FEBRUARY 4, 2022
How Employee-Led Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives Impact Team Engagement & Culture
Working at a mission-driven company, I guess it’s no surprise that some of our colleagues at Borrego are actively involved in employee-led initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion in the solar and renewable energy workforce.
As we kick off 2022, it’s a great time to introduce Borrego’s grassroots program leaders. People EmPOWERed’s leadership team shares the group’s progress and goals for the coming year. They also offer practical ideas that other solar and renewable energy companies can apply to foster employee engagement, no matter where they are in their DEI journey.
Meet the women leading Borrego’s grassroots DEI efforts
Borrego has its own employee-led Diversity and Inclusion group, known as People EmPOWERed, and it has become a force of meaningful change here at Borrego. The current group leaders are Hannah Faustino, Kenya Ansah, and Nicolette Rizzo. This cross-departmental team of women volunteer their time to guide the group on its mission to create and achieve a more diverse workforce and an inclusive culture. For more information on the group’s growth and mission, read our blog, from grassroots to the boardroom.
Hannah Faustino, IT Product Manager and one of the original leaders of People EmPOWERed, has worked at Borrego for eight years. She has worked with leadership since the group’s inception. Faustino continues to do so, keeping goals for hiring and retaining women at Borrego at the forefront of the company’s priorities.
Also, key to People EmPOWERed’s success are Kenya Ansah, Design Engineer, and Nicolette Rizzo, recently promoted to Engineering Project Manager. Ansah and Rizzo lead discussions, create company-wide DEI newsletters, curate DEI curriculum and challenges specific to Borrego, organize fundraisers, and facilitate employee-led resource groups. This team also meets with key stakeholders in leadership and People + Culture to present feedback and survey results. Their insights keep the leadership team informed of changes needed to meet the group’s goals.
A Model for Employee Engagement in the Renewable Energy Industry
Employee-led DEI groups offer educational and awareness opportunities for employees that aren’t tied to their professional responsibilities or evaluations. In doing so, they serve two main functions:
- To develop safe spaces for employees at any stage in their DEI journey to learn, engage, or feel supported.
- To create an open dialogue with leadership about policy or process changes needed to make their company a more equitable and inclusive work environment.
What are 21-Day Ally Challenges?
One example, originated by Nicolette Rizzo, is a series of 21-Day Ally Challenges — based on the idea that people typically form a habit after 21 days of applied practice. Nicolette and the team organize and share these voluntary challenges company-wide and curate the content specifically for Borrego employees. The goal is for participants to continue their learning beyond the challenge. Each day of the challenge, participants spend 5 to 10 minutes engaging with a short piece of content such as a podcast, video, or article to educate or bring awareness to an issue.
People EmPOWERed has already deployed the curricula for five specific 21-Day Ally Challenges, including Gender Equality & Women Empowerment, Multicultural Celebrations, Anti-Racism, Pride Month, and Hispanic Heritage Month.
So far, these challenges are proving to build a network of conscious and engaged employees. By the end of each challenge, employees report their improved understanding of unconscious biases and stereotypes. These challenges form a stronger network of allies for marginalized groups within our company.
Download the Gender Equality & Women Empowerment 21 Day Challenge here. Try the first five days of the challenge:
Internally developed newsletters are another tool for employee-led DEI groups. These newsletters provide additional opportunities for employees to learn and take action on their own time.
Kenya Ansah writes and edits People EmPOWERed’s newsletter. These newsletters are packed with content ranging from internal employee conversations and quotes, facts and highlights about women and other marginalized groups in cleantech, news about industry-organized DEI events, and opportunities for activism and donations to important ally organizations. To date, People EmPOWERed has raised over $20,000 alone for 20 different social organizations just through employee donations.
Employee Resource Groups: Creating Safety and Belonging
Employee Resource Groups (or ERGs) also provide effective ways for marginalized groups to feel community and belonging at work. ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups designed to foster diversity and inclusion by creating a safe, informal space to meet with peers, learn, and feel supported.
Last year, People EmPOWERed launched two new Employee Resource Groups: Interconnection-POCC (A People of Color Collective) and AC-Watt: A Collective of Women Across the Team. These groups meet monthly to network and make connections. Members discuss a wide range of topics, including negotiation tactics for salaries and common issues and concerns about working in the renewable industry as part of an underrepresented group.
At Borrego, these dedicated spaces are crucial for allowing BIPOC and women-identified employees to support and mentor each other. In fact, Ansah and Rizzo see the most impact on Borrego’s DEI efforts happening in the Employee Resource Groups.
“In the spaces where we have discussions is where we get the most feedback. People say how it has impacted them or how they felt seen,” Rizzo said. “In an industry that is so heavily male-dominated and so heavily white, it is important for people to feel seen in a place where they spend eight hours every day.”
Ansah hopes to expand the impact of these groups in 2022, seeing Employee Resource Groups as the most important place for People EmPOWERed to invest its time.
It’s important for employee-led DEI groups to gather feedback to gauge interest and to improve and grow. Borrego’s People EmPOWERed routinely checks in after Employee-led DEI groups need to gather feedback to gauge interest and improve and grow. Borrego’s People EmPOWERed routinely checks in after each 21-Day Ally Challenge or facilitated discussion. Then, the team regularly connects with the leaders of the Employee Resource Groups to understand the progress that’s being made. It’s important to share this feedback with stakeholders from the executive team as well as People + Culture and HR leaders so they can stay accountable to any goals and objectives.
Change starts from within: Borrego reaches its first women-related DEI Goal
People EmPOWERED leadership and executive team members formed a Women at Borrego task force to help set and achieve specific women-related DEI goals. This task force includes Chief Information Officer Malini Balakrishnan, Director of Talent Jenn Carignan, and General Manager of Development Dan Berwick. In 2021, this task force set its first goal to increase Borrego’s representation by 3%.
Throughout 2021, they met weekly with CEO Mike Hall and the other executive team members, committing to hiring and recruiting goals and process changes. In December, CEO Mike Hall announced Borrego met its 2021 goal. In addition, the company hired some talented women in leadership in 2021 including Catriona Wiley, the EVP of People + Culture, and Jacquie Ashmore, the VP of Engineering in the Development business.
Faustino feels proud taking part in reaching Borrego’s first goal related to the representation of women at Borrego. The Women at Borrego task force will set a new goal for 2022, hoping to surpass the industry standard for women representation in renewable energy of 32%.
Room to Grow: 2022 Goals
People EMPOWERed is planning to work closely with leadership and People + Culture on more process and policy changes and new goals for 2022. Building on their work with the Women at Borrego task force, the group will shift focus to retaining women at Borrego. Additionally, People EMPOWERed will prioritize minority representation at every level of Borrego’s organizational structure. People EmPOWERed will work closely with the People + Culture team to increase hiring and recruitment, invest even deeper in employee-led resource groups like Interconnection-POCC (A People of Color Collective) for internal feedback and support, and develop mentorship programs for new hires.
People EmPOWERed is excited to strengthen its partnership with People + Culture, especially with the new Executive Vice President of People + Culture Catriona Wiley, adding regular and formalized management and leadership training around DEI.
Grassroots approach: Employees can make the impact in 2022
The impact of the grassroots work of this employee-led DEI group at Borrego is far-reaching. Leaders Kenya and Nicolette are both encouraged that employees at any level can make an impact on DEI efforts at Borrego.
“People don’t remember what you say, they remember how you make them feel,” Nicolette says. “Having one positive relationship in a work environment is so important. Even as an individual contributor you bring so much to company culture.”
By participating in People EmPOWERed’s efforts in 2022, employees can continue to support their colleagues and engage with resources designed to help them grow.
“Take steps to get rid of unconscious bias. Reading is the number one step,” Kenya explained. “Have a willingness to learn and receive feedback. There’s a lot of resources and knowledge available online and through People EmPOWERed.”
It takes everyone from the top leadership to individual contributors to constantly improve DEI efforts and meet new goals for 2022. Fortunately, Borrego has committed executives, People + Culture team and employee volunteers to lead the way.