Lifelong Experiences Inspiring a Passion for DEI

Karen Sock, President & CEO
Sock Enterprises, Inc.

I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. I grew up being very aware from an early age of the work of civil rights activists and the national movement. My family members and friends spoke openly about the civil rights movement and its impact on the Black community. We were taught to treat all people with dignity and respect. We were also taught that no matter the circumstances we could achieve anything we aspired to with hard work.

At age 15 my parents took us to see the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church. I still remember the experience as though it were yesterday. His powerful voice filled the church and all who were in attendance were filled with emotion, clapping and shouting words of affirmation as he spoke. It was a powerful and riveting experience that made a great impact on me.

I began my professional career in hospitality and gaming as a hotel general manager in Omaha, Nebraska. After 16 months on the job, our parent company began to expand into riverboat gaming. The company president said he needed some hotel general managers to consider moving into the gaming division as the business was growing quickly. I raised my hand and shortly after arrived in Vicksburg, Mississippi as the Director of Non-gaming services. City officials made it clear that we needed to recruit employees that reflected the population of the community. We worked with city officials and reached out to business and community leaders, organizations, and churches to identify great folks to fill jobs.

In 1994 I was recruited to our corporate offices in Memphis, Tennessee where I was promoted to Corporate Director of Workforce Diversity. It was my responsibility to shape a top-down strategy for diversity that included our employees, customers, community partners and vendors. I launched a company-wide Diversity Council with representatives from across the enterprise. The company hired an external Diversity Equity and Inclusion consultant and we traveled to each of the company’s forty properties to deliver the DEI strategy. The positive impact was noted in employee feedback surveys. My next stop was Tunica, Mississippi where I was named Casino General Manager. That appointment distinguished me as the nation’s first African American female to lead the operations of a full-service casino for a major gaming company. During this tenure, I hired and trained folks from the local market and surrounding areas for positions. We even created a transportation system to bring employees back and forth to work.

As VP of Human Resources and Non-Gaming Service Operations in New Orleans, I worked with senior leadership, management, and city officials to meet the requirements of the diversity plan, which required that we have representation of African Americans from the city at every level of the organization. If we did not meet the requirements of the Diversity Plan and act in good-faith we could lose our license to operate. I am proud of the fact that my career has allowed me to open the door for African Americans and other people of color, both women and men. I have inspired and helped many to achieve their professional and personal goals. Twenty-nine years later, I continue to promote the importance of DEI and I am determined to do what I can, to make a positive difference in my little part of the world.

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