Women’s Voices Energize the Diversity that Powers PJM

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By Dionne Wright, director – People Services

Sometimes, the key to creating an inspired project can be as simple as having that one voice in the room who can share a different perspective on the task at hand.

At PJM, those voices speak 23 languages and represent 30 countries. We take pride in cultivating a diverse, evolving and inclusive workplace.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, the role that women’s voices play in that chorus of diversity deserves some reflection.

Women make up nearly 30 percent of PJM’s workforce, above the energy industry average of 21 percent. That’s good in a traditionally male-dominated sector, but we can do better – and we’re getting there, slowly but surely.

Fourteen years ago, when I joined PJM, there were very few female leaders; but Nora Swimm, now senior vice president of Corporate Client Services, was in charge of the ITS division. She was my client and business partner.

Though I worked in human resources, she felt strongly that I should learn the business of PJM, and so she threw me into a lot of meetings. I didn’t expect the surprised looks when I entered the room. Whether it was because I was a person of color, or a woman – or both – I don’t know, but I was the unknown entity, the “other.”

I quickly learned from this experience that women in the workplace have a responsibility to pull their female colleagues along – those who work beside them, above them, below them – and offer them learning opportunities. Navigating the workplace – especially one dominated by men – and thriving is all about lifting each other up.

I credit our female executives with setting such a tone, both inside PJM and out in the community, which is helping us attract and retain more women.

At PJM, we deliberately nurture women’s participation and advancement at every stage in the career pipeline. It starts with encouraging local students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, art and math through our employees’ STEAM group.

This month, for example, the STEAM group took part in the Phoenixville (Pa.) Middle School’s Girls Exploring Tomorrow’s Technology event, where girls in the fifth through 10th grades learned about career opportunities related to their studies.

These students’ future is exciting: Studies predict that 65 percent of primary school children will hold a job that has not yet been defined today. But the odds are that the positions will require creativity and the ability to handle unpredictable circumstances and complex personal relationships. Those are the minds we’ll want working at PJM!

Our diversity recruitment plan engages and supports college students through internships and co-op programs. PJM also offers recent graduates two unique opportunities to accelerate their careers.

The Arc program identifies a small group of promising new engineers and economists and offers them a 36-month intense rotational experience – in which they get to work with different departments throughout the organization – that ultimately matches them with a suitable position at PJM. The two graduates of the most recent class were women, as are 56 percent of Arc participants.

Similarly, the Information Technology Services Rotational Development Program offers a 27-month rotational opportunity to talented graduates pursuing a career in IT. 

But recruiting is only part of the equation. Training, advancement and retention are crucial.

Here at PJM, employees have the opportunity to create resource groups themed for their needs. About five years ago, what is now called the Women’s Empowerment Association (WEA) was formed.

Today, it’s the longest standing employee resource group.

That says a lot, because while women may offer a different voice, we don’t all say the same thing! At PJM, we have four distinct generations of workers: the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials.

The WEA engages all employees in promoting female leadership by enabling employees to take part in social events that enhance their professional and personal development, all while building a community.

It is this internal force that led PJM to become a founding sponsor of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of WiNUP, the Women’s International Network of Utility Professionals. This group promotes education, networking and leadership opportunities for members, and also supports programs for young women.

The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment, which PJM also sponsors, provides women literal seats at the table for key events with thought leaders in the industry. Recently, my colleagues traveled to Washington, D.C., for the 2019 Woman of the Year celebration honoring former Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Colette D. Honorable and CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams.

Even within the walls of PJM, there are lessons to learn from our growing number of female leaders. Since those days of receiving wide-eyed looks from rooms filled with men when I first started, I’ve learned quite a bit:

  • Be wise enough to listen and look and learn. But don’t be still – use your voice.
  • Don’t be afraid to say, “No,” and don’t be too shy to ask, “Why?” I mean, really be curious, and don’t settle for, “It’s always been done that way.”
  • Push the envelope. You’re not always invited to the party. But if you’re brave enough to ask to be included in a meeting, nine out of 10 times, people won’t say no.
  • Make a conscious effort to branch out, especially when you’re in a leadership position, and actively seek the perspectives of others who are not like you. There is strength in diversity – inclusion is how good decisions get made.

Remember, sometimes it takes just one voice to inject a shot of innovation that can take a project from good to great. That voice could be yours.