Investing in diversity

During Black History Month, ABB reflects on its approach to employees of color from recruitment to retention.

By now, in the third decade of the 21st century, there is little doubt about the importance of diversity in effective organizations. Study after study has shown that companies that value and promote diversity post better results and better returns than those that do not. The difference for racial and ethnic diversity is particularly stark, according to one Harvard study that focused on venture capital firms:

Along all dimensions measured, the more similar the investment partners, the lower their investments’ performance. For example, the success rate of acquisitions and IPOs was 11.5% lower, on average, for investments by partners with shared school backgrounds than for those by partners from different schools. The effect of shared ethnicity was even stronger, reducing an investment’s comparative success rate by 26.4%….

Thriving in a highly uncertain competitive environment requires creative thinking… and the diverse collaborators were better equipped to deliver it.

ABB has put diversity and inclusion (D&I) at the core of its business strategy for many years, but more recently has upped its game with the creation of employee resource groups under the “Encompass” banner. Encompass Black Professionals (EBP) is one; there are also groups focused on women, young professionals, veterans, and LGBTQ+ employees among others.

“The Encompass Black Professionals group really grew out of our involvement with NSBE (the National Association of Black Engineers),” explains EBP member and NSBE leader Aundrea Landrum, a Manager of Special Projects in the HR department of ABB’s Installation Products business. Landrum joined the company as an engineer in 2017 and the following year reached out to the HR team because she saw an opportunity for the company to do more with NSBE, specifically with regard to recruiting.

EBP was founded in 2019 as an outgrowth of the involvement of Landrum and others at NSBE events. Today, ABB is a Board Corporate Affiliate Partner, the highest level of engagement with NSBE.

ABBers at NSBE’s 2019 national conference.
ABBers at NSBE’s 2019 national conference.

“Prior to the creation of EBP, our participation with NSBE was ad hoc,” recalls Landrum. “Individual employees might be active, or there might be something at a given plant, but we didn’t have a centralized approach. Now we do.”

EBP hubs at various ABB locations are aligned with local NSBE chapters (e.g., to host meetings), and the company has provided more than $40,000 to NSBE programs. ABB attends NSBE’s regional and national conferences, which have become critical for recruiting, notably for recent engineering grads.

Also essential are historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Jane Mehringer, Director of University Relations, Early Talents and Employer Branding for the Americas, explains that “so many companies actively target these schools because of the impact on D&I goals. But it’s all about relationship building, not ‘recruiting’ per se. Trust is essential.”

It’s important for prospective hires to see employees who are like them so they can envision themselves working at the company. But as Mehringer cautions, it has to be authentic.

“We don’t want to sell a lemon. We want to show students that we’re serious, that they can be the change and help us to make a difference.”

Last year ABB again revamped its recruiting process at HBCUs with the objective of setting ABB apart as a leader. The company set aside funding for a new mentorship program targeting recent grads and, beginning in 2023, will provide financial support for scholarships via the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. The company is also using some novel means of engagement with students.

“Career fairs are a necessary evil,” says Mehringer, “but we can do more, like supporting professors with technical expertise. We’re even hosting food truck tailgate parties to help candidates learn about ABB in less traditional ways.”

Online engagement is on the menu as well, reaching students directly via social media.

Still, as important as recruiting is, it’s the lived experience of employees that determines the success or failure of an organization’s diversity efforts. As a McKinsey study put it, “hiring diverse talent isn’t enough—it’s the workplace experience that shapes whether people remain and thrive.”

One who has thrived at ABB is Olumuyiwa Bamisaye. The Nigerian-born engineer came to ABB in 2018 after working in the healthcare field for almost ten years. Olu, as he is known by his colleagues, attended a NSBE convention and met an ABB HR representative walking on the exhibit floor during the career fair and took her card. A phone interview followed, then another. He wound up in R&D in ABB’s Electrification business and joined EBP soon after arrival.

“I needed it,” he explains. “I am one of only two employees of African descent in my group of about twenty-two. The Encompass group provides a forum to interact with people you share a similar cultural identity with. It’s good for the business and good for the employee.”

As a recent immigrant, Bamisaye’s experience is different from that of his native-born counterparts. He’s seen a wide range of responses from his colleagues, but mostly positive, and he emphasizes the power of work to supersede petty differences.

“Once you’re in an engineering environment, it’s the same technical challenge whoever you are,” he says. “The work is what matters.”

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About the author

Bob Fesmire

Bob Fesmire is a Content Manager at ABB, based in Cary, North Carolina. He has written more than 150 articles and white papers on a variety of topics including energy efficiency, industrial automation and big data. In addition to his work at ABB, Bob is also the co-author of Energy Explained, a non-technical introduction to all aspects of the energy industry.
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