Your Personal Board of Directors: Helping Women Thrive in Sustainability and Energy
As the largest utility in Illinois, Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) is no stranger to the diversity and gender disparities in the energy and sustainability industries. But, we are happy to be working in a field where that is rapidly changing. According to Utility Dive, women make up four percent of the board executives, 18 percent of non-executive directors, 15 percent of board members and 12 percent of senior management teams in the top 100 utilities. At ComEd, we have taken this to heart and worked to increase opportunities for women veterans, highlight our female mavericks and work with diversity-certified suppliers like United Scrap, a recycling company started by a woman entrepreneur.
At a recent industry conference by the Association for Energy Services Professionals (AESP), a Leadership Roundtable session homed in on diversity and women in energy. In the session, one piece of advice stood out as applicable to women from all kinds of industries: create your own board of directors that helps you with career development.
Do you need advice on how to get consensus around a difficult issue? Maybe you need a sounding board to help make a difficult career decision? These are some ways a board of directors can help you.
Assembling your board of directors is a modern take on the mentor. Instead of relying on the time and generosity of one person, you can gather more advice and gain more connections through a small group. The five to eight people can include coworkers who will give constructive criticism, sponsors who can give you recommendations, influencers with lots of connections and even critics who might move to block you from advancing. Sometimes the most important growth can come from an honest conversation with an adversary. Family, friends and relatives can also be thrown into the mix to achieve a group that is diverse in age, fields and positions. One article even advocates adding a “virtual” member like one of your heroes, to consider their path and what they might do in a given situation.
One thing to remember is that the “Board” idea or structure is to help you visualize your network and manage those connections. The people you choose do not need to know that they are on your “Board.” This is much like Sheryl Sandberg’s Dr. Seuss analogy in Lean In where she describes “Are you my mentor?” sounding like “Are you my mother?” (The logic goes, if you must ask… probably not.) It is always a good idea to get insight on how people like to be approached for advice and to maintain your connections on a somewhat regular schedule, rather than only during a crisis.