To be an employer of choice ABB keeps moving toward a more equitable workplace

ABB reflects on gender diversity and its effort to bring more women and girls into STEM careers.

March is Women’s History Month, and when we think of gender equality in the workplace, one of the first things to come to mind is women working in historically male-dominated fields. As a global technology leader in electrification and process automation with thousands of STEM positions to fill, ABB has a vested interest in bringing more female students, candidates, and employees into the field.

The company has taken a wide range of actions to promote women in STEM careers—and the critical steps that precede a female candidate from getting that offer letter or promotion. In 2021, for example, ABB worked with the Girl Scouts to create a STEM patch that girls can earn by working on creative problem-solving projects. ABB also supports events like North Carolina’s Technoquest, a day of STEM exploration and learning, to build interest in technical fields among female students.

ABB also partners with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), which “provides members with access to professional development training and networking with peers,” explains Ellis Keese, a communications specialist in ABB’s Smart Buildings business and president of ABB’s SWE chapter.

“ABB became a SWE corporate partner in 2019 and then in October of last year we established a board of directors,” she adds. The board includes a dedicated executive partner focused on diversity and inclusion and two early-career advisors in addition to traditional officer roles. Critically, it also identifies designated planners to manage ABB’s participation at SWE conferences, which have become important recruiting grounds.

So, how do you make your company attractive to women job seekers?

“Becoming an employer of choice is multifaceted,” says Michael Gray, ABB’s US Country Holding Officer. “Making ABB a place people want to work is more than just having a good boss and good work opportunities. Flexible work hours and good benefits are important too. That’s true for men and women alike.”

Over the past year, Gray notes, ABB has shifted from “transactional stuff” to take a more holistic look at what an inclusive benefit package from an employer of choice would look like. Subsequently, ABB changed its parental leave policy to support moms and dads equally and adjusted the investments in its 401k offering to reflect what employees want.

“You can’t assume any of this doesn’t matter to a given employee,” notes Gray.

When asked why diversity and inclusion—and the steps ABB has taken to realize those goals—are so important, he cuts to the chase.

“We are more successful with diverse teams. Constructing a world class organization means we’re not afraid to seek different viewpoints—to make sure we’ve thought through not only opportunities but also the consequences of what we’re doing.” Gray also points out the importance of mirroring the diverse landscape of ABB’s customers.

Realizing gender equity in the workplace is a much larger and more nuanced proposition than simply addressing the needs of female workers and having inclusive recruiting practices. It extends to every member of the organization, and at a personal level at least, it needn’t be that difficult. Ellis Keese notes that sometimes, just listening is enough.

“People want to know what they can do to help, and it can be as simple as leading inclusive meetings where you make sure women are heard or using inclusive terms like ‘partner’ instead of ‘wife’ rather than assuming gender or marital status, for example.”

Still, “it’s one thing to ‘celebrate’ the contributions of a given group,” says Keese. “It’s another to internalize a way of thinking into the organization.”

ABB has taken visible steps in recent years to do that, for example, by adopting UN empowerment principles and establishing a collection of employee resource groups (ERGs) under the “Encompass” banner. One of the first was Encompass Women.

Speaking in a 2021 interview with advocacy group Catalyst, ABB’s Deni Miller said of the company’s increased focus on diversity and inclusion, “I have to credit our CEO, Bjorn Rosengren. He came in 2019 and was extremely vocal about equality. Now, our 2030 D&I plan allows for autonomy among ABB’s local businesses on implementation but it’s all under a corporate-wide strategy.”

Miller, a Senior Vice President leading a sales team in ABB’s Installation Products business, also leads Encompass Women.

“ERGs have helped define what our policies need to be,” she explains. “There are some things employees can do, but it’s still a heavy lift to manifest policy changes, so ABB launched a D&I Council at the end of 2020 that is made up of ten senior leaders who ensure that policy changes take place.”

Having executive sponsorship has helped keep D&I issues on the front burner, and the result has been a groundswell of engagement.

“Our group [Encompass Women] has gone from 50 to 850 members in less than two years,” says Miller, “and we’ve put together programming that has touched people and given them the courage to make ABB and their local communities better.”

Encompass Women’s membership now exceeds 1,100.

At this point, ABB is “past crawling and starting to walk,” with regard to bringing more women in and retaining them once hired, according to Michael Gray. He credits the Encompass groups, executive support and especially empowering hiring managers and HR to insist on a diverse slate of candidates.

“It’s OK to push back to get a more representative slate,” he says and adds that watching out for unconscious bias is another simple but important step managers can take to improve the workplace experience for employees.

With two daughters about to enter the workforce, Gray is passionate about gender equity. He hopes they land at companies that offer opportunity but also the resources and support that allow people to give their best. Meantime, ABB will continue its journey toward a more inclusive and successful future.

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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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