Surrounded by the love and nurturing of her family, Tracie Morris knew she was destined for great things, but growing up throughout the various communities on the South Side of Chicago—she didn’t quite know where her path would lead her.
As the VP of Human Resources at ComEd, her 15 years at one of the country’s largest utilities companies, her mission has become very clear—lead others to become great leaders.
“I grew up in Woodlawn. I spent my summers with my grandmother who lived in Englewood and then a small portion of the time we lived in Roseland. So, we moved from Woodlawn, to Roseland to Alsip, and it was a great experience for me. Although, I spent a lot of my childhood in private schools, it taught me a lot about diversity.” Attending St. Lawrence Elementary School in Woodlawn introduced her to a broader range of students from different cultural backgrounds. She says, “With those experiences it really helped me in the workplace because it taught me to be resilient and respect differences.”
She went on to attend and graduate from Jones Commercial High School, a CPS magnet school which at the time taught student’s business preparatory courses. Morris was accepted at North Central College earning her BS and at Benedictine College where she studied Psychology and Organizational Behaviors earning her MSMOB along with taking some Ph.D. courses at University of Chicago.
“What I’ve learned in psychology helps me in a workplace because people come into work with all types of issues. I have several nurses who work for me, a doctor. You have to be able to meet people where they are,” says Morris.
In the past few months, many companies have leaned on their HR departments to prioritize the importance of intolerable behavior in the workplace since sexual harassment and abuse reported cases escalated. As one of the leading women senior executives at ComEd, Morris has also reiterated the company’s position in providing a secure support system among employees.
“I’ve been meeting with small groups of women and men to say if you’ve experienced something in the workplace, I want you to bring it to me. I don’t care who the person is. I don’t care what color they are. I want to hear about your experience because I have to worry about the next generation under you being successful in the workplace. But it is very hard, and people understand that because we have women, even with this Harvey Weinstein issue, ask, ‘what took women so long?’” She adds, “Because they didn’t feel safe to bring the issues forward. Let’s not punish them because they didn’t feel safe. You have to create a safe environment where people can raise issues and it can be dealt with quickly and effectively.”
Past situations have established the public scrutiny of women such as Anita Hill and how they are perceived in mainstream media, says Morris.
“People feel like it’s just going to tear down my career and I’ll never be able to break through the glass ceiling. We have to realize that these women have their children and careers.”
Because it’s easier said than done, Morris has an “open door” policy to provide sanctuary for employees feeling apprehensive about such complaints.
“Some of the things I tell people how to do it anonymously if they feel that it’s important for them to do it. When women bring it up anonymously, they get the courage to step forward and be the poster child for it. That’s new for women to be able to do that because men are still predominantly at the top. Even though we have a female CEO, how many female CEOs out here do we have?”
The President and CEO of ComEd, Anne Pramaggiore has led the charge in mentoring both men and women at the company since her start there in 1998. As the first female CEO, she’s also encouraged her executive staff to facilitate more time in guiding, opening up more opportunities for growth in-house.
The company’s women’s group allows managers to interact with Pramaggiore and network, asking her how to overcome challenges and build success stories in their career journey. Morris feels her CEO’s story is unique because she studied theater and eventually pursued law, and as an attorney worked her way, learning the operations side of a major utility company.
“I tell young women to ask her about her journey because it’s not traditional. And I think that’s important. But until we have strong women networks, it’s very hard,” said Morris.
But, she admits there is still a long way because women and men share a different approach in seeking career promotion and growth. Networking is essential.
“Men will come to me all the time and say, ‘I want to meet the CEO and I want to play golf with them. Where does he or she play golf?’ They have an agenda and a plan. Women don’t want to do that—it’s too showy. ‘It’s not something I want to do.’ I say, ‘Do it, do it anyway!’”
As a wife and mother of three adult children, Morris has become a shining example to her team and others on balancing mind, body and spirit. In order to manage an efficient department providing resources to thousands of ComEd Exelon employees, she takes time out every third Saturday teaching yoga. Her home in Sarasota, Fla., provides a refuge to relax and teach class on Lido Beach to other women where they meditate and share some wonderful stories.
She reflects, “You need that connection. I think having that as my backdrop, it helps me to focus on my journey of servitude. How can I help to create more women leaders? Because at the end, that’s what my journey has to be about. If it’s not about that, it’s not a successful journey.”