Marie-José Nadeau

Chair of World Energy Council (WEC) and Executive Vice President
of Corporate Affairs, Hydro-Québec

“In any complex business environment, companies with a strong representation of women on their boards increase their chances to outperform competitors.”

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

Everywhere I go, everywhere I speak, I’m asked questions about gender diversity. As the first female chair of WEC, the first female member of Hydro-Québec’s senior management team back in the 1990s, and a current board member, I’m happy to answer these questions. But when I see the results of EY’s survey, I’m disappointed that so little has improved over the years.

I graduated in law at the turn of the 1970s, in the aftermath of the oil shock, when energy was at the top of the political agenda in North America. In retrospect, my decision to complete a Master's degree in law with a focus on energy issues was decisive.  My background as a lawyer allowed me to bring a different perspective to an environment of engineers.

At that time, I was part of the first wave of women to combine families and careers. I didn’t have any role models; we were all working through it by trial and error. When I talk to younger women, I tell them, “You may be looking for a role model, but beware: these are personal choices. You cannot mimic someone else's career path. It's too easy to look at a female leader with 40 years of experience and want to be like her without recognizing what compromises and choices have been made.”

In Québec, there is legislation requiring a 50-50 gender split on state-owned corporations' boards of directors. I prefer voluntary action, but I have seen that quotas do make a difference. It’s a shame we need them because there are women perfectly capable of holding these roles and being successful in them.

Diversity comes in many forms. If you have a team of 10 people with the same background, the same age, the same cultural and professional background, who all think alike, you will definitely miss something. For an organization like WEC, diversity is essential: we have 93 national member committees and 15 board members from all over the world.

We are privileged to be involved in a key sector without which the world cannot survive. The energy sector is currently not known for its diversity but, given the challenges ahead, we simply cannot afford to discourage or exclude anyone. It’s time to move on from talking about diversity to making change happen and reporting on it.

Today, we are building tomorrow's solution to our energy problems. Tomorrow's generation, men and women, have to be part of the thinking. We are facing complex issues and we simply can't afford to discount half of the population.

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