The electric industry hasn't seen so much upheaval since Thomas Edison threw the switch at the Pearl Street Station. Full retail access to competitive markets in generation and supply will...
seem like focusing on diversity is a luxury utilities cannot afford, whatever its long-term business justification. Yet even though hiring freezes may be in effect, companies can still focus on their existing workforces, Paskoff says. Companies can build better, more inclusive workplaces that are friendlier to different groups of people with the workforce they have-and thus be prepared for an industry turnaround, he says.
Already, the ways that companies approach and implement diversity is changing. For example, at We Energies, the company is moving away from the simple diversity training model-where, as Feaster says, employees learned about diversity, went to training classes, and then checked the task off their checklist-to a multi-pronged approach. Now, the company emphasizes that diversity is simply how it does business. She notes that employees and managers are learning to ask, before making decisions, "Do we have all the right people in the room, or are we just calling the same people we always talk to? Have we included all the businesses that would be impacted by the decision?"
Paskoff emphasizes that diversity programs need to focus not just on difference, but also on sameness. He says that if you task a group of 10 people with finding how they are different, in 15 minutes they will say, "My God, I don't even know how I can talk to you, we're so different." Yet if those same 10 people are asked to find their commonalities, they will have an entirely different, and more positive, view on how they relate.
Sometimes, the problem is rooted in a true lack of candidates-particularly when it comes to highly technical jobs, which have much lower numbers of women with the necessary educational background. The utility workforce is highly technical-Smith says 90 percent of Alabama Power's jobs are engineering or technical in nature. After all, for many years, girls were told that they were not good at math and science-a bias that society will spend many years eradicating. And even if women have the requisite training, there remains the fact that many of the jobs in a utility require brute strength that not all women possess.
Even today, the average engineering program can boast of only a 20 percent enrollment of women. In comparison, law, once as male-dominated as engineering, overall has roughly equal enrollment of men and women. And while engineering programs may look diverse, the fact is many of the foreign-born students that add to that diversity return to their country of origin once their education is complete.
"You can't count on diversity [in hiring] from following normal ads and normal recruitment [practices]," says Alliant's Nugent. Many times, it's getting out into the community, learning where diverse employees live, and putting on recruitment fairs that specifically target diverse candidates, he points out. Outreach is a vital component of any recruitment program that wants to see diverse candidates apply. Alabama Power, for example, recruits heavily for engineers from historically black colleges, and it is involved with organizations like the Society of Women Engineers.
One question it pays to ask, says Marti Smye,