Last week, I stepped into the EUCI Leadership Conference for Women in Energy and discovered a sisterhood of ambitious, barrier-breaking female leaders in the energy industry. Thanks to them, I returned to the PCI office in Oklahoma inspired to take my career to new heights.
These were two days of real talk fueled by fearless women inside Southern California Edison’s (SCE’s) Energy Education Center just outside of L.A. They got vulnerable about mistakes and doled out raw, unfiltered advice about succeeding as a woman in a male-dominated field.
Want the download without attending? (But seriously, get yourself to this conference at some point.) Below are my top 10 takeaways, even though I probably could have doubled or tripled the list!
1. Systematically smash the ‘broken rung’
According to Melissa Washington, SVP of Customer Operations and chief customer officer at ComEd, many companies have a diversity leak where women flow out of the pipeline between entry-level management and senior leadership roles. This phenomenon is called the broken rung. Melissa challenges us to eliminate the broken rung by providing candid feedback, scrutinizing biased performance reviews, and deconstructing entrenched mindsets blocking advancement. Mentorship programs, like the one Melissa created, are instrumental for lifting emerging female leaders onto that broken rung and beyond.
2. Flex your authentic personal brand, not your trends
In an exercise by Chanel Parson, director of electrification at SCE, we described ourselves in five positive adjectives and then three positive adjectives that we aren’t. She encouraged us to eventually do the same with our network of close friends and colleagues to get a well-rounded look at our strengths and weaknesses to help fortify our personal brand.
Comparing words revealed enlightening (and sometimes unflattering) truths about how we’re perceived. Chanel says defining your brand is vital but must remain authentic to who you are. Refine your image if needed, but don’t conform to pressures or fads. Lead with your authentic self, not the fake mask others want to slap on you.
3. Brew mentorship that pours both ways
Melissa Washington’s experience showed that leaders recognizing potential can fast-track growth by opening doors. Though valuable, this traditional top-down mentoring has limitations. Peer mentoring and reverse mentoring (juniors mentoring senior leaders) address blind spots and forge purpose-driven teamwork. Melissa also shared an idea I love: Facilitate mentorship between executives and more junior employees across different fields. I would gain immensely from a successful female leader at PCI lending me her wisdom, regardless of our roles, and I think others in my company would benefit as well.
4. Forget perceived ‘rules’ of career advancement
Kendall Helm, VP of people and culture at San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E), debunked the idea that careers must follow a rigid, step-by-step ladder. She urged us to forget perceived rules imposed by others about acceptable timing and order of advancement (example: a lower-level manager being promoted to a director position). Opportunities exist at all levels to generate impact and blow past false ceilings. Dare to leapfrog ahead by seizing moments that showcase your readiness.
5. Turn resilience into your superpower
When asked how to instill team resilience, Patricia Nilsen, president and CEO of NYSEG and RG&E, replied simply, “Model it.” From the driver’s seat of her car, parked in a park-and-ride with traffic whizzing by (for real, we had no idea she was in such a chaotic place until the sun started to set on her!), Nilsen coolly delivered her entire session on resilience. To build this key leadership skill, she recommended certifications in change management and cognitive behavioral approaches. But resilience isn’t just reactive; it’s also proactive problem-solving and having courage to course-correct strategy. Master resilience and you’ll be unstoppable.
6. Spotlight your successes so they speak for you
“Your boss shouldn’t be the only person in the room who can speak to your successes,” urged Bentina Terry, SVP of Customer Strategy & Solutions at Georgia Power. Wise words. We lift others up and provide references, but fall short advocating for ourselves. Terry inspired us to shed modesty and proactively showcase accomplishments so colleagues grasp our capabilities before we even enter the room.
7. Hack networking by ditching transactions for relationships
Networking has a bad rep for being transactional and self-serving. There’s a better way, suggested Dawn Andrews, assistant general counsel on Ethics and Workplace Culture at SDGE. That’s giving generously without expecting anything directly in return. She shared an example of a banker who connected people to loans meeting their needs, not just selling her own products. This altruism built loyalty and social capital that indirectly benefited her business threefold. Focus on authentic relationships, and the rewards will come.
8. Embrace your inner divergent rebel
Maria Rigatti, EVP and chief financial officer at Edison International, shocked the room admitting she was an accidental utility employee who never envisioned that career path. Her unorthodox background informs her leadership of a major utility navigating industry transformation. Maria’s lesson? Straying from the traditional pipeline isn’t failure; it’s freedom to channel your unique talents. Diverge from the expected and you’ll find where you can impactfully lead.
9. Call out inequity and co-create new rules
Edison International’s Women’s Roundtable grew out of Maria Rigatti and peers exposing inequities and taking action. She credits the Roundtable for increasing women executives from 26% to over 37% at Edison. Change won’t happen unless we speak out. Collectively, we can rewrite policies and reinvent work culture to be equitable. Get uncomfortable. Lean into the friction. Shift the paradigm.
10. Invest in yourself with the same fervor you do your job
Dawn Andrews says seeking professional development through courses keeps your mind honed and expands your connections. Little did I know that I was following Dawn’s advice when, just last year, I enrolled in the United Way of Central Oklahoma’s Board Serve program and spent seven months learning how to successfully serve on a nonprofit board. This opportunity connected me to the Oklahoma Foundation for the Disabled, where I now serve as a board director. Not only that, but it introduced me to a class full of ambitious and community service-oriented people I now consider part of my professional and personal network.
She also said there’s benefits to gain in thinking outside the box. The lawyer and yoga teacher had me laughing over her ever-growing list of groups she’s joined or started herself, from water coloring group to a “turtle running club” (she had zero takers on that one). We have so much to gain in seeking out new experiences and networks we never thought we could tap into.
But equally important is nurturing wellbeing. She suggested mini self-care rituals throughout the day, like mindful breathing to help manage stress (there’s that yoga teacher coming out). When you regularly invest positive energy in yourself, you become a force of nature.
These bold women shattered any illusions that climbing the ranks means dimming your light to fit in. Their sage advice taught me to bring all my skills and passions to advancing my career on my own terms. Rallying together, we transform workplaces to recognize our worth. My EUCI experience proved women supporting women is society’s rising tide.
Now it’s your turn. What nuggets of wisdom would you add for women ascending to leadership? Let me know in PCI’s LinkedIn post here.