Ollie Davis ’68, a pioneer in equal employment opportunity, spoke with Quinnipiac University students about her work helping historically disadvantaged employees climb up the corporate ladder. Her presentation marked the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the first federal law meant to prevent employment discrimination based on an employee’s or an applicant’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
During her career, she analyzed employment practices, wrote affirmative action plans for companies throughout the United States, and built relationships with managers and executives as well as union officials to begin to change the systematic discrimination that happened, often based on race and gender.
She also described the layers of discrimination she faced, being both black and a woman, and her decision to take her own employers to court to gain a salary that was comparable to men and white women in her field — people who sometimes had less education than she did. Davis wrote about her experiences and her family history in her memoir, “Branches of the Vine: The Price of Admission.”
Davis said there will always be challenges in gaining equality in the workplace.
“Each generation has to find its own way,” she told the students. “Be persistent in what you want. You also have to know exactly what you want.” She advised students to know their rights and know the law. “And you also have to have moral fiber.”
She attributed her determination to excel professionally to having a value system that did not limit her potential. She said, “I was only limited by my imagination.”