6 minute read 8 Mar 2019
Quality inspectors factory

How broader perspectives can bring better solutions for utilities

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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Can lunch be life-changing? For Britt Ide, Director at NorthWestern Energy, a simple meal launched an extraordinary career.

When she was 12 years old and a keen math and science student, Britt Ide’s dad took her to lunch with a woman studying engineering at Stanford. “Looking back, I realize it was so important for me to see a woman doing engineering. It made it feel very real and achievable for me,” she remembers.

The encounter propelled Ide to pursue an engineering internship in the Air Force while she was in high school — “We got to do very cool stuff with cockpit acoustics,” — and embark on what has been a wide-ranging career across engineering, law, philanthropy and energy. She’s now president of the company she founded, Ide Energy & Strategy, where she combines her deep sector experience with mediation skills to help utilities resolve complex problems.

Diversity leads to better results

Ide helps energy companies find solutions to the transformative changes reshaping their industry. “Energy powers our world — it touches everything. And right now, it is experiencing a huge shift as companies work to modernize and find solutions to challenges such as climate change and technological innovation.”

When helping utilities find these solutions, Ide says that a company’s ability to put together a diverse team can be critical to its success.

“When you have diverse perspectives, you come up with better solutions. And you don't miss as much. It’s important to have teams with diversity of gender and race but also geographical backgrounds and age. Including younger people is a huge issue today, with the impact of technological changes and online communication.”

Ide sees the benefits of gender-diverse leadership in her own experience on the board of several organizations, including NorthWestern Energy, an electricity and gas utility that serves customers in the US, specifically in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Yellowstone National Park. Three of the eight members of NorthWestern’s board are female, and Ide is passionate about helping other utilities get more women around the board table.

“I remind utilities when considering their next board candidate to think differently, which is the whole point of diversity. Yes, you want some CEOs and CFOs, but they don’t need to make up the entire board. Look for candidates that have different operating experiences or different perspectives that are important to your community or customer base.

“Think beyond the usual suspects. And look in other places — go broader. We still have a tendency to go with who we know. And if you’re not moving in diverse circles, it tends to limit your view.”

Think beyond the usual suspects for new board members. And look in other places — go broader.
Britt Ide
Director, NorthWestern Energy

Women should plan early for board careers

Ide’s own first corporate board position was with a small, public company that sells science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) educational products. She was the first woman on the board and, still inspired from her childhood lunch with an engineer, is passionate about the company’s mission to encourage more young people to study STEM.

Ide says her board experience has helped her think more strategically and encourages other women with an interest in board positions to actively plan how they will achieve their goal.

“I tell women, ‘Even if right now you're board-ready and do everything right, it'll probably still take five years to secure a board position. And that's OK.’ I’ve compiled some of the things I learned and the resources I used when preparing for my own first board position, and I share that with women who are interested.

“There are many more resources available to women now to find board positions, including the Athena Alliance in the US and Nurole in the UK and internationally.”

One US program that aims to advance mid-career women in the field of clean energy is Clean Energy Education & Empowerment (C3E). At an invitation from the U.S. Secretary of Energy, Ide took on the role of US ambassador to the initiative, which she says is helping make a tangible difference to the numbers of women in senior leadership.

“One of the main aims of C3E in recognizing mid-career women is to give them a boost, networks, encouragement and a cash award to help them break through to that next level. It’s really important, and we're definitely seeing some progress, although when we look at the overall numbers of women in leadership it is still low.”

The more diversity you have, the more it encourages. I’m definitely optimistic for the future.
Britt Ide
Director, NorthWestern Energy

“You can’t be what you can’t see”

But while challenges remain in getting women in leadership, Ide senses a culture shift, partly driven by the growing visibility of women in energy. And, as Ide’s own early experience highlights, the power of role models is strong.

“You can’t be what you can’t see. And when I was mid-career and had young children, I looked around and could not find role models or mentors. Or maybe they were there, but they weren't willing to help — thankfully we're getting past that time when some women who made it weren’t always helping those who come up behind them. That’s improving. And the more women that are there, the more other women and girls can see that it’s possible, and it continues on.

“We need strong, smart people to show the value of diversity. The more diversity you have, the more it encourages. I’m definitely optimistic for the future.”

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Summary

Having a diversity and inclusiveness mindset when mentoring younger generations can have positive, long-term impacts for the energy sector.

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.