Denise DeLaune has come full circle in the 20 or so years since graduating from LSU with a degree in chemical engineering. Since 1997, she has worked in a variety of operations and environmental, health and safety roles at several of Dow’s Gulf Coast sites in Louisiana and Texas, then took an assignment in Leipzig, Germany, as a hydrocarbons cracker production leader and site leader.
Position: Senior Site Manufacturing Director, St. Charles Operations
Company: Union Carbide, a subsidiary of Dow Inc., Taft
What They Do: St. Charles Operations (SCO) is owned by Union Carbide Corp., a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co. The complex comprises a 2,000-acre integrated site just upriver from Hahnville. Basic building-block and intermediate chemicals produced at SCO are used in thousands of everyday household, business and consumer products.
She finally returned home to Louisiana in 2019 to take on the role of senior site manufacturing director at the St. Charles site.
Over the years, DeLaune has been involved in the advocacy and support of minority and female talent and was awarded a Dow Women’s Innovation Network North American Champion Award in 2014. She also received the National Manufacturing Association STEP Award in 2016 because of her leadership in operations and technology, and currently serves as a board member for the Louisiana Chemical Association.
Inclusion is incredibly important in the industrial space but turning it into reality can be a challenge.
“If we are going to solve the world’s challenges with science, we need diversity of thought,” DeLaune says. “We need to be able to talk to each other and listen to each other deeply. We need an understanding of specific challenges within different groups of people in different parts of the world.”
The greatest reward in her Dow career, she notes, has been developing people. “I believe everyone brings something to the table and I like to encourage and grow that.”
Of course, she faced many of her own challenges over the years being the only woman in the control room—or in the board room—but something changed 10 years ago when she began attending a regular lunch group of talented young female engineers.
“Despite their talent and leadership, they doubted themselves and their capabilities,” DeLaune says. “I now understand the challenges women face, and I also know first-hand how important male allies are. I was blessed to have many throughout my career.”
Still, she worries that people will think she pushes for diversity simply because of her gender.
“It took me meeting these ladies to understand that I needed to have more courage, sponsor more people and lead in this area,” she says. “As I’ve listened and learned more from my African American colleagues after the murder of George Floyd, this passion to drive change and encourage true listening has grown even stronger.”
Diversity is much bigger than a gender issue, and DeLaune has had to challenge her own thinking and biases in that regard. After spending three years in another country where there was very little racial diversity in the workplace, it became clear to her that she should focus beyond simply barriers for women.
It was then that she made it her mission to educate her teams about the true meaning of diversity.
“I’m not just here advocating for myself, or my daughter … I’m advocating for the Asian scientist that has experienced hate since the COVID pandemic,” she says. “I’m advocating for the talented operator who should sit at the table but doesn’t have an engineering degree, the African American woman whose pay gap is even larger than the white woman.
“And I’m an ally of the employee with an unseen disability or a child with one, and an ally of our veterans.”
Essentially, everyone has a story and deserves development and support, DeLaune says. “This has required more deep thought about what diversity means to me and why I’m pushing for and leading change.”
DeLaune says her work must continue.
“By doing so much work on diversity and inclusion inside of Dow and understanding my own biases and fears, I have developed a deeper passion to be an influencer outside of Dow,” she adds.
“How are these things impacting my kid’s classroom, our church services, and where I live and buy groceries? Just when I thought I understood diversity as a white woman, I realized it was so much bigger.”