The Professional Women’s Council (PWC) is one of the longest-running employee resource groups at Rockwell Automation. It started at the Milwaukee headquarters in the mid-1990s and thanks to an engaged membership, is still going strong. In fact, it has grown to more than 26 chapters globally – mirroring the increasingly global nature of the company over the last few decades.
PWC’s mission is aligned with Rockwell’s larger diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals, and focuses on professional development and mentoring, networking, and corporate awareness of women’s issues.
Though networking and relationship-building is a cornerstone of the ERG, it is much more than a social club, says PWC Milwaukee chapter president and customer advocacy program manager Nicole Bulanda.
“It's neat to look back and see how we’ve evolved over the last 30 years and transitioned from being a socially focused group to a professional organization focused on intersectionality,” Nicole says. “How do we help and partner with other employee resource groups? How do we broaden our focus beyond white women, who have historically made up a vast majority of our members? As women’s rights evolve, so do our goals as an employee resource group.”
An ERG for women is particularly important at a company like Rockwell, where men make up nearly two-thirds of the global employee population. While the gender balance has been more of a focus in recent years, the sense of belonging that comes from being part of a women’s group is invaluable, says Reem Trivedi, leaving vice president of PWC EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) and HR business partner. The EMEA chapter started about five years ago and has grown to 135 members in 21 countries.
“We have been social in nature since the beginning, but we’ve also set up a mentoring program, we do STEM outreach in schools, we plan events to help with networking and education. We focus on objectives that align with the company’s cultural framework,” Reem says.
With 24,500 employees all over the world, some of them in the field and many working from home during the pandemic, it’s more important than ever that women have an ERG to call home, she says.
Supporting and celebrating ‘firsts’
Globally, all chapters have the same mission – but they may do things very differently based on the needs of members and the state of things in that country or region.
“Depending on where you are in the world, women are fighting very different battles, whether that’s breaking barriers for the presence of women in male spaces or encouraging men to be allies,” Nicole says.
PWC recognizes and celebrates the many “firsts” of women throughout the company as they continue to break those barriers – like the first female employee to visit a customer site in Saudi Arabia, or the first woman services manager in UAE, or the first female graduates from the sales engineer program in the Middle East.
“It just completely varies by region, and I think that is what makes us cool, is we look at where women's rights are and what women need in our region, and we tailor our events to those needs. But everything comes back to advancing the careers of women as the goal,” says Nicole.
So, what are the benefits of membership in PWC? One of the biggest benefits is the visibility to people and parts of the company employees might not see in their day-to-day work.
“Being part of PWC gives you the opportunity to get your name in front of people that you wouldn’t otherwise network with or be recognized in front of, especially when a lot of us are working from home right now,” Nicole says. “It’s also just a good way to meet friendly faces and start to form relationships.”
Membership in an ERG also provides a chance to add to your leadership and workplace skills, whether that’s with budgeting, presenting, or project management, adds Reem.
A range of commitment levels, from member to chapter leadership, are available for employees to become involved at a level that is comfortable for them.
PWC’s mentoring programs and influence on leadership contribute to Rockwell’s commitment to DEI. “This mentoring program was created by employees for employees. You can affect change being part of this ERG,” Reem says.
Pandemic silver linings
Despite the various chapters and their members’ unique needs, the pandemic accelerated the use of virtual technology and ended up bringing employees closer together. Before the pandemic, many of Rockwell’s ERGs were location-based, with particularly active memberships clusters at the Milwaukee headquarters and Cleveland offices. But since 2020, those two big chapters of PWC in the U.S. have been operating as one.
“We still have our separate budgets and sponsors, but we all plan and attend the same events. We split the work and double what we get out of our efforts,” Nicole says.
While PWC EMEA was already holding a lot of virtual events for their membership that is spread out across multiple continents, many countries had local in-person gatherings.
Cross-regional collaboration has become much more common with other PWC chapters as well. For example, members from all chapters were able to attend the virtual PWC awards – an event that was historically held in person in Milwaukee.
“That was really neat to see and be a part of,” Reem says. “I hope we continue to collaborate virtually even when we go back to the office.”
During the pandemic, when the conversation around race in the U.S. was amplified in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, PWC also was challenged to be more courageous about speaking up and speaking out in support of members and allies.
“We hosted internal Critical Conversations and events worked with the DEI team and a number of other ERGs to figure out the best way to talk about and promote them,” Nicole said. “We got braver about who we worked with and the content we created, and it was really good for us.”