As another instalment in Charlton Morris’ #womeninindustrial series, I’ve been taking a look at my area of specialism, Power Gen. I wanted to find examples of companies that are doing well in promoting opportunities for women.
During the course of my search, I was lucky enough to spend time speaking with Michele Robert who, as CEO of GE Power Conversion in Latin America, is doing just that. Originally from Brazil, she’s been with the business since 2001, starting out as a shop supervisor in the US. Today, she resides in São Paulo.
Whilst her career path is all-too-uncommon as a prominent woman in power gen, she told me about the ways in which she and GE are working to allow more women than ever to follow her path in Latin America.
Michele told me that GE has had a global women’s organisation in place in some form or another for around 20 years. It started when senior leaders of the company wanted to put diversity and gender equality right at the top of the agenda in the early 2000s.
Already as an idea it was ahead of its time. But the next stage in the process saw GE realise that, firstly, women were in concentrated areas of the business i.e. Finance or HR and secondly, that those women were not connected with each other.
This presented 2 problems: how do you get women into the likes of operational or technological roles and how do you empower the women already in the organisation to progress?
They believed that this comes down to communication – something that Michele has been an advocate of for many years with GE. This has resulted in a programme which facilitates communication and allows women to speak to each other and have access to mentors like Michele to help them continue in their career journey.
If you work in power gen and haven’t heard of GE then congratulations. That’s quite an achievement. If you’re in the 99.9% that have, you’ll know they’re huge. Which, in a search for strong female voices, was a good thing. It was clear that they already existed in the business, they just needed identifying.
So, Michele and her team began meeting these women. After identifying role models, her team set to work giving those leaders guidelines to set up regional ‘hubs’ in which women can communicate with each other. These guidelines needed to be malleable, so as not to stop the hubs encroaching on the individual regional needs of each group.
Once this structure was established, it spread fast. From starting in Michele’s base of São Paulo, there are now 6 hubs in Brazil, 3 in Mexico and further bases in Chile, Argentina, Peru and Colombia with more on the way.
GE already had exceptional females in the organisation, so it was an exercise in mapping out where that talent is before helping them through coaching, advice or mentorship.
It was about bringing these women into a dialogue.
They also realised the importance of not standing still. The women in these hubs are regularly surveyed and the process is revamped approximately every 2 years to ensure desires, needs and ambitions continue to be met. GE use these surveys to find out what is important to women on a ‘hub’ level and tailor the conversation around those important points in these areas.
Once the formula was identified, success soon followed, with many more women looking to get involved and use each other’s expertise to help navigate their career journey. With a company that grows and makes acquisitions like GE does, that’s a great thing from a business perspective, too. Michele spoke of how women are now joining the company excited; asking how they can get involved and grow from day one in the organisation.
Today, GE are left with multiple established hubs, all of which positively impact the business in LATAM. They connect women at all levels, providing roles models for those earlier on in their career and making great talent more visible to hub leaders and those higher up in the organisation, like Michele.
Ultimately, the programme helps women to be in the right place, at the right time and in front of the right people. And GE in Latin America is a richer business for it.
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