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Diversity in the utility sector: new ideas and perspectives will lead to a more successful workforce

Amanda levin | energy central | 24 june 2016

Tuesday, June 7th 2016 will be a day every woman remembers, as on this day Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Secretary of State, Senator, and First Lady became the first female major-party presumptive presidential nominee in U.S. history.

She achieved the seemingly impossible task of breaking the highest, hardest glass ceiling.

If Hillary can break that ceiling, then women in energy – women everywhere for that matter – can certainly follow suit. We have started to do so already, but research shows that in the energy space it is occurring at a slow pace.  

Right now, we only have a handful of female CEOs in utilities such as: Lynn J. Good of Duke Energy Corp., ComEd’s Ann Pramaggiore, Kimberly Harris at Puget Sound Energy, Debra Reed at Sempra Energy, Pat Kampling at Alliant Energy and Mary Powell at Green Mountain Power.

According to an industry report entitled, “Women in Power and Utilities Index 2016,” the number of women in power and utilities board positions has increased a mere 1% over the past three years. Globally, there are only 25 women board executives (5%) in the top 200 utilities.

While these numbers appear bleak, the facts and figures showing that companies stand to benefit financially from diversity are most definitely in women’s favor. It simply makes business sense – that’s good for companies and women alike.

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Catalyst found that Fortune 500 companies with more women on boards outperformed those with at least 53% higher return on equity, 42% higher return on sales and 66% higher return on investment.

According to recent industry research, European companies with the greatest levels of gender diversity at executive levels achieved 10% higher return on equity, double growth of earnings (before interest and tax) and 35% higher stock prices.

Research also suggests that there are at least four ways in which diversity and inclusion programs can improve organizations:

  • Team working and collaboration. Diverse teams performed more efficiently and effectively, arriving at the right answers faster. These teams demonstrated 57% increased team collaboration.
  • Retention. Organisations rated high for D&I reported 19% greater retention.
  • Market share. Research suggests that diverse teams are more 4% likely to maintain and grow their market share as a result of increased client and supplier satisfaction
  • Market growth. Organisations rated high for D&I were 70% more likely to be successful in new markets where there is a higher expectation for diverse teams and innovative thinking.

Utilities are taking action to seize this opportunity.

In DiversityInc’s 2016 diversity survey, Southern Company was ranked as one of the top 50 companies out of 1,800 for a diverse organization. The key results found that Southern Co. had placed more women (34.3%), African-Americans and Latinos (7.3%) in senior management positions than U.S. companies overall.

According to an industry report on women in power and utilities in 2016, there are a number of gender diverse utilities in the US including, Sempra Energy, Duke Energy Corp., CMS Energy, Ameren Corp., National Grid USA, American Electric Power, Berkshire Hathaway and MDU Resources.

We as women of course want diversification to happen at a much faster clip, but it’s equally as important for this change to happen quickly for utilities. The utility landscape is undergoing a dramatic transformation as a new class of distributed energy technologies – rooftop solar PV to start, but eventually behind-the-meter batteries, smart and flexible load controls and grid-integrated electric vehicles, which are also on the rise. Thus, bringing in a more diverse employee mix will lead to new, fresh perspectives coming in that will help shape the utility of the future.

Ultimately, if more power and utilities actively seek to employ people with different backgrounds, ideas, styles and skill-sets, both women and the companies hiring them will see benefits for years to come.

As we like to say at PA, “Embracing our differences makes us a stronger.”

Amanda Levin is an energy and utility expert at PA Consulting Group

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