Be brave. Be bold. Be fearless.

How the women of AbbVie empower one another to speak up, take action and leave their mark.

Published August 25, 2020 / All Stories

The ABC’s of an ERG

At AbbVie, we are driven by our compassion for people, commitment to innovation and inclusion, service to the community, and uncompromising integrity at the heart of everything we do. These Principles articulate what we believe to be right and true. They are foundational to our company, our culture and our values. Universal and unchanging, they unite, guide and inspire us.

To help amplify AbbVie’s collective set of diverse voices, the company is proud to sponsor seven Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), where our employees have an opportunity to create connections, build community and foster a diverse and inclusive environment where every voice is heard and valued. Developing and bringing innovative, life-saving medicines to patients requires this diversity of thought and it is crucial as a company that our employees reflect our diverse patient populations, representing every voice for those patients we serve.

In the second of a seven-part series dedicated to learning the ABC’s of our company’s ERGs, and in celebration of our amazing community of women, we shine a spotlight on members of our Women Leaders in Action (WLA) group who embody AbbVie’s commitment to embracing equality, diversity and inclusion.

Let’s jump right in here as we have a lot of ground to cover. Hoping you can share a little bit about AbbVie’s Women Leaders in Action (WLA) group. What exactly are the group’s mission and goals?

Christine Wiedmayer, WLA Global Chair: Women leaning in to support other women along their career journeys is a quality that runs deep at AbbVie. WLA’s mission is to be a powerful catalyst that enables and empowers women globally to reach their full potential in whatever shape or form that means for them. First and foremost, we strive to be a resource that empowers women to take control of their career journeys and shape their own futures. Through doing this we attract and build future leaders who can become key contributors to shaping AbbVie’s strategy. And then ultimately, building strong women leaders leads to the diversity of thought needed to find innovative solutions for patients and deliver business results and value necessary to drive the company’s success. It’s a very holistic and integrated approach designed to meet women wherever they are on their career journeys and help them as they continue to learn and grow.

Laura Cardona, WLA Global Chair Advisor: As Christine mentioned, WLA’s vision is to be a powerful catalyst that enables and empowers women globally. To me, the key word here is catalyst, defined as a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change. I believe WLA to be the catalyst by which AbbVie’s community of women can harness their unique experiences, further help to educate themselves, and discover leadership opportunities (enterprise-wide) to help increase progression of professional development and individual career journeys.

Michelle Hendee, WLA Lake County, IL, Community Outreach Committee, Chair: WLA creates opportunities to empower women of all ages. It provides a platform for women to understand their value and impact within work, community and self. The mission of our group encompasses this concept that women are important, both inside and outside of the company. It demonstrates this idea that not only are women strong and have a voice, but that our voice matters; that we ultimately have the power to make a difference.

Let’s talk about the people and culture that define AbbVie and our WLA ERG. Can you shed a little light on this topic?

Christine Wiedmayer: One of the things I love about AbbVie’s culture is that there is this genuine desire by our employees to do the right thing; do the right things for our patients, our company and one another. Maybe it’s our Midwestern roots, but there is an earnestness about the people of AbbVie and a shared commitment to being better tomorrow than we are today. WLA’s culture springs from this organizational philosophy, but is specifically focused on providing a forum for women to listen, learn and evolve together. I’m reminded of the powerful Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” This statement has always resonated with me, especially when I think about the hundreds of WLA members who have stepped up to be committee volunteers and leaders. The women of WLA who volunteer to lead committees really embrace this idea of taking an active role in driving change. This group of amazingly dedicated, determined, intelligent, diverse women who jump in with this extra little fire inside them and a desire to do more. They don’t want to sit idly by while the world happens around them. Instead, they proactively choose to step-up to the plate to become a catalyst for change -- no matter how big or small that change may be. It’s so inspiring to see the women of WLA coming together to make a difference for one another and AbbVie!

Fiona Tranter, WLA Global Co-Chair: AbbVie employees are phenomenal; everyone, no matter their role, strives to make patient’s lives and their families’ lives better. There is really nothing more rewarding than getting to meet and work with this outstanding organization of diverse thinkers. WLA gives us an opportunity to personally connect not only across the organization, but across different geographical locations worldwide.

Michelle Hendee: WLA fosters an environment of diversity and inclusion. When working together, we respect our differences and learn from each other along the way. We listen with open minds to different perspectives and use empathetic, non-biased approaches to create positive change. We model a way for women to be successful leaders, providing the company with confident, creative, diverse thinkers that can ultimately inspire innovation and growth.

Xongi Phaleng, WLA South Africa, Chair: WLA is a forum for women and allies to come together to learn, listen, share and challenge each other. We believe in the power of stories, and that each of us has a unique story to share. We foster a safe, non-judgmental space of encouragement and support where all can remain true to their authentic selves; a space where everyone’s story can be shared, heard and valued.

All ERGs are expected to align primary objectives to AbbVie’s ‘4C’s.’ Can you explain what these ‘4C’s’ are, and how they align with WLA’s 2020 strategic priorities?

Christine Wiedmayer: The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) team partners with each of our seven ERGs to deliver impact to the 4C’s: company, culture, community and company impact. If you think of ED&I as a journey, our destination is to drive continuing improvement in the areas of the 4C’s. Each year, all ERG's develop annual strategic priorities that serve as the roadmap for how to arrive at this destination. In 2020, WLA members determined that our theme for the year would be Leaving Your Mark, which encourages members to think about how they can drive change within their spheres of influence to help build a stronger culture of equality, diversity and inclusion at AbbVie. This year, WLA is striving to leave our mark on AbbVie through an ambitious agenda of initiatives designed to provide women with the resources to strengthen their skills, build their networks and develop a community of support to help them navigate their professional journeys. In the area of culture, we focus on sponsorship and advancement so that emerging women leaders have the opportunity to engage with more seasoned leaders in the organization in order to gain insights and connections as they build their career journeys. In the area of career, we focus on skill development so that women can excel in their current roles and get better prepared for their next role. In the area of community, we are committed to making an impact in our local communities by supporting women and girls with the resources they need to thrive and have a brighter future. And lastly, in the area of company, we focus on the delivery of business results by helping to drive a more inclusive culture that leads to the diversity of thought needed to drive innovative solutions for patients and help shape AbbVie’s bright future.

How does WLA help members focus on professional development?

Brittany Johnson, WLA Lake County, IL, Video Connection Committee, Chair: Development opportunities and resources help shape the success of not only our women members, but AbbVie as a whole. Professional development is encouraged through participation in mentoring circles, interviewing essentials workshops, and networking events such as Coffee Connects which provides a small group a direct opportunity to connect with senior leadership over a cup of coffee. The skills workshops, networking and learning opportunities enrich the employees at AbbVie, enabling us to work in an environment that promotes continuing education and idea generation. Ultimately, this helps to enrich and strengthen the amazing talent pool at AbbVie.

Heather Hagy, WLA Lake County, IL, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Communications Liaison: WLA hosts multiple events throughout the year that are directly related to skills development: Executive Series networking (where members share meals and interact in small groups with senior leadership across AbbVie), resume writing techniques, stress management workshops, formal (and informal) mentoring programs, book clubs, professional speed networking, emotional intelligence training and vision boarding. These events allow members to get firsthand development advice from both AbbVie senior leadership and external experts in the field.

Jennifer Filson, WLA U.S. Field Satellite Committee, Chair: The WLA Field Satellite Committee creates opportunities for women to come together to discuss women’s issues through book clubs, panel discussions, resume and interview readiness workshops, unconscious bias workshops, building personal brands workshops, networking events and mentoring opportunities. In the U.S. field sales organization, we are working to provide members with opportunities to expand their network within AbbVie and identify resources to support personal and professional development, skill development, give back opportunities and overall ERG engagement.
 

Can you share some examples of how WLA has had an impact on the external community?

Fiona Tranter: For many years now, WLA has partnered with the The AbbVie Foundation to give back to local communities around the globe. Every WLA chapter, from Singapore to South Africa to Ireland and the U.S. are very engaged in outreach activities with the external community. In Lake County, Illinois, the team works with the global nonprofit organization Dress for Success, a group dedicated to empowering underprivileged women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life. In addition to funding and in-person volunteering, the company has provided interview coaching and other skill-based development sessions.

Hemalatha Kamaraj, WLA Lake County, IL, Strategy Pillar, Co-Chair: Each year, our group is afforded an amazing opportunity (via The AbbVie Foundation) to donate $100,000 to two organizations of our choice for purely philanthropic purposes . As Fiona mentioned previously, Dress for Success is one of the selected organizations in 2020. The second, an Illinois-based nonprofit: the Chocolate Chips Association, whose mission is to instill a passion for Science, Technology, Engineering, Entrepreneurship, Art and Math (S.T. E².A.M.™) in girls, with a goal of increasing interests in related careers among underrepresented girls. It feels amazing to be able to financially assist non-profits in the local community that support women and help girls to reach their full potential.

Michelle Hendee: WLA Outreach prides itself on reaching out with our hands -- not just with financial support. Dress for Success and Chocolate Chips Association have been our primary community outreach initiatives this year, and we have spent a large amount of energy building a strong community connection and rapport with each. This outreach is critical in ensuring women and girls in our local communities have all the tools necessary to become their best selves and make a positive impact in the world.

Xongi Phaleng: Community uplift is central to our mission because we believe that we can only rise by helping to lift others. In South Africa, one of our partners in the community is a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Lesedi La Batho (Light of the People), which seeks to inspire, empower, motivate, engage and equip the youth and the community at large through sport, education, skills training and social enterprise development, community wellness and arts & culture. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, all types of violence against women and girls has intensified in South Africa (especially domestic violence) so we partner with this dedicated organization by helping to raise funds in support of these victims of domestic violence.

Laura Cardona: WLA has also partnered with the Community College of Aurora to provide young girls exposure to careers in STEM by developing an interactive STEM Day, as well as local institutions like North Chicago Community Partners to help support local schools through visits, panels and fun science experiments.

I understand WLA’s reach expands across the United States and around the globe. Can you shed some light on the group’s far reach?

Christine Wiedmeyer: The WLA leadership team is based at headquarters in Lake County, Illinois, but we have active chapters across the United States (California, Massachusetts and six field-based chapters), and across the globe (Germany, Ireland, Puerto Rico, Singapore, South Africa, UK). There are many more countries who have expressed interest and are in the process of building their own local groups. The amazing thing is these chapters start organically. This is not a top-down approach; it’s completely grassroots. There’s this real thirst and passion -- a common need worldwide for women to connect, bond, inspire and ultimately become these amazing catalysts for change.

Xongi Phaleng: In South Africa, I noticed a need for women in our affiliate to gather, share ideas and find their collective voice. This ultimately led to the establishment of the local South Africa WLA chapter in August 2019; we now have more than 60% of the affiliate’s women as members. As Chair of the South Africa chapter, I work diligently to ensure we are in alignment with our global WLA mission and vision. Our theme this year: How to Own Your Career in which we utilize a combination of external and internal resources to build the skills that women need. We also are proud to offer mentoring opportunities for women by other women, which gives women an opportunity to interact with more female role models and get extensive leadership support.

Gaby Schaefer, WLA Germany, Chair: As WLA Chapter Chair in our Ludwigshafen, Germany location, I help to support, motivate, empower women and encourage our members to participate actively in shaping both AbbVie culture and our WLA work. I believe that people and culture are key pillars in inspiring change and enabling the changes we would like to see. Leading a WLA chapter in addition to my day job is quite a big challenge, but I am supported by a wonderful core team. Together, we have been able to increase our membership to about 10% of all German employees (female and male).

Dominique McSwain, WLA San Francisco, California, U.S. Bay Area, Co-Chair: I noticed a need in the area and wanted to do my part to foster an environment where women and allies could be seen and heard. It was important to me to not only join WLA, but to be the driving force in launching our local chapter to ensure Bay Area employees were able to leverage the many benefits of WLA, including community and development. Our Bay Area mission aligns with the broader WLA mission, and our goals this year are to host development sessions and provide support to our female colleagues helping them reach their full potential.
 

Any important personal or professional milestones WLA has achieved which stand out, or that you are most proud of?

Heather Hagy: Our Women’s History Month celebration in March of this year was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in WLA (and AbbVie) to date. Our opening event kicked-off with a theme of Be Brave. Be Bold. Be Fearless, chosen for the simple yet powerful way it resonates with a critical call to action. It serves as this constant reminder to reflect upon women changemakers throughout the ages who have blazed a trail for us. It empowers us to propel forward with a like-minded mentality to help shape a stronger tomorrow. The event included an inspiring tribute to both the revolutionary women of yesteryear and the amazing women trailblazers at AbbVie today. Over 300 members attended the opening celebration, which included a keynote address by executive leadership, as well as a diverse panel of senior leaders highlighting the power of inclusivity and the value that can be gained when women’s voices are heard.

‘Be Brave. Be Bold. Be Fearless.’ campaign t-shirts as worn by members during WLA’s Women’s History Month celebration in March 2020.

Fiona Tranter: Every time I work with students on a STEM outreach activity is a cool experience, especially when working with underserved communities. At one event several years ago, WLA ran an outreach event in partnership with North Chicago Community Partners that focused on science and engineering. One of the girls was so taken with our message that she talked to her teachers about what she needed to do to go to university to study science and/or engineering. I love being able to inspire the next generation of AbbVie employees!

Jennifer Filson: In 2019, our WLA Field Satellite Regional Leaders hosted 58 events across the U.S., reaching more than 800 employees, adding more than 100 subcommittee leaders and growing WLA field membership by more than 16%. We hosted more than 30 giveback events, grew WLA presence in 17 new local markets and co-hosted 11 “One ERG” events.
 

Any final thoughts on why WLA has had such a great impact on you both personally & professionally?

Brittany Johnson: I love my career, but I am also a mother, and my little girl is growing up in a world I could never have imagined. I am proud to tell her Mommy is doing what she can to make a difference in the world; that my WLA colleagues and I are actively pursuing change to help secure equal rights for all women.

Heather Hagy: I joined WLA because I wanted to find a network of powerful, professional women who I knew would have my back. Since becoming a dedicated, active member of WLA, I’ve come away with so much more than that. I’ve learned a lot about being a communicator, collaborator, ally and friend -- traits that carry over into my personal life every day. I leave every WLA event or meeting feeling inspired, supported, and determined to be a changemaker.

Hemalatha Kamaraj: In a normal workday, we tend to live in our own little bubbles. WLA brings us outside those bubbles. It allows us to develop more empathy, patience and skills to better listen and support our fellow community of women. There’s nothing better than getting to work alongside a membership diverse in thoughts, ideas and culture.

Amanda Munsen, WLA Lake County, IL, Communications Committee Chair: WLA encourages all women to speak their minds and take action in order to make real progress. Bringing in such a diverse set of minds offers both our WLA members, and all employees, ways to grow and continually improve our tight-knit AbbVie community.

Jennifer Filson: My involvement in WLA has gifted me with the wonderful opportunity to meet and form long-lasting bonds and friendships with people I may never have encountered otherwise. It has provided me with an opportunity to grow professionally as a leader and has helped me expand my knowledge and skillsets to be successful in my day job.

Christine Wiedmayer: I’m a big believer in the idea that to be successful professionally and personally, it takes a village. I joined WLA looking for my village and have gained so much from this amazing group of thoughtful, passionate, strong and determined women. This truly is a group of people who lift each other up and take pride in one another’s accomplishments. It’s a real pay-it-forward kind of feeling and I’m constantly reminded of the power of having a community of people who believe in you and are rooting for your success. I believe it’s my responsibility to share that example with the next generation of emerging female leaders and to remind them to Be brave. Be bold. Be fearless. Be the catalyst for the change you want to see. And whatever you do, be sure to leave your mark!

Learn more about AbbVie’s commitment to Equality, Diversity & Inclusion.

AbbVie is committed to advancing racial equality, through our continued growth and acceptance of each other, our way of doing business, our attraction and development of talent, and our service to the community. Read AbbVie's statement on racial injustice.

Learn more about AbbVie’s Employee Resource Groups.

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Alissa Bolton
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