Often women are introduced into executive-level positions as the first or only woman in that role. That has often happened to me. When it happens, I know that people are going to look closely at what I do. I’ve learned that everything I do matters. How I interact with people I meet in the hallway is just as important as how I interact with the executives in my company. The way I prepare for a speech to hundreds of people is just as important as how I prepare to meet with my staff. I don’t have the option to slack in one area and do well in another.

I make it a priority to do everything with excellence—doing the job to the best of my ability with the resources, talents, and skills I possess. Getting into the habit of excellence doesn’t take much effort. When it’s a habit, excellence becomes the way you think, how you operate, and how you move through the workplace. People notice when you work with excellence. Excellent work becomes your brand. That’s how people view you and how your career develops.

I have always striven to work in an organization where I can feel challenged and contribute in a meaningful way. It is also important to me to work where women have a voice in decision making. I don’t think there’s anything that makes me feel more confident and more connected to an organization than feeling that what I contribute is valued. It has been great to watch the number of women in leadership grow at my company. Ameren understands that diverse voices at the table benefit both women and the company. That’s the foundation of diversity and inclusion. That’s why I enjoy coming to work every day.

On Finding Success and Staying Competitive
Always push the envelope. If you stand still, you get behind. Push to make sure what you deliver is always fresh and addressing what is currently on the minds of the employees.

On the Importance of Role Models and Mentors
My father is my greatest role model. He was involved in the civil rights movement and marched locally in St. Louis and many times with Martin Luther King, Jr. He demonstrated to me at an early age the importance of courage. The foundation of my work in diversity is relying on that courage to have the difficult conversations.

On Facing Challenges
The hardest challenge has been how to be both a very good mom and employee. There’s always doubt that when you sacrifice one that it wasn’t the right decision to make. Working through that uncertainty has been difficult, but I do the best I can.

Sharon’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
Be accountable—don’t let yourself off the hook. Make excellence your goal, and don’t ever compromise that. Be honest with people in your interactions. They can tell when you’re being disingenuous. No one is as good as they think they are at hiding their true feelings or intentions. Building relationships on trust is going to help you in your career. If you don’t, your career will suffer.