, operate and serve. This is true across the board—suppliers, executive leadership, and the entire workforce. That’s why we support minority, women, veteran, disability, and LGBTQ-owned businesses in our companywide purchasing process.”

Cox companies spend about $800 million annually with diverse suppliers, with a goal to increase annual spending to $1 billion by 2026, de Lou notes.

The company has also built a 5-year road map to improve the representation of women and people of color in leadership within the organization.

“Cox’s pursuit of a diverse culture has been a 100-plus-year journey,” de Lou says. “I say pursuit because there’s always room for improvement. We are taking additional steps to make our company more inclusive than it is today.”

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are increasingly popular goals touted by a wide range of organizations across many industries, but many businesses pursue them largely for PR purposes. Companies like Cox, though, know that in order to derive the very real business benefits of DEI efforts, it’s necessary to place a genuine focus on those efforts.

An important part of ensuring this focus is leveraging the passion of DEI leaders like de Lou who see DEI not just as a job but also as a lifelong passion. 

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.