Shining a Light on Women Leaders in the Power Industry

by Robynn Andracsek, Contributor

TULSA, Okla. and NASHUA, N.H., -- In early 2013, a group of women, dubbed the Women in Power committee, assembled in Orlando, Florida to figure out how to honor women who have dedicated their careers to the power industry. The industry is male-dominated with men making up more than 75 percent of the workforce, according to estimates.

The Women in Power committee believed that it was important to give recognition to the pioneering women who have worked to advance the power industry. To do this, the committee aksed power industry stakeholders to nominate women they admired for a Woman of the Year Award, which would be given out at POWER-GEN International. To judge the nominees, the committee came up with three focus areas. 2014 is the second year for this award.

The first and most important accomplishment that the committee believed a potential Power-Gen Woman of the Year should have made is advancing the power industry. In addition, the committee judged nominees by their leadership abilities, as well as their ability to collaborate with, influence, and mentor others. Finally, the committee believed that a potential Power-Gen Woman of the Year should impact her community through industry associations and other organizations. After four months of collecting nominations, the 19-member committee voted on the nominees and came up with three finalists, who are described below.

One of these women will be named the Power-Gen 2014 Woman of the Year at the annual awards banquet on Monday, Dec. 8, which takes place at the Disney's Odyssey Pavilion at Epcot in Orlando, Fla. The banquet is part of the POWER-GEN International Conference and Exhibition and the co-located NUCLEAR POWER International Conference and Exhibition, Renewable Energy World Conference & Exhibition, North America and the Power-Gen Financial Forum.

The 2014 Power-Gen Woman of the Year will give a keynote speech during the Women in Power Luncheon on Tuesday, December 9 at the Orange County Convention Center also as part of the co-located conferences.

Here’s a look at the finalists:



Diane Drehoff – “I like to be a trailblazer…I like to be first.”

Throughout her 42-year history in the Power Supply industry, Diane Drehoff has been part of many “firsts.” She was the first woman in Westinghouse to call on an electric utility for Power Systems equipment. She was the first employee in Westinghouse to be nominated for and selected to be an IEEE Congressional Fellow. And she led the Westinghouse Power Generation business to become the first US Power Generation business unit certified to ISO 9001 Quality Standards.

Her interest in power plants started when she was 10 years old. “My dad was a generation account representative for Westinghouse in Oklahoma City. One Saturday, he got a call from the plant personnel over at the OG&E Belle Isle power station, a small 15-MW turbine. I guess that my dad had child care duty that day, so he took me and my sister with him to go over and talk to the plant people about an issue they were experiencing. When you are 10 years old, a turbine generator, even one that is only 15 MW, is an impressive sight. I was fascinated by the size and complexity of all of the piping and  components that I saw and was quite interested in understanding just how all of that equipment could produce electricity.”

This initial spark of interest in power generation led to her Electrical Engineering degree from Stanford. She joined Westinghouse out of college where she worked in diverse areas such as sales representative, generation projects manager, and director of total quality for power generation. Says Diane of her early years in the industry, “I was very excited to be selected as a spokesperson in 1980 for a balanced energy equation in the U.S. I had the opportunity to talk to media across the country about the need to support all types of energy sources including solar, wind, gas, coal and nuclear. I felt this was an important message for Americans to understand and support.”

For many years there were very few women entering the power industry as a profession; Diane was always quite visible in terms of her performance and overcoming apprehensions about women in the business. She adopted a posture of being just one of the team and never felt that she was treated differently than male associates. She was a model for putting her customers’ needs as the highest priority and rallying the team she worked with to go the extra mile to provide the best service possible. During her career Diane has experienced at least a half a dozen major power plant failures that required extensive repairs and replacements. In each case, she was able to provide leadership and creative solutions that resulted in successful and timely restoration of those units to service.

Diane’s years of experience and success both at Westinghouse and at Siemens (NYSE: SI) have made her one of only a few women in the company who have achieved a top leadership position. Her diverse background and industry experience have enabled her to have a clear understanding of today’s power industry needs and to steer the Siemens service products and offerings in a direction that enhances the performance of the power industry assets she serves. She was recently a featured speaker in the Women of Siemens series, where she spoke to a global audience of 300 women and men about her career and the lessons she has learned throughout her 42 years of work experience. She was able to reach employees in Europe and Asia and has been contacted by many of her listeners to give further perspectives on their career paths. Diane gives her time and effort to coaching and mentoring early career professionals to encourage rewarding careers in the power industry. She is currently a mentor for the Women Unlimited Lead program in the Orlando, Florida area, a program for women of diverse companies and locations which focuses on women identified to be candidates for executive roles.

Of her illustrious career, she says, “I have always taken pride in being very proactive in providing services to our power customers that maximize their ability to be online providing power to their customers. I am completely committed to being a 24 hours per day, 365 days per year support team for the power industry.”



Colleen Layman – Colleen truly demonstrates and lives the Society of Women Engineers tagline, “Aspire, Advance, Achieve.”

Colleen Layman has over 20 years of experience in the engineering design, construction, commissioning and operation of power generating facilities. Currently as a vice president  and the industrial water principal at HDR, Colleen works closely with HDR engineers across the country. She is also the boiler chemistry expert within the power generation group at HDR. Working in the power industry, a traditionally male-dominated field, for the past 20 years has been both a challenge as well as an opportunity in her experience. Colleen says: “For much of my career, I have been the only woman in the meeting room, a situation that I have grown to be comfortable with over the last 20 years, but a situation nonetheless that I continue to hope will become less and less frequent. Over the years after walking into many construction trailers at power plant sites that were full of men, I have learned that I can choose to allow my solo female status to be a benefit to me or a detriment. Being the only woman (or one of only a very few women) in the room or at a meeting, the others at the meeting will tend to remember me after that meeting simply based on that solo status. How they will remember me, what impression they will have of my skills or expertise is in my power to control and is where I can use ‘being the lone woman in the room’ to my advantage.“

Colleen has been an integral leader with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) since the year 2000 and is currently serving on the Society Board of Directors as president-elect of the organization, which boasts a membership of nearly 30,000 worldwide. “The desire for female mentors is probably one of the most fundamental reasons that I originally joined SWE and a key reason for my continued involvement. Through SWE I have had the opportunity to network and connect with other women in many different industries, but with similar work-related challenges and experiences. These women have become my support system — they answer the questions that often male mentors simply can’t and provide understanding and advice when I feel overwhelmed, need a confidence boost to give something new a try, or just want someone to listen. They have also instilled in me the importance of paying it forward and mentoring other women (and men) coming up in the ranks behind me, something that I greatly enjoy doing.” As part of her SWE activities Colleen takes part annually in Congressional visits organized by the SWE Government Relations and Public Policy Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. where she meets one-on-one with elected U.S. officials to increase awareness of the need for and the importance of increased diversity and inclusion in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce.

Colleen’s path into engineering had an unusual start. “I was really unaware of what engineering was until my senior year of high school. My calculus teacher, Sister Socorro, approached me in the hallway between classes one day and asked the question many high school seniors dread “What are you planning to do after you graduate?” My response was a simple one that I expect she heard many times during her career, “Sister, I don’t know.” Her response was simply that she believed that I was going to be an engineer. Of course, since I didn’t know very much about what an engineer actually did, I just looked at her with a rather blank stare. But she took the time that afternoon, and several more afternoons over the next couple of months, to explain to me what an engineer did and why she thought that engineering was the perfect career for me. I listened and was probably not 100 percent convinced, but I trusted her and followed her recommendations on what to major in and what schools to apply to. And, thankfully I followed her guidance as she was 100 percent right; today I cannot imagine being happy doing anything else. She was a tough teacher, but I remember her fondly for taking the time to get to know me and direct my skills and interests in the right direction.”

“Be yourself, be authentic” is the best lesson that Colleen ever learned. “To succeed you need to be comfortable and confident in your own skin; pretending to be something that you are not, for instance pretending to be ‘one of the boys’ at work, is counterproductive and does not lend to doing your best work or being happy doing that work. Organizations also derive the most value from diversity when people feel comfortable to be themselves and to voice their opinions and ideas freely. I can contribute more to the success of my organization, and in turn be more successful myself, if I don’t censor my ideas based on what I think others in the group will accept or want to hear.

Throughout Colleen’s 21-year career in the Power Industry, she has provided leadership to her project teams, quality engineering to her clients, and inspiration to young men and women aspiring to become engineers.



Mary Powell – “I can't imagine a better time to be in [the Energy] business.”

Since Mary began working at Green Mountain Power (GMP), she has transformed the organization, turning it from a business almost in bankruptcy into one of the leading utilities in Vermont and the nation. Currently CEO of GMP, Mary recognized early on that customers ideally want their energy to be three things: reliable, clean, and low cost. Mary’s vision was to achieve these three goals, and she has persevered and moved forward by energizing and inspiring her team to build upon her vision. Her commitment to renewable energy was far ahead of the curve for the utility industry, and many of the programs that were initiated by her leadership have now become standard requirements. By owning wind and solar systems, GMP is able to control costs more effectively and therefore pass these savings onto its customers. GMP now owns two wind projects and several solar projects throughout the state, and more projects are in development by GMP and with development partners. Mary recognized the value of customers generating their own solar energy and wanted to reward them for doing so. This reimbursement program kicked off net metering solar within the state, and GMP was a leader in this. It was also important to Mary that it was easy for customers to easily navigate the permitting and interconnection process. She spent significant time creating an efficient process for customers to remove any process roadblocks that would discourage customers.

Of her early years, Mary says, “I grew up in a theatrical home and went to a specialized high school for the arts. I actually believe that my training in the arts is a key part of what has fostered any leadership success I have had. Thinking broadly and colorfully about the possibilities ahead of us has been a key part of what has inspired me and helped me to work with teams to achieve transformational work.” Mary has consistently bucked the traditional utility culture. She has moved GMP forward as one of the leading utilities in the nation by creating a culture focused on being “fast, fun, and effective.” She believes people are at their best when they are having fun. The GMP Colchester office has an open floor with Mary right up front and center in her standing desk near the front door. There are no gatekeepers needed to speak to her, and she is often found reaching out to speak to her employees. Although there are over 600 individuals who work at GMP in multiple offices throughout the state, Mary has made it a priority to get to know everyone.

“I have been a non-engineer in an engineering world and I think that part of my success has been in developing a deep appreciation and understanding of the technical aspects of our business but, at the same time, looking at them from a perspective of possibilities.” She is often heard saying that a thousand conversations are what make a difference. Without knowing her employees or customers, Mary wouldn’t be able to learn what she needs to know in order to lead the team. Her down-to-earth and compassionate spirit lends well to this type of leadership style, and by casual discussions with employees, colleagues, and even customers, she is able to learn from her stakeholders and share her vision for GMP. This also leads to spur-of-the-moment mentoring on Mary’s part, and she often forms informal groups to discuss topics such as women in leadership roles and work/life balance. Through open dialogue she inspires and mentors all those who work around her.

One of her most important lessons learned is “you will never lose if you focus on doing what you believe in and bringing your authentic self to your work. It is so important that we have a "north star" that guides us and anchors us, when needed, to what we know we believe and value and to what we would love to see accomplished.”

As Mary looks forward toward the rest of her career she says: “I am so excited about the possibilities of radically transforming our energy delivery system to one that is much more interactive with customers and communities. We recently launched a partnership with NRG that I am convinced will have transformative results and I see unlimited possibilities for adding value to the lives of the customers we serve, the economy and the environment.”

Lead image: Lightpost via Shutterstock

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