Gayle Lanier

Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer
Duke Energy

“It takes diversity at the top of an organization to recognize the value of people that are different … and take a chance on bringing different skill sets into the company.”

EY - Women in power and utilities
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As part of our index of women in power and utilities, we talked to Gayle Lanier about gender diversity in the sector.

I think it’s a common misconception: people don’t see power and utilities (P&U) as a progressive industry. In fact, there’s a lot here once you scratch the surface. P&U is facing so many changes and new challenges: our customers and their expectations of us are changing daily.

As a sector, P&U needs to attract people with a business-savvy mindset who may not have considered working in this sector before. We need people to apply new thinking and leverage technology. We have to become champions of thinking differently. We have to listen to customers and understand how – and if – they want us to be a part of the changing world.

Incorporating the best approaches from other industries into what we do, to make Duke Energy one of the best utilities, is really our goal and mission. We’re looking at practices from telecommunications companies, banks, airlines, couriers – that have succeeded in putting control and flexibility into the hands of customers.

At Duke, we need diverse teams more than ever as we get more personal with customers and move from the meter into the home. One of the reasons I joined Duke five years ago was to bring diversity of thought. My prior experience was in computers and telecommunications, so I had to learn about utilities fast. In doing so, my technical skills have been very important; my degree in engineering taught me to problem-solve. It also made me a role model, something it took me a long time to accept. You didn’t see many female African-American engineers in the early 1980s.

I wasn’t surprised by the results of this survey. I quite often find women outnumbered at least 10 to 1 on boards. It's disappointing that nothing much has changed in 20 years. But I don’t think it’s solely a result of traditionalists holding us back. Women have a tendency not to talk about their accomplishments and this has to change. The best advice I’ve ever had from a mentor is: “Never let other people take credit for your work." I've learned to be more vocal and make sure I'm heard.

Diversity is critical, in terms of gender, race, age, backgrounds, etc. It makes our teams better and stronger, and ensures our plans are robust. On a big project, I always say: “Let me talk to the biggest naysayer first.” I need to understand what that person is thinking, because there may be something I've missed. A lack of diversity could lead to unintentionally excluding excellent ideas, thoughts and people, because you can’t talk about things you don’t know.

Read related articles from the Index of women in power and utilities.

Don’t ignore the evidence: more women in the boardroom = better business performance Can you hear me? Only 4% of board executives of global 100 P&U companies are female The top 20: Duke, Sempra and Eskom head the list for gender diversity P&U is transforming: why yesterday’s business models won’t work anymore
EY - Don't ignore the evidence EY - Can you hear me? EY - The top 20 EY - P&U is transforming