​By Linda Swails

Last year’s EUCI Leadership Conference for Women in Energy, held Dec. 8-9, featured some of the most accomplished women in the industry from around the country, their presentations describing their achievements, disappointments and lessons learned throughout their careers.

The conference kicked off with a presentation from ISO New England Director Cheryl LaFleur, who is a former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission commissioner. 

LaFleur spoke on the topic of un¬blocking women’s paths to leadership positions. She shared that the biggest thing she has learned in her profes¬sional career is that everyone has ups and downs, professionally, and one can develop a tendency to compare themselves unfavorably with others. 

Instead of engaging in this negative tendency, she suggested that attend¬ees “bloom where we are planted,” do a good job where they are, continue to develop professionally and seek opportunities to strengthen their knowledge and experience.

LaFleur emphasized the importance of networking to build and strengthen both personal and professional relationships to stay connected. She suggested that this connection can be maintained either virtually, for example via virtual coffee breaks, or in person, by showing interest in others and what is happening in their lives. 

She suggested attendees organize a group of “cheerleaders” who will cheer them on when times are difficult in their professional careers and whom they can support as well when they en¬counter their own bumps in the road. To accomplish this, she suggested using technology such as LinkedIn to get advice from others in the industry. 

Finally, LaFleur recommended that women in leadership positions work with other women and those of diverse backgrounds coming up behind them, and offer them an opportunity to develop into the next generation of leaders in the energy industry. 

A variety of topics

The conference included a variety of informative presentations with “knowledge nuggets” on various topics including leadership, difficult conversations, gender inequality and the importance of mentors and spon¬sors in leadership development. 

Some common themes throughout the conference were the importance of building trust, listening with respect, developing problem-solving skills and seeking opinions and perspectives different than one’s own. 

Many of the speakers acknowl¬edged a common human frailty of making mistakes during their career. Regardless of one’s profession or posi¬tion in the organizational hierarchy, everyone makes mistakes. The speak¬ers suggested acknowledging those mistakes and learning from them. 

Another topic was implicit bias, defined as prejudice or unsupported judgements in favor of or against a thing, person or group in a way that is usually considered unfair. 

Implicit bias is reflected in one’s attitudes and beliefs and can nega¬tively impact how people think both personally and profession¬ally. Everybody has implicit bias and frequently they are not aware of what their implicit biases are. Implicit bias is evolutionary and is hardwired into the human brain. 

The key to combatting implicit bias is developing awareness of one’s individual implicit bias, minimizing its negative effect on thoughts and actions. 

Embracing change was another important leadership quality that was discussed. Speakers suggested seeking new opportunities, even if they are outside of our comfort zone, as we often do not give ourselves enough credit for the knowledge and experience we already possess. New and challenging opportunities expand our knowledge and experience and prepare us for future opportunities. 

Mentorship and engagement

The presenters acknowledged the importance of mentors in their profes¬sional development. They advised selecting mentors who are authentic and who will provide constructive sup¬port and feedback. Mentoring relation¬ships can be both formal and informal, and each type serves a purpose. 

Another suggestion was to seek opportunities to engage with those outside of our normal groups of con-tacts, as their experience and perspec¬tives are important to consider. They suggested engaging with the “quiet” introverts who may not routinely contribute to discussions, as they have valuable insights and ideas. 

The presenters described their accomplishments and how their careers evolved, sometimes through nontraditional paths, and how they rose to senior leadership positions in the energy industry. 

They discussed taking risks, seeking out or creating opportunities for themselves to expand their experi-ence, working hard and pursuing opportunities to develop their industry knowledge at various organizational levels and in male-dominated functional areas. 

The good news is that women are gaining pres¬ence at all organizational levels of leadership in the energy industry, paving the way for the next gen¬eration of women leaders. 

The last segment of the conference focused on trends in the energy industry, such as engaged customers, the growth of renewables and distributed energy resources, pervasive use of technology, work¬force transformation and increased investment in grid resilience and modernization. 

These trends will result in a trans¬formation in the industry requiring a workforce skilled in technology. That technology-savvy workforce will have an expectation of a remote work environment resulting in a shift in the traditional culture of the energy industry. 

Note: Swails is a public utilities specialist.

Last modified on September 12th, 2023