Blog Post

Black Equity at Work: Abbott Celebrates 20 Years of their Black Business Network

By Samer Saleh and Maria Shaw
February 22, 2022

This month we are highlighting our Diversity Best Practices member, Abbott, which has just celebrated 20 years of its Employee Resource Group for Black employees: the Black Business Network (BBN). We sat down and spoke with the co-chairs of Abbott’s BBN, Samer Saleh, divisional vice president, Project Management Office, Rapid Diagnostics, and Maria Shaw, senior director, Project Management Office, Rapid Diagnostics, to learn more about the group’s success, the hybrid celebration, and how other organizations can learn from BBN’s impact on employees and business goals.

Tell me about the Black Business Network at Abbott. What are some of the goals of the BBN? Why is it so important to have this community at Abbott?

Abbott’s Black Business Network started 20 years ago with 30 founding committee members at our headquarters in the northern Chicago suburbs. Since then, we’ve grown to more than 1,800 members representing 14 chapters globally. The network plays a key role in engaging, encouraging and energizing Black employees at Abbott while also championing and advocating for underrepresented groups and communities.

Our mission is to cultivate an environment where all professionals are committed to an inclusive and equitable workplace, enabling Black employees to achieve their full potential while contributing to Abbott’s success. It’s important to have this community at Abbott because we serve the greater company in several ways. Our members bolster Black equity through recruitment and retention activities, sponsor professional and leadership development opportunities and network with local communities to advance health equity, develop young talent and establish diverse business partnerships. All of these efforts support Abbott’s 2030 Sustainability Plan goals.

What has helped to make Abbott’s BBN so successful? How has this group helped employees bring their most authentic selves to work?

The network’s success rests in the strength, dedication and commitment of our members. We strive to support and advance Abbott’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts with high-interest events centered around four pillars that we believe serve inclusive leadership: professional development; collaboration, outreach and recognition; communication; and membership and engagement. We’re proud of the impact we’ve made to boost representation, provide diverse viewpoints and support our members, helping many achieve their career goals.

How was the 20th anniversary of the BBN celebrated?

BBN celebrated our 20th anniversary, “Sustainability Through Inclusive Leadership,” with a hybrid event that hosted 200 people at Abbott’s global headquarters outside of Chicago and an additional 2,000 virtual attendees. The program began with a video with thoughts from founding members, and we were honored that the majority of them attended along with members from across Abbott globally. This created an atmosphere that honored the past, recognized the present and looked forward to the future.

Leaders from Abbott’s corporate divisions and businesses joined us. Abbott’s executive vice president of Human Resources and chief communications and marketing officer both shared speeches about the importance of sustainability and diversity. Network leadership participated in a “fireside chat” discussion, taking questions from members. Afterwards, many continued the celebration on social networks like LinkedIn, sharing their experiences from the event.

How can other organizations create successful ERGs like Abbott’s?

ERGs ensure they are adding value along multiple dimensions. At Abbott, we have 10 ERGs, and we believe they are critical to our success in creating a culture where everyone can come to work and be themselves. All groups strive to do at least three of the following:

  • Solve real business problems with unique insights or expertise
  • Strengthen our reputation, oftentimes through the work we do in the community or around health equity
  • Support the development of members both personally and professionally
  • Strengthen internal connections and community while building cultural awareness

We find that when we add at least three of these components to our ERG strategies, it speaks to the needs of members across multiple generations, in multiple countries, for multiple years. It allows our ERGs to evolve and grow as our company grows. It also allows ERG members an opportunity to play a direct role in the company’s ongoing success.

Have there been any defining or favorite moments over the last 20 years of Abbott’s BBN?

The program accompanying our 20th anniversary event included a timeline of highlight events over the BBN’s last two decades. There have been so many, but memorable moments include the “I Stand with Magic” program, when Abbott and the Magic Johnson Foundation partnered in 2008 to address HIV/AIDS in the African-American community through educational activities and testing events. Another was a 2017 partnership with United Way to host STEM activities and Q&As with 150 middle school girls.

In 2020, BBN hosted an event in honor of Black History Month highlighting the legacy of Dr. Charles Drew, the forefather of modern blood banking. The American Red Cross was on site for a blood drive. Last year, the BBN successfully recommended to Abbott leadership that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day be named a companywide ‘Day of Service’ with employees receiving one day of paid time off to volunteer every year.

Other moments span career networking events, participation in fundraisers, internship activities and panel discussions. Some of these we joined with our fellow ERGs to present, like one last year about allyship in partnership with the Women Leaders of Abbott. And at this year’s 20th anniversary event, BBN founding member Arnold Sandridge received a lifetime achievement award and his daughter, Asia Sandridge, was honored with the network’s ‘Rising Star’ award.

What do companies stand to gain from creating different support networks for employees of marginalized backgrounds, but especially for Black employees? How has your organization as a whole improved by implementing the BBN?

The benefit of the BBN and all Abbott ERGs to the company and the employee is the same. Everyone benefits when employees can contribute to their fullest potential. Employees benefit in the form of increased visibility and opportunity, and the company benefits by tapping into the unique talents of every individual. At Abbott, we still have work to do around the world on our journey of inclusion, but our ERGs strengthen our ability to do it. Our BBN celebration was a great reminder of that, and a celebration of how the BBN has supported our journey for over 20 years.

Read about how you can best utilize your Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) from our article: Why ERGs Are Your Organization’s Secret Weapon.

Contact us to learn more about how your organization can benefit from Diversity Best Practices membership.

About the Authors

Samer Saleh headshot
Samer Saleh
Divisional Vice President, Program Management Office, Rapid Diagnostics
Maria Shaw headshot
Maria Shaw
Senior Director, Program Management Office, Rapid Diagnostics