Noel’s Notes: Diversity

Diversity – and Diversity of Thought – Leads to Better Solutions

I’d like to call everyone’s attention to an initiative that helps build a more diverse PES membership and engineering workforce and supports and encourages women who seek leadership roles in the energy industry: Women in Power.

While some PES activities supporting women have been going on since 1998, this concentrated effort has been underway for the last eighteen months.  This increased effort requires ongoing support to succeed as a resource and as a mechanism that fosters a more diverse leadership by supporting the career advancement, networking and education of women in the energy industry.

Powertech

Women participants of PES Power Tech in Grenoble, France participate in Women In Power Networking Session in June 2013

Please click on the link for details on the WiP initiative’s offerings and its need for support. You’ll find information on joining, mentoring, sponsoring and supporting this effort on the Web. In this blog I’ll share my personal thoughts on why such an effort is so important to all of us.

First, the context. The WiP initiative is designed to provide guidance, support and mentoring throughout a woman’s pursuit of education, networking and career advancement. Membership is free to PES members and we encourage men to join and support the initiative.

As my colleague and WiP Advisory Board member Juan de Bedout, CTO, GE Energy Management, says, “A diverse workforce produces a broader and richer range of thoughts and perspectives.”

That’s the very reason that WiP maintains a focus on early- and mid-career advancement for women in engineering and energy-related fields. While we already have programs aimed at women seeking engineering degrees, we identified a gap in career support and leadership mentoring.

Powercon

Women speakers from PES PowerCon in Auckland, New Zealand in November 2012

I’ve observed many women in mid-management roles, but we can all acknowledge that their presence in leadership positions is rarer. I’m reading Lean in: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. She’s got a point: having worked hard to advance, I think some women within reach of executive leadership positions tend to lean back rather than in. We can all speculate on why that’s so, but WiP seeks to change that dynamic through leadership mentoring and guidance.

Sandberg points out that women are naturally risk averse, perhaps biologically biased toward avoiding that step into highly visible and influential leadership roles. If that’s so, then we need to encourage them to step out and seize opportunity where they find it – and create attractive opportunities for themselves.

By establishing regional chapters of WiP throughout the world and holding WiP meetings at every PES event, for instance, we can provide the networking opportunities that let women in power and energy fields know their challenges are not unique. Isolation, after all, doesn’t bode well for anyone’s professional trajectory and for women, who are under-represented in the fields of engineering, power and energy, this is particularly true.

Cheri Warren, Lina Bertling Tjernberg, Mini Thomas, Wanda Reder, Noel Schulz, Mazana Armstrong, Meliha Selak

Cheri Warren, Lina Bertling Tjernberg, Mini Thomas, Wanda Reder, Noel Schulz, Mazana Armstrong, Meliha Selak at the 2013 PES General Meeting

Consider for a moment that women now outpace men in university attendance and graduation rates. Yet we haven’t seen a proportional rise in women in engineering programs and certainly not in the power and energy industries’ leadership ranks.

In fact, the broader context for the WiP effort is framed by a blog I read a couple years back in the Harvard Business Review’s Insight Center on smart grid: “Building Cultural Infrastructure for the Smart Grid,” by Andrew Shapiro.

“The key issue in the smart grid debate is how we create an intelligent infrastructure for sustainable use of resources,” Shapiro wrote. “However … we can’t just focus on whiz-bang widgets. Rather … we also need … a fundamental change in mindset.

“Cultural infrastructure includes the way we think, educate, engage, behave, and reward … technology alone won’t fundamentally change our relationship with natural resources.”

Shapiro didn’t directly address the issue of women in leadership positions in the energy industry, but we can tie his thoughts back to my colleague Juan de Bedout’s point about diversity and the resulting quality and breadth of solutions. That diversity must include women in leadership positions, bringing their unique perspective to bear on the challenges of our time.

We’ve carefully designed WiP’s focus to produce that diversity of leadership. Now we need mentors, regional WiP representatives, sponsors and donations. WE NEED YOU! The need is real and there’s a solution in place. Now we simply need to support women in power in tangible, practical ways and move the needle, for everyone’s benefit.