Susanne Nies

Head of Unit Energy Policy Power Generation

“With the same people thinking the same thoughts, it's impossible to change. Board members have to stop re-recruiting themselves, and accept new approaches.”

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

Right now in power and utilities (P&U) there are only a few excitable market-focused people with the mindset of Google’s Page and Brin or Facebook’s Zuckerberg and Sandberg. We need people who are like nervous thoroughbreds, who charge ahead and ask – what haven’t we done before?

Utilities need these types to innovate business models, to reinvent themselves. Diversity is key here: more people with international backgrounds, different ages, and more women. That’s vital if we are to survive the bleak times we are in today. If we don’t, then the music will be elsewhere – it will be with those willing to innovate.

I believe the most important challenge for the industry today is to adapt, to change both the environment and business model. Utilities across Europe are responding in very different ways to this. But there is a danger that the major difficulties caused by market distortions and unfavorable investment climate actually reduces the utility’s capacity to adapt, making them even more conservative.

The future is not in 50 years, or even 10 years. The future is around the corner – and this applies to regulated as well as competitive markets. If the European utilities choose not to act, there is a real risk that they could disappear altogether – becoming, if you like, “Ministries for Baseload”.

Although European policies have led, in many cases, to fragmentation, utilities cannot blame external factors alone. There's a need for new blood to shake things up and move beyond the old world of engineers only.

We need a new world of men, women, different ages and ethnicities, different backgrounds. We need people to stop acting like an endangered species and protecting their little patch, to open up, think beyond their operational silos and take a more holistic view of the industry, its challenges and its future.

Before becoming Head of the Unit Energy Policy Power Generation at EURELECTRIC, which represents the electricity industry in 32 European countries, I had a career in academic research and consulting. I was in charge of oil and gas issues on a think tank’s energy program when I became fascinated by P&U.

Electricity is a sector where public and private interaction have to be optimal; it is not Coca Cola, it is more of a public good. By necessity, the industry is highly regulated, and regulation has to be well articulated and long-term. Electricity moves at the speed of life; it brings societies forward.

As EY’s survey shows, there are not many women at the top of this industry. Although they are shocking numbers when you see them in black and white, it’s something I experience every day. Recently, I was at a conference in Berlin that opened with “Dear Dr Nies, dear gentlemen”. We need to change that for the next generation.

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