The challenges ahead for the U.S. utility business come from the old — the need to rebuild infrastructure — and the new — advanced technology, smart grids and renewables. To meet these challenges and maintain a competitive business edge, companies will need an inclusive corporate culture where people of diverse backgrounds will have an opportunity to introduce new approaches and ideas.
The industry is dealing with changing regulations, aging infrastructure and exciting new technologies, but we must not lose sight of the changing demographics that comprise our business. A high percentage of our employees are reaching retirement age, and we must compete for talented new employees. For too long, the typical senior manager in a utility was a 50-year-old white male engineer who had spent his entire career at that utility.
In order to attract the best talent and manage the newer workforce of women, minorities and transplants from other industries, we need diverse, smart and ready senior managers who are encouraged and inspired to make a difference. Companies that make this a priority and expend the time and effort to attract and develop this talent, will achieve their goal successfully.
National Grid Inclusion and Diversity Initiatives
National Grid's commitment to inclusion and diversity (I&D) is driven by action. We are assessing our needs and creating programs that will enable us to address those challenges, including:
An Inclusion Charter to provide a shared and consistent understanding of what an inclusive workplace means
A Global Inclusion and Diversity Council to oversee the company's I&D strategy and approach
Enhanced leadership training to increase awareness of the company's vision and I&D objectives
Expanded Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to serve as the conscience of the company and a voice for employees, customers, the community and other stakeholders.
Engaging the Future Energy Workforce
Young people today are not pursuing engineering and related sciences as a career choice. For this reason, National Grid has created Engineering Our Future (EOF), a program that encourages young people to pursue energy-related careers. The company has invested more than $3 million in EOF to encourage students of all ages and backgrounds to study science, technology, engineering and math. We are working with many community-based projects and national organizations to support new and exciting technologies, and we are partnering with organizations that provide programs to educate teachers and students in math and related sciences.
The centerpiece of EOF is our “Engineering Pipeline,” a six-year development initiative that creates a recruitment pathway for promising high school students who want to become engineers. Each summer, National Grid welcomes 60 students from across our New York and New England service areas to participate in the pipeline program for job shadowing and mentoring. These students have an opportunity to apply for paid internships, and upon successful completion, they are considered for fast-track employment with National Grid.
Creating an Inclusive Culture
We are seeing some results of our efforts, and making decisions that put actions behind our words. In Network Strategy, three of the four vice presidents are women who lead the Asset Management, Electric System Engineering and Standards, Policies and Codes functions.
The contributions of these talented women are instrumental to National Grid's approach to smart grid technology, research and development, and safety standards. They also serve as role models and mentors through their involvement with our ERGs, internship program, partnerships with other recruiting efforts and memberships in professional industry organizations.
Externally, our leaders have been recognized for their expertise. Recently, our vice president of Standards, Policies and Codes was appointed to the U.S. Department of Transportation's 15-member Technical Pipeline Safety Standards Committee. And our vice president of Asset Management is a former recipient of the IEEE Power & Energy Society's “Distribution Engineer of the Year.”
We all recognize that having talented professionals is a great starting point. Now, how do we develop these professionals into effective leaders? Experience has taught us that employees thrive when managers take the time to mentor them and offer challenging assignments. Developing talent within an inclusive environment leads to strong leadership, employee success and company gain.
Chris Root ([email protected]), is senior vice president of Network Strategy, National Grid U.S.