Boilers, Emissions, Energy Storage, Gas, Hydroelectric, Nuclear, O&M, Solar, Wind

30 Years of Women in Power: Where are We Going and How are We Going to Get There

According to EY’s Women in Power & Utilities Index, only 5 percent of board executives and 16 percent of board members of the top 200 utilities globally were women. Why does this matter? E&Y also found that the top 20 gender-diverse utilities outperformed the bottom 20 by 14.8 percent. That means more gender-diverse boards lead to better businesses.

But here’s the rub, young women aren’t entering the power industry and in fact, women make up less than a quarter — 23 percent — of STEM professionals.

For the 5th year, POWER-GEN International celebrated women in the power industry with a lunch and panel discussion on Tuesday, December 4 in Orlando, Florida. Because POWER-GEN is celebrating its 30th anniversary, the theme for the panel was 30 years of women in power and it was made up of a diverse group of women from different parts of the power sector. Bethany Schunn, the first female plant manager at the Cardinal Operating Company owned 1800-MW coal-fired power plant in Brilliant, Ohio said that women should develop a resilient attitude toward work – if you get passed by for a job, don’t let it get you down, she explained. She also spoke of the value of mentors, both of hers were men, in helping you find your way in a new job.

Lila Jaber, Regional Managing Shareholder with Gunster , former regulator with the Florida Public Utilities Commission and another of the four panelists said that she isn’t a fan of organized mentorship programs but instead urged people to look for ‘champions.’ By this she means people who will stand up for you in your career, and help push you to stretch yourself when you might need an extra push.

Dr. Valerie Sarisky-Reed, Acting Director with the Wind Energy Technologies Office at the U.S. Department of Energy said that when she began working she would volunteer for everything, including seemingly less important tasks like organizing the company picnic. She said this allows you to have the opportunity to stand out from the rest of your co-workers and give you opportunities to learn about new parts of the organization and meet people you may not otherwise work with.

Schunn echoed the Sarisky-Reed’s comments regarding learning about new parts of your organization. She said when she started working at the plant, she wanted to understand how all of the components worked, from the boiler room to cooling towers to control room. She urged attendees to get outside of their day-to-day jobs in order to see where other opportunities lie.

Laura Merten, Marketing and Business Development Associate with Holocene Clean Energy and fresh out of college said that the energy industry wasn’t even on her radar but with her economics degree, she is finding ways to apply her theoretical knowledge to the real world.

All four women on the panel emphasized the importance of digging in and working hard at your career and being thoughtful about where you want your career to take you. Merten said that thinking deliberately about your path is something that her generation is perhaps putting more emphasis on than past generation have, which is welcome news.

Jaber, who is also the chair of the Florida Women in Energy Leadership forum, had excellent points about how those who are established in the industry should pay it forward and seek out young talent in order to nurture it. She said she looks for young people who have ‘fire in their bellies.’

About 100 people —  both men and women — attended the Women in Power Luncheon at POWERGEN.