Jennifer Runyon, Chair, Women in Power Committee
The advice that Pennwell’s 2014 Woman of the Year, Mary Powell, gave to women in the power industry during the Women in Power Luncheon might come as a surprise to some. It was this: Stop undercutting each other. Powell said that the most difficult obstacles that she has had to overcome in the various leadership roles that she has held in her life have not come from men, but rather the obstacles have come from other women. Small comments like “I don’t know how you do it [being a mom and have a high-level job]” repeated again and again serve to bring doubt and uncertainty to high achieving women in any industry and ultimately can lead to women exiting their careers in order to fit what they perceive is the societal norm.
Powell, who is CEO of utility Green Mountain Power doesn’t so much see a gender gap in the utility industry but rather an ambition gap; one that she believes begins when girls are as young as 12 and they start to doubt themselves and their abilities to achieve in tough industries. Doubts largely brought on, said Powell, by other girls.
This is unfortunate she said because women bring a different perspective to the table, one that economically benefits companies according to study after study. The world is made up of many different types of people and if companies want to serve a diverse set of customers it behooves them to have a diverse workforce in their own organizations. A study released in the fall by EY (formerly Ernest and Young) backed up her claims. The report, Talent at the Table examined how utilities were handling the changing landscape, particularly in light of the increase in distributed generation. It found that those utilities with more women in leadership roles were navigating the changing tides much easier and were bringing more innovation to their companies. As a result, these utilities were more profitable.
About 90 women attended Pennwell’s Women in Power luncheon on Tuesday afternoon and listened to Powell’s inspirational speech.