Women in Energy: Celebrating International Women’s Day
Today is International Women’s Day, a celebration that as you might have guessed recognizes the incredible accomplishments of women around the world. Within the energy sector, women in leadership unfortunately account for just a small percentage of all senior management positions. More than just an equity issue, research indicates that a balanced workforce that equally includes women (and minorities), can increase the creativity and innovation needed for utilities to modernize their grid.
Why Diversity Matters
From carrying the emotional load to the perceived capacity for empathy, women face many unique challenges as compared to men and those experiences are incredibly valuable in gaining unique perspectives and cultivating fresh ideas. In the workplace, differences in experience are beneficial to the culture and financial success of any undertaking. Research indicates that women in senior management within the utility industry can lead to “a 30% higher return on equity and a 30% lower earnings risk relative to lower-ranked peers.”
The History of Women in Energy
Cultural roles for women have evolved throughout history and were especially reshaped by both the industrial revolution and the world wars that ravaged the globe in the 20th century. In both cases, women were called upon as a necessary component in the workforce to meet demand, often because there were simply not enough men to do the work. Since that time, women have worked in every stratum of society, including in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Initially, that number was small with women accounting for only about 8% of all STEM workers, while just a few years ago that number has risen to 27%.
Some early pioneers include women like physicist Meitner who was critical in the discovery of nuclear fission and the development of nuclear energy. Another amazing example of women in STEM is Hazel O’Leary. Born in 1937 and still with us, O’Leary was the first woman AND African-American to serve as the U.S. Secretary of Energy, during which time she worked tirelessly to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy resources. Yet another example is Edith Clarke, an electrical engineer, whose research was instrumental in the development of transmission line stability and development. While this list could continue, let’s look at a few of our best and brightest women in energy today.
Women in Energy Today
While there is plenty of room for growth in forging a more equitable and diverse future, there are already many amazing women in the utility industry. While we can’t share the accomplishments of everyone, we’d like to highlight a few of the incredible women in the utility industry.
- Patti Poppe – The CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Poppe made her success at CMS Energy in Michigan before heading to the golden state for PG&E. At PG&E, Poppe has worked to increase the safety of their equipment including burying lines and investing in clean energy solutions.
- Colette Honorable – Between 2015-2017, Colette Honorable served as the Commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and was nominated by President Barack Obama. During her tenure, Honorable worked to provide strategic counsel to utility, renewable energy, and green technology companies focusing on reliability, security, and more. Since then, she has worked at Reed Smith where she serves on both the firm’s Energy Regulatory and environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) advisory committees.
- Patricia Vincent-Collawn – The president and CEO at PNM Resources, an energy holding company in New Mexico, Collawn has served at the highest corporate levels since 2010, she has worked to enhance environmental and sustainability measures, improve cybersecurity, and work within existing regulations to serve the community.
- Mary Powell – The CEO of clean energy technology company Sunrun, Powell has worked to develop DER technologies like rooftop solar and battery storage. Through the Inflation Reduction Act, Powell is committed to making residential solar more affordable than ever to help fight climate change.
This list could go on, but in every instance, these women were and remain committed to improving their respective environments, from their employee relations to building rapport with customers and beyond.
Women in Energy: International Women’s Day Conclusion
The effects of climate change have a direct cultural impact on women, particularly women of color, which is why the industry needs women in energy more now than ever. According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), employing more women in energy can lead to meaningful positive outcomes for clean and efficient energy initiatives, while lowering harmful carbon emissions.
These strategies will include everything from demand response conservation efforts to distributed energy resource (DER) programs, that use community assets to foster greater energy security. Research indicates that more women in energy (and the workplace as a whole) can lead to better outcomes that include closing the wage gap, diversifying the workforce, and introducing new policies to benefit employees.