Abner-Purnell named 1st chief diversity officer at SJI

In an effort to further strengthen its commitment to creating a work culture built on inclusion and belonging — one where every employee feels comfortable bringing their whole selves to work each day — South Jersey Industries announced Thursday that it has appointed Shawn Abner-Purnell its first chief diversity officer.

In this role, Abner-Purnell will continue to align SJI and its subsidiaries with the organization’s corporate diversity, equity & inclusion priorities. Prior to her promotion, Abner-Purnell served as SJI’s vice president of diversity, inclusion and engagement since July 2021.

Under Abner-Purnell’s leadership, SJI has taken measurable steps to strengthen its commitment to this area of strategic importance.

Structurally, SJI has instituted several internal teams to aid in administrating its DEI strategy, including a newly formed diversity & inclusion team positioned within its human resources department. In addition, SJI supports five employee resource groups and a cross-disciplinary committee called the Diversity Council, which oversees and champions DEI efforts across the organization.

Finally, since joining SJI, Abner-Purnell has implemented several new initiatives, such as listening sessions, an annual engagement survey and the SJI Diversity Corner, an internal hub that offers insights into various backgrounds, cultures and heritages reflective of SJI’s workforce. These programs enable employees to share their varied perspectives, foster understanding and encourage further action.

“As chief diversity officer, I look forward to continuing SJI’s work to create an empowered workforce, where our more than 1,100 employees feel safe, accountable and equipped with the resources and support necessary to uphold our shared commitment to inclusion, care and belonging,” she said.

CEO Mike Renna said he was delighted to make the announcement.

“SJI serves more than 700,000 customers diverse in experience, background and thought, which means our commitment to diversity, equity & inclusion is inextricably linked to the work we do each day,” he said. “Shawn’s leadership in this space has ensured that these values are not only reflected in our work, but also in how we treat each other. I’m confident that, as chief diversity officer, Shawn will continue to leverage ways for us to better serve each other, our customers and our communities.”

In addition to celebrating her new role, Abner-Purnell joined other leading diversity, equity & inclusion professionals in accepting the Forum of Executive Women’s “Champion of Board Diversity” award at the forum’s annual Leadership Breakfast in Philadelphia. The honor recognizes the top public companies in the Philadelphia region with 30% or more women on their respective boards.