6 minute read 8 Mar 2019
Female operator nuclear power station control room simulator

Why diversity matters in energy from line workers to engineers

By

Cyntressa Dickey

EY Americas People Advisory Services – Energy Leader

Transformation advisor to leading energy and other Fortune 500 companies. Passionate advocate for diversity, inclusion and equity. Chemical engineer. Committed to fitness and Atlanta Bootcamp.

6 minute read 8 Mar 2019

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Line workers are the first topic of conversation when Duke Energy’s Melissa Anderson speaks about improving gender diversity.

Improving the diversity of this group of critical employees is a priority for Duke Energy, which embraces the value of diversity by embedding it from the top of the company through to the front line.

“Line workers are the true superheroes of Duke Energy. When the weather is terrible and everyone else is at home, they are out in the snow and the storms helping communities rebuild. Their dedicated commitment to our customers is inspiring.”

But the difficult nature of the work can make it hard to attract skilled employees, particularly in an increasingly tight talent market. In this environment, finding diverse employees requires a strong strategy to tap into every section of the talent ecosystem and reach communities that may not have typically considered energy as a career. Anderson is leading Duke Energy in this data-driven approach to building a workforce that is truly ready for a changing future.

“We’re a major participant in a program called Troops to Energy that aims to help military veterans transition back into civilian life. Duke Energy is also working with community colleges, engaging historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and has teamed with U.S. Representative Alma Adams on an initiative aimed at boosting financial support for HBCUs.”

Diversity and inclusion an advantage during transformation

Beyond the front line, Anderson is leading projects aimed at boosting the inclusivity of Duke Energy’s culture, which includes accelerating more women into leadership. Duke Energy is already a consistently high achiever in the EY Women in Power and Utilities Index — ranking fourth globally in 2018 — and is one of the few utilities we surveyed with a female leader, CEO Lynn Good. But Anderson continues to push for further improvement and points to the clear business advantages delivered by more diverse teams.

“I see it every day. I’ve witnessed how groups made up exclusively of men will change when a woman joins — the dynamic shifts, and they will look at issues through a different lens. Creating an inclusive environment to support women who are in traditionally male-dominated roles is vital to ensuring their success and retention.”

Almost every utility will tell you that they’d like more women in their leadership team — but the slow rate of real progress highlights an industrywide disconnect between words and action. What’s Duke Energy doing differently? Anderson says the company’s very intentional, strategic approach to boost diversity, backed by solid initiatives and, crucially, strong leadership, is making the difference.

“Our leaders are trained to lead in a diverse way and work as one with their entire team. This means they intentionally seek a cross-sectional set of input when making decisions — not just from their peers,” says Anderson.

Our leaders are trained to lead in a diverse way and work as one with their entire team. This means they intentionally seek a cross-sectional set of input when making decisions.
Melissa Anderson
EVP Administration and Chief HR Officer, Duke Energy

Anderson says it’s important to give leaders the tools they need to build diverse and inclusive teams.

“Everyone, no matter how well-intentioned, holds unconscious bias that impacts who they hire, who they promote and how they lead teams. Our leaders undergo specific step-by-step training that helps mitigate this unconscious bias — we’ve already rolled it out to our top 500 leaders.”

Divergent views are welcome at Duke Energy, which Anderson says is building an environment that aims to make everyone feel safe to speak their mind. “If we want to engage with our employees, they need to feel confident giving their opinions, even if they’re provocative.”

Different perspectives are important in a sector navigating several transformative factors, including the rise of the empowered customer. Nurturing an ability to better engage with its customers across seven US states is another key driver for Duke Energy’s push to increase the diversity of its workforce, explains Anderson.

“When our customers’ needs are multifaceted, a diverse employee base is a huge advantage because it replicates the community we serve. Bringing together different skills, disciplines, languages and multiple generations allows us to engage more effectively with our community.”

Anderson says this is helping shift the company’s mindset and prepare it for a changing energy sector. “We’re becoming more adaptive in our approach — we pilot fast and are prepared to fail fast. We’re evolving technology to interact with customers through a multichannel approach.”

Strategic leadership paths for promising women

A clear message from EY research into women in leadership is that it’s difficult to retain and advance women on a pathway from junior to senior levels. With this challenge in mind, Anderson says that one of her top priorities is designing executive leadership paths that aim to identify promising junior women at Duke Energy and accelerate their development. In keeping with the utility’s intentional approach to diversity, these paths are strategic and long term.

“We give these women robust career assignments and a myriad of moves along a leadership pipeline that may span 3, 5 or 10 years. We match each woman’s own plan to specific opportunities, assign her a coach or mentor and, as she progresses, a sponsor who’s been carefully selected to help her develop both professionally and personally.”

The personal element shouldn’t be overlooked, says Anderson. “Experienced women are a great benefit in helping women with less experience navigate potential problems with family — everything from juggling childcare to handling a difficult conversation with your partner about relocating for your career.”

Both female and male mentors have been critical to Anderson’s own career, particularly by pushing her to take on roles for which she didn’t think she was ready.

“Now I tell other women — don’t let your own preconceived ideas limit you in considering opportunities. Run to the fire. Take the risks. I was willing to go to the places where the business needed me — including places where I had no previous interest. Pushing through difficult situations to add value to the business can help you advance.”

I tell other women — don’t let your own preconceived ideas limit you in considering opportunities. Run to the fire. Take the risks.
Melissa Anderson
EVP Administration and Chief HR Officer, Duke Energy

While flexibility is important — “I never said, ‘Here’s my road map’’’ — Anderson also encourages young women with leadership aspirations to make their ambitions known and be very intentional about where they want to go.

“It’s also important to be committed to lifelong learning — learn from every person and every opportunity you can,” she says. “And be self-aware. Some women say they want to be a leader, but leadership does involve certain sacrifices. Be reflective and realistic about the difference between what your ego may want and what you’ll actually be happy doing.”

For Anderson, she’s found her happy place in energy, after a long career in major technology and retail companies, and she’s confident other women will too. “The altruistic nature of our work is appealing. Energy is the backbone of society — we’re powering the lives of our customers.”

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Summary

A strategic approach and a willingness to tap nontraditional talent pools are helping the utility achieve industry-leading levels of gender diverse leadership.

About this article

By

Cyntressa Dickey

EY Americas People Advisory Services – Energy Leader

Transformation advisor to leading energy and other Fortune 500 companies. Passionate advocate for diversity, inclusion and equity. Chemical engineer. Committed to fitness and Atlanta Bootcamp.