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Features Raleigh, NC, United States 07-07-2021

15 min read

Women in Energy: Making an impact through D&I programs

In the following article, transcribed from a recent Power Pulse Podcast episode, Julia Des Chenes and Allison Cohen discuss how you can embrace diversity and inclusion programs at your organization to learn, grow and thrive. We’ll also talk about some ways employee resource groups (ERGs) can help support this growth and examples of how our Women in Energy employee resource group (ERG) at Hitachi ABB Power Grids is helping to empower our members and drive change.

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For those who don’t know, Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is a term used to describe programs and policies that encourage representation as well as participation of diverse groups of people, including people of different genders, sexual orientation, races, ethnicities, ages, abilities, disabilities, religions, and cultures. And we decided to talk about this on the podcast because it is essential to the success of an organization. Not only for profitable reasons but also for talent acquisition, employee retention and also, fostering greater innovation and creativity. In fact, at Hitachi ABB Power Grids, diversity is at the core of our long-term business success – and I’m sure it’s a focus for a lot of other companies as well. And if it isn’t, it should be. 

According to a 2019 Forbes article, it states “those who embrace diversity will be more likely to prosper, and those who ignore it will be likely to fail”. It comes as no surprise that our society is changing, as it should be, and with change comes learning, understanding, and above all, growth.

In the following interview, we are going to talk about how organizations, as well as individuals, can embrace diversity and inclusion programs to learn, grow and thrive. We’ll also talk about some ways our organization has embraced this change and is encouraging its employees to initiate employee-led resource groups to support, help and inspire one another. 

And here to talk about this, I am very excited to introduce my colleagues Julia Des Chenes and Allison Cohen, who, like me, are very passionate about diversity and inclusion, and are also fellow members of our organization’s Women in Energy employee resource group, which we will talk about below. 

Allison works within our Employer Branding group, which is a new function within our company and is really aimed at attracting, engaging, and hiring potential job candidates. And part of that is identifying what job seekers find attractive and highlighting those key differentiators to help our organization stand out amongst the sea of other potential companies. And one of those things that a lot of job seekers look for, especially the younger workforce, is joining an organization with a strong diversity and inclusion presence and strategy. 

Allison, can you tell us a little more about our D&I strategy and why having such a strategy is so important to developing and attracting talent? 

Allison: A D&I strategy is super crucial for a company because it not only helps attract diverse talent but also ensures that we keep it. There is a saying, “Diversity is like being invited to the party, and Inclusion is being asked to dance”. It so much more than just making sure we have the right representation of talent, but that the talent’s voices feel heard and listened to.

At Hitachi ABB Power Grids, we believe that diversity + collaboration = great innovation. To break that down – we truly believe that through having diverse perspectives of people in a collaborative environment, where they can bring their authentic selves and express their thoughts, only then can we create the right environment for the company innovation our customers need to co-create the future of sustainable energy. That’s why our Diversity 360 framework is incorporated into all that we do as an organization – from how we lead with the creation of our unique Leadership Pillars to how we learn with our learn anywhere, anytime platform to our policies & practices & programs, all the way to our business strategies, such as through our commitment to several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals where our commitment to people is front and center and the importance of D&I plays a critical role.

We want to create a workplace where our employees want to show up every day and are excited about what they get to work on – weaving in our diversity and inclusion framework into every aspect of our organization is a no-brainer to achieve that. By creating an environment where employees can be their true selves, the opportunities are endless for them. 


You are also heavily involved in recruiting for early career programs and internships. Have you noticed that the new workforce is more interested in joining an organization with a D&I focus? 

Allison: Absolutely! The generation entering the workforce is our most diverse generation yet. When they come into an organization they expect and need to see people like them and have the right environment to bring their entrepreneurial spirit. They want to know they are working for a company that aligns with their beliefs and It’s absolutely imperative that we meet those needs. 2020 truly showed us all what matters most and for this generation diversity, equity, and inclusion is top of mind.


To switch gears a little bit, I want to get into a specific area of D&I programs – which are employee resource groups. Employee resource groups (you may also hear them referred to as ERGs) are voluntary, employee-led groups within an organization that aim to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace as well as build community and provide support for personal and professional development. 

At Hitachi ABB Power Grids, the United States is fortunate enough to have a few already started under the Diversity 360 umbrella called the Empower Network. 


Allison, can you tell us a little bit more about the Empower Network? Why is it important to establish these employee resource groups? 

Allison: The Empower Network is HAPG’s US Employee Resource Group (ERG) network, which is a voluntary group of employees who aim to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace. And that is one of the cool things about our ERGs because not all companies have ERGs that start at the grassroots levels like ours. 

And for those that are not as familiar with ERGs, I like to compare it to a club that you would have joined at school or in your community. Our membership is often built upon shared identity or experience as well as allyship. For example, aside from Women in Energy, we also have a Young Professionals Network and Military & Allies Network.

It’s important to have ERGs because they help to build an inclusive workplace. The best part about our ERGs is that any employee can join, so it really opens the door for people to learn more about a community that they might not have been exposed to otherwise. And personally, I love being a founding member of Women in Energy – being a remote employee, this has created a community of friends for me that I wouldn’t have had – really creates a culture of belonging. 


And speaking about our Women in Energy ERG, let’s get more into that. 

According to a 2019 survey by Fairygodboss, which is a career community for women, 70 percent of respondents said the women’s ERG at their company was responsible for driving policy changes. In addition to providing a space for women to address workplace and career-related challenges and strategies for overcoming them, these ERGs often also provide opportunities for networking, mentorship, and professional development. 

Julia started up our Women in Energy ERG, also known as just WE, this past March and is one of our fearless leaders and Co-chairs. In just a short time, Julia has organized and hosted 3 monthly meetings and has established several subcommittees. 


Julia, what made you decide to start this ERG? 

Julia: I have been so incredibly fortunate to have mentors and supporters from various stages in my career and I’m still in close contact with them, including my first mentor, Rhonda, who I met when I was 19. Rhonda had decades of valuable experience when I first met her and has been a supporter and guide for me over the years. I rely heavily on my network of mentors and friends when considering a career change or facing a unique challenge. 

I see the value this kind of network has on an individuals’ confidence and growth but I also know that not everyone has had the same access to support as I have. This ERG is about having someone’s back, making sure people know they are not alone and they have a group of champions they can share with openly on anything going on in their life. We are helping people to build and expand their support networks. While the network is very new, just launched in March of this year, we are already seeing incredible value in the relationships being built and it’s a wonderful thing. 


How would you describe the mission and goal of WE? 

Julia: Our mission is to promote a culture of diversity by cultivating an inclusive environment that supports and encourages women to advance their skills and leadership potential through connection, mentorship, collaboration, and discussion.  


And what are some of the resources this group offers to members? 

Julia: We have 4 areas of focus – career, culture, communication, and community. We provide education on our organization, leadership, networking, and self-promotion. We’re launching a cohort mentorship program shortly, which will provide a close-knit support group and a focused development program for our members. While a lot of our programming is business and career-focused, we have purely social activities like happy hours, book club, community volunteer events, and fitness challenges. Our programming is vast and members can select to be involved in one or several activities based on their interests.  


What is some of the feedback that you’ve gotten so far? 

Julia: We’ve had an amazing kick-off for the group so far! There were 5 of us, including the 2 wonderful people on this podcast right now, that put together the launch of this group. We worked for months to create a plan for a successful launch and valuable longer-term programming to keep members engaged and grow our group. Since our inaugural event in March, on International Women’s Day, after having over 300 employees join our event, we have grown to over 90 members.  

Is membership just open to women? 

Julia: Not at all, the group is open to any employee of any gender. A key aspect of creating a diverse and inclusive environment is engaging everyone. Men and allies are critical for us to accomplish our mission with WE. I’m proud to say we have some really active male members that sit on various committees and enhance the diversity of our organization and bring valuable perspectives to our programming. As more allies learn about our organization, particularly in our leadership, they want to get involved and be engaged with the group.


Allison, you are the culture chair for WE. What are some of the things that you have planned or are excited about?

Allison: We are just starting to really gear up but one of our most popular activities is our WE Book Club. We had our first inaugural book club with Becoming by Michelle Obama and it was AMAZING. Kelsey, you were an awesome host. The book was truly inspiring and was a great talking point for many of us. After the first book club, I walked away feeling a lot closer to a great group of WE members. The book club meets quarterly, and I am excited for our next book, Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell.  

We also plan to have events that highlight our different cultures and backgrounds at the company – one of the ideas we talked about is having different members host a virtual cooking class on a dish that is special to their culture and background. 


So moving back to you, Julia… What is your hope for this organization? Where do you see this evolving over the next few years? 

Julia: One of my favorite things about this group is that we have so many opportunities for members to get involved, take on leadership positions, and drive activities. I want members to see this as a space where they can grow and have an impact on our organization. I want people joining Hitachi Power Grids to know that we have strong employee resource groups and to join and really start building and growing their Hitachi community. 

As a global organization, and even if we just look at the United States, we have over 15 facilities across the country and, as we adapted to the pandemic, we are now offering more flexible work options including fully remote options, this ERG offers an enhanced sense of community. Down the road, I’d like for us to have annual meetings in person where we can bring this amazing virtual network together for learning and connecting. 


So let's talk about some of the actions that our listeners and readers can take.  Julia, I’ll start with you. What advice do you have for anyone who may be interested in starting up their own employee resource group?

Julia: It can seem really daunting, particularly in a large organization, to try to create a group and bring valuable content. I’d say start by identifying people that are passionate about what you are trying to do but also bring critical skills to get the group going. We started out with just 5 people on Teams who have a passion for diversity and inclusion. We built this team of 5 to bring unique skills, interests, and perspectives. We brainstormed together on activities and split up the work to get things started. The positive response to and support for the group has been overwhelming and far beyond what I could have imagined in late 2020 when we were just brainstorming.

Also, don’t be limited by what you don’t have. Most notably, this might be funding. It can be difficult to get funding for a new group that has no track record or proven value to the organization. Don’t let what you don’t have stop or discourage you. Get creative. Our ‘coffee breaks’ and simple small group breakout rooms for networking after our monthly meetings have brought immense value to our members and at no cost!


What about you, Allison. Do you have anything to add here? 

Allison: To add to Julia’s point, we have a great Talent & Learning organization with HR that is passionate about D&I and already had a network of ERGs in place – that could be similar for others and they just might know about them yet – so I’d recommend reaching out to HR and asking about them. If there isn’t one already, ask how your company can start putting on in place.


Julia, do you have any professional organizations that you would recommend? 

Julia: I’m involved in my local chapter of WEN, Women’s Energy Network, and that’s been a great way for me to connect with people outside of my organization locally. Through WEN I’ve done habitat for humanity, I led a mentorship cohort group and I just started as a WEN Ambassador this year. WEN is more focused on the energy industry and involves people that work in all different functions from engineering to finance to law. 

Society of Women Engineers, SWE, is also a fantastic organization, maybe obviously more engineering-focused members. 

Meet our guests

Julia Des Chenes, Strategic Account Manager, Hitachi ABB Power Grids
Julia Des Chenes, Strategic Account Manager, Hitachi ABB Power Grids

I am a Strategic Account Manager for a major utility in Chicago at Hitachi ABB Power Grids. 

I went to Northwestern University, just north of Chicago, for undergrad education. I studied mechanical engineering because I really wasn’t a very good writer and I don’t enjoy reading but I loved math and science, particularly physics. I loved that with mechanical engineering, you really touch every field of engineering and can work in almost any industry. I did a co-op while in college, which is basically an extended internship program, with a local manufacturer of products in the power space and then worked for a Japanese company that makes factory automation equipment and I specialized in digital microscopes. This is where I really learned about technical marketing roles that merge engineering expertise with communicating with end users. After about 4 years there, I was looking to go back into the power space. 

I grew up moving around the world, watching my father support the building of power plants in remote areas from Central America to West Africa, bringing electricity into cities, towns and villages and revolutionizing the quality of life. My husband and I had been living in Chicago and we moved to Orlando, FL where I started with ABB in a technical marketing role and then became a product marketing manager, responsible for the global marketing and business development of medium voltage overhead equipment. 

Just over 2 years ago, we moved back to Chicago as I had accepted a role in the front-end sales organization for Hitachi ABB Power Grids, responsible for the overall relationship with a major utility in Chicago. This was really a growth role for me and afforded me the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone after 8+ years in more of a background technical marketing role. This aligned well for me personally as well as I was looking to start an MBA and was looking to attend the University of Chicago’s Executive MBA program, which I started last August, so just about 1 year left to go! 

On the personal front, I’m a major dog lover and I enjoy running, I’ve done a few half marathons and I’m looking forward to races coming back!

Allison Cohen, Employer Brand Specialist, Hitachi ABB Power Grids
Allison Cohen, Employer Brand Specialist, Hitachi ABB Power Grids

I am an Employer Branding Specialist at Hitachi ABB Power Grids in North America. 

It's funny - If you asked me if I would be in the energy industry when I first started college, I would have said probably no. I study business and economics at UNC-Chapel Hill and wasn’t quite sure of what I was going to do with my degree. I knew I liked digital marketing but after graduating it was getting tough to find a job. One day, I stumbled upon a LinkedIn job posting for a Marketing Specialist at ABB – never heard of ABB but applied anyway. Three years later, here I am as the Employer Branding Specialist for North America for Hitachi ABB Power Grids. My current role definitely found me, I jumped into this role not being familiar with Employer Branding but knew it was the right fit for me immediately. As I am still pretty early in my career, I am still not 100% sure what I want to be doing in the next 5 or 10 years, but I know I’m off to a good start.

For fun, I really enjoy cooking and I have my own food Instagram account where I post pictures of the food I make. My friends and family might get sick of seeing pictures of my food all the time – but it makes me happy! Follow me at @thetableforone_ on Instagram! 


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