Do you look like an engineer?
A New York Times article last week explored #ILookLikeAnEngineer, a Twitter campaign against gender stereotypes, that went viral pretty quickly. The campaign started when an employee recruitment ad for OneLogin prompted discussion as to whether it accurately portrayed what female engineers look like.
More than 50,000 tweets featuring the hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer later, diversity in technology is making itself heard.
This past spring, EUCI explored gender parity in the utility industry, and interviewed three women leaders at three leading utility and power companies. At National Grid, they spoke with Mary Ellen Paravalos, an engineer, and Director of Strategy & Performance. Here’s what she had to say about what the utility industry was like when she started out, and what it’s like today.
EUCI: Describe how you got into the utility industry?
Mary Ellen Paravalos, Director of Strategy & Performance, National Grid: I got college degrees in electrical engineering, so a move into the utility industry was a natural fit. While science was my first interest and draw into the industry (energy is a very cool thing!), I have found that a career at an energy utility is so much more. It’s a really important time to be in the industry and shaping our collective energy future – at the local community level all the way to national and global levels.
EUCI: What was the utility industry like when you started your career, versus what it is like today?
MEP: When I started out 20 years ago, of course there were women in the utility fields, but we were very much a minority. Things have improved in places, but there are still many times I find myself one of a few women ‘at the table’. I was fortunate to have some strong female managers and peers in my early days that really helped me visualize what was possible for women in the industry. I try to be that same kind of role model through mentoring and activities in and out of the day-job.
EUCI: Despite obvious progress, utilities are still a male-dominated industry. What do you think accounts for this? What would you like to see change, if anything?
MEP: I would like to see many more women engaged and leading in this industry, and having rewarding careers that stretch them to enable them to reach their full potential. We need to get girls interested in technical fields at a young age, focus on confidence-building and leadership skills development for girls and women, and encourage women to seek out external networking avenues throughout their career that can provide a widened perspective, external visibility, and support and encouragement to aim high in creating and taking on new job opportunities.
EUCI: As women leaders in an industry on the cusp of significant changes, how do you think utilities will be restructuring their operation and business models over the next few years? What will the utility of the future look like?
MEP: Utilities in the past have provided a relatively simple product – bringing energy sources delivered over pipes and wires into communities and to homes and businesses. Today’s energy landscape is more complex – with important climate-change considerations, technology advancements, economic pressures and evolving security threats. Utilities that will be successful in the future will focus on providing energy solutions in an environmental and economically-sensible way – and keeping their customers engaged and happy.
EUCI: As a woman who climbed the ranks of the industry to become a leader in your field, what would you say to women looking to make their mark and become leaders in the utility industry?
MEP: I would say to push yourself outside your comfort zone – set some scary goals for yourself and take risks – even on a daily basis! Also, remember it’s a career and not a sprint – think long-term but take actions in the short-term. And throughout – put health and wellbeing high up on your priority list – for yourself and those around you. When you take steps to be in the best health possible for you, you’ll be all the better equipped to take on life’s challenges and reach your aspirations.
We know what you’re wondering: did Mary Ellen join the #ILookLikeAnEngineer Twitter campaign?