City Light Leads and Learns at Women in Energy Symposium

Women comprise only about 25 percent of the energy industry workforce. Seattle City Light is working to fix this problem.

Women only comprise about 25 percent of the energy industry workforce, and under-representation is particularly acute in the skilled trades and leadership ranks. Seattle City Light is doing its part to fix this problem, and this year the utility had a strong showing at an annual meeting for women in energy.

The Western Energy Institute’s 2016 Women in Energy Symposium, held Nov. 2-4 in Las Vegas, NV, prepared the next generation of women leaders by enabling attendees to learn from some of the most innovative, successful women in the industry. Seattle City Light’s Carol Butler, Maura Brueger, Siriphan Clayton, Sarah Davis, Wanda Davis, Tauna Hood, Tamara Jenkins and Darlene Sakahara all attended on behalf of the utility.

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A few of the women from Seattle City Light at the Women in Energy Symposium

The Women In Energy Symposium provides women in the industry an annual opportunity for professional development, education, mentorship and leadership training. City Light employees have previously attended, but this is the first year City Light sent a full cohort of employees from across its different divisions.

“The opportunity to meet other women in the industry and hear about their backgrounds, the paths they’re taken, and the various issues they’re grappling with is compelling, inspiring, and reassuring,” said Sarah Davis, a strategic advisor within Regional Affairs and Contracts. “I look to these women as a model as I think about the shape I want my own career to take.”

Tamara Jenkins, a senior project manager in the Engineering and Technological Innovation unit, returned to City Light inspired. “The most engaging part of the symposium was the breadth and depth of experience in the room, and amazing women that I had the privilege to meet,” she said. “It’s something I will take with me throughout my career and personal life.”

For Carol Butler and Siriphan Clayton, this year’s symposium was particularly meaningful. It marked the culmination of their participation in the Women in Energy Leadership + Mentoring Program, which pairs experienced leaders with talented employees who want to learn and advance in their careers. Butler, City Light’s director of corporate performance, mentored a young manager from the Salt River Project and helped her think through some workplace issues. Clayton, a Power Operations and Marketing supervisor, was matched with a mentor from another utility with whom she had a lot in common. “We shared so many issues and questions. It was amazing how ideas and ways to solve problems kept pouring out during our discussions,” Clayton said.

This year’s symposium sessions included topics such as sustainable energy, the evolution of the Western power grid and the future of electric utilities. Tauna Hood, City Light’s apprenticeship coordinator, particularly enjoyed a breakout session on working across generations and cultures. “It showed how each generation’s early motivations and influences, such as world events, upbringing, cultural beliefs and values affect workplace behaviors and how we communicate and relate to one another,” Hood said. “I took away a bunch of tips on how to motivate and communicate with different employees and colleagues.”

The Women in Energy program, and others like it across the country, provide crucial support to women establishing themselves or seeking to advance in the energy industry. The program also provides an opportunity to learn directly from the experiences of women who have already overcome many of the same challenges they will face. Wanda Davis, an electrical construction and maintenance supervisor, had this opportunity clearly in mind when she decided to attend the symposium. “I have worked in non-traditional roles for nearly 32 years at Seattle City Light,” she said. “I wanted to share the knowledge I have gained over my career.”

When asked to describe what it was like to attend the symposium, Davis replied “It was encouraging to see how far we have come.” Although women are half of the national workforce, there are still miles to go before the energy industry sees proportional representation. City Light wants the best and the brightest employees, and half of those employees should be women.