(As originally published on LinkedIn, 2 March 2017)

Three actions to advance women in power [and utilities]

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By: Gerard McInnis, Canadian Power and Utilities Leader at EY

In power and utilities we’re currently facing the trifecta of challenges: improving environmental performance, keeping customers’ costs down and maintaining system reliability – all while feeling the pressure from aging infrastructure. It’s clear utilities companies need to be innovative in how they approach these challenges and prepare themselves appropriately for a sustainable future.

A critical step for any company: approach disruption with diversity. While diversity comes in many forms – age, ethnicity, sexual orientation and nationality – embracing gender parity is a good starting point for utilities companies. The good news is, we’re on the right track. Research from The Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY shows utilities lead the way as the industry with the highest share of female executives and board members. But there is still a long way to go. Globally, women in utilities only make up 14% of board members. We know that in Canada this is trending higher which is great to see!

Two disconnects holding back gender parity in utilities are perception and development. That is, men and women are viewing the issue differently; and companies aren’t creating pipelines for future female leaders. So what steps can organizations start taking today, to fast forward women tomorrow? Here are three simple things leaders – men and women – can do to overcome these disconnects and put women in power:

  1. Find a promising woman in your talent pipeline and sponsor her. Be a visible role model and make her development your priority by opening new doors and encouraging her to take on new challenges; sponsorship can lead to greater exposure and opportunity for advancement.
  2. Encourage an inclusive and flexible workplace for all employees. Develop an environment that offers equal opportunities and where people feel valued; this will inspire new ideas, and encourage thoughts to be shared freely. Have honest conversations and discuss practical tactics and strategies to allow women to feel more empowered in their own career management.
  3. Take a holistic approach when developing a talent pipeline. Build a culture of support at all levels in women’s careers, especially recruitment and performance management; this will prepare them better in the long-run. Embed diversity into the cultural DNA of the organization such that it truly is second-nature.

Having a diverse team with the right skills and experience is the key to overcoming disruptive challenges. And honestly, it just makes good business sense. An increase in women is an increase to the bottom line – and there’s lots of research to prove it. According to EY’s Women in Power and Utilities Index 2016 the top 20 most gender-diverse utilities significantly outperformed the bottom 20 by 1.07% return on equity (ROE). Trust me when I say, this is extremely significant; given that utilities are so asset-heavy, this difference could be worth millions.

It’s important to remember gender parity is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. We all need to come together to support the development of our peers, regardless of rank, gender or industry. None of us can stop disruption, but we can – and must – take these three steps to actively support women and successfully prepare our teams to overcome the trifecta of challenges facing utilities.

What are you doing to put women in power?