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If you want to get ahead, make yourself heard.
Southern California Edison hired me right out of college and I have been there ever since. That’s about 30 years now and though that sounds like a really long time, there haven’t been many dull moments. I’ve had over 20 different jobs with Edison, including opportunities in customer service and IT, and leadership roles in several large programs and operational functions.
The first big turning point in my career came after I’d been at Edison for five years. I studied computer science in college and I was still in IT, working as an applications developer and a technical lead. At that point, I had to make two important decisions: first, whether I wanted to stay in IT or move to a different department, and second, whether I wanted to move into management.
In the end, I chose a managerial role outside IT, in customer service, and that started a whole new trajectory in my career. I found that I really enjoyed being closer to the customer and leveraging technology to improve our processes. I spent eight years leading projects and in customer operations functions, before moving on to more senior roles in technology integration, ERP management, customer contact center and digital engagement.
Creating a Network
A second big transition for me happened more recently, in 2013, when I moved back to IT as director of Business Integration & Delivery for the customer service portfolio.
Prior to that, I had never found being a woman in the technology space to be an issue. I had many female role models, mentors and bosses, so I never felt outnumbered, and never felt disadvantaged. But the landscape had changed after some restructuring of the department, and the gender balance of the IT workforce had become more male. I found the environment a little intimidating at first.
This experience made me more aware of the challenges and cultural barriers that women and minorities may face in companies where IT is a largely male function. And that led me to start an IT women’s network here at Edison. At first, we talked mostly about supporting each other through better networking and creating opportunities to build new skills. But these days we’re talking more about industry and technology-specific topics. We’ve also been so successful that we’re reaching out to women in other departments and have brought in successful women leaders from outside Edison as guest speakers and panelists.
At the company level, our most senior leaders are committed to supporting diversity and inclusion. We’re working toward recruiting a more diverse workforce, including trying to hire more women in technical and leadership roles. However, part of the problem starts with too few young women choosing STEM studies. I find it disappointing that fewer women are studying computer science and technology now than in the past, and I hope tech company leaders and policy makers can help change that. IT really can be a very rewarding career and companies need more diverse points of view.
The women’s network has been a very positive thing because it’s a great forum to share lessons among our team and to pass along a number of things I’ve learned these past 30 years.
Lessons for the Network
All through my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to work for many strong leaders, both men and women, who were very generous with their advice. Three things in particular that they said have stuck with me:
- Speak up! Learn to be comfortable expressing your opinion. It’s important to share your perspective even if you feel outnumbered. This can be intimidating if you’re the only woman in the room, particularly because sometimes women are afraid of being wrong and being judged for that. But don’t be – if you are in a meeting, you were invited there for a reason. Everyone’s opinion matters.
- Make sure folks know what you’re doing. This is very tactical, but it’s important. Whether you do it through status reports or just informal updates, keeping your boss and key stakeholders aware of what you’re doing is key. You can’t get a promotion if nobody knows what you’ve accomplished and how you did it.
- Enjoy your life. It’s fulfilling to have a great career, but it’s not the only thing. We are all better off if you can balance work with overall life objectives. This way, if you have a bad day at work, you know that that’s just a day and you’ve got many other things outside the office and in an overall career that balance it out. This makes for a healthier work environment and individuals.
Of course, I know that’s easier said than done – I’m a mother of two sons, 10 and 13, and even though their dad’s a great partner and we have a very strong relationship to support our kids, there are times when they need me, and there are times when my guilt at having to put work first probably bothers me more than it might a man in the same position.
Despite those challenges, my career in technology has been incredibly fulfilling. And it’s only likely to become more so as the worlds of technology and business continue to merge.
What’s ahead for utilities?
Modernized systems. The cloud-based front end and more standard customer billing system that we are building right now and plan to launch in 2020 will reduce costs and improve our service. We’re one of the first large utilities to do this, but it’s clear that dozens of others will join us.
More personalized service. We now have hourly interval usage and time-of-use utility rates for our customers. Combine that information with the expansion of Big Data analytics and digital initiatives and we will be able to give our customers much more tailored service. I’m excited about it because we’ll be able to help our customers better manage their energy use and show how much their actions are contributing to a cleaner energy future.
Greener power. Every year, more of our power generation portfolio is from sustainable sources, such as wind and solar power. At the same time, the growth of electric vehicles is reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Both these trends are creating new pressures for utilities to modernize as well as exciting opportunities for cleaner energy growth.
Communicating what you’re thinking, in meetings, and what you’re doing, to your boss and others, will increase your contribution to the organization and help your career.
An IT women’s network can help members support each other through better networking and creating opportunities to build new skills, and if it’s successful it may serve as a model for other parts of an organization.
Modernizing systems, digital engagement and Big Data analytics will allow utilities to provide tailored customer service and help customers to better manage their energy use.