For Jeannine Villasenor, 33, culture was something her parents instilled in her at a young age. Her mother is from Mexico and her father is from Chile. With many of her relatives only speaking Spanish, she is fluent and is already passing on the language to her 17-month-old daughter.

It’s this passion for her culture that led Villasenor to join Southern California Edison’s (SCE) Hispanic employee resource group LEAD (Latinos for Engagement, Advancement & Development) a few years ago. Today, she leads the organization as its president. 

With an elected board and a membership of more than 500 SCE employees, LEAD recently learned that it has been named one of the top-five finalists in the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s (USHCC) Employee Resource Group Corporate Challenge. The winner will be announced Sept. 22 at the chamber’s national convention in Salt Lake City.

“This is affirmation that LEAD is moving in the right direction,” said Villasenor, noting that it was four years ago that the group expanded from a cultural group to an employee resource and development group. “This award recognizes that we are implementing best practices.”

In addition to helping its members develop and advance in the company, a large component of LEAD’s activities include volunteering and reaching out to the community. The group has helped to mentor students at UCLA and walked to help raise money for the United Way.

And like many of the employee resource groups at SCE, LEAD is taking part in the company’s Season of Service program in which the groups select a nonprofit to support. LEAD recently chose the Orange Coast Interfaith Shelter to help raise money for its after-school tutoring program.

“We focus on giving back to the community,” said Hector Aguilar, 36, LEAD vice president. “Supporting education is a great way to accomplish this. We are always looking for organizations that support the Latino community and, most importantly, are sustainable.”

Aguilar’s parents are from Mexico; his dad is from Zacatecas and his mom from Chiapas. The Hispanic culture was instilled in him at a young age, he said, like respecting your elders and supporting your family and community. 

“It’s part of my upbringing; it’s part of who I am,” said Aguilar, who like Villasenor, is also actively passing on the language and culture to his son. 

Members of LEAD learned they were a finalist for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce award a few days ago and are blown away. Especially since LEAD has recently met with other corporate employee resource groups across the country to learn best practices.

“What they are doing is amazing,” said Aguilar. “Being a finalist is incredible since the competition is very tough. A lot of good work is being done out there.”

In 2013, Latinos made up 31 percent of SCE’s workforce. Last year, LEAD helped to raise $9,000 for various Latino community groups and Edison International, SCE’s parent company, contributed more than $4 million to organizations serving the Latino community.

LEAD was founded in 1992 as an affinity group to help create a community for Latino employees. Today, the Hispanic employee resource group focuses on creating value for the company in the areas of culture, commerce, careers and community. And most importantly, LEAD is for all SCE employees, not just Hispanics.

"During my tenure as chairman of the USHCC, it has been very rewarding to watch the growth of the ERG Summit & Corporate Challenge," said the chamber’s Chairman Marc Rodriguez. “Most rewarding, however, is knowing there are hundreds of Hispanic ERGs throughout the nation that are working every day to develop employees and executives within corporate America. By doing so, they are ultimately improving the bottom lines of their organizations.”

Villasenor and Aguilar will be in Salt Lake City on Sept. 22 to present on why LEAD is the most outstanding employee resource group in the country. Although they hope to hear SCE’s name called as this year’s winner of the chamber award, they know they have some tough competition with Sprint, Bank of America, Ford and Google as the other finalists.

“A lot of our employees are already giving back to the community,” said Villasenor. “This award really represents Edison’s commitment to its diverse workforce.”