Diverse opinions fuel C3E Women in Energy event

Diverse bunch: Panelists pose at the recent C3E Women in Energy Event in Stony Brook.

In any industry, “diversity” means intentionally incorporating views and perspectives different from our own – an essential practice for both personal and professional innovation and advancement.

We all know it’s easier and faster to move something forward with someone who agrees with us. It doesn’t mean you get the best outcome, though.

It can be uncomfortable, to have your voice heard and to listen to that “other” voice, and difficult to formulate new thoughts, shift your approach, invest the extra effort.

It’s more work. And it’s the surest path to excellence.

The recent C3E Women in Energy Program hosted by the Suffolk County Executive’s Office of Women’s Services – in partnership with the Stony Brook Center for Corporate Education, the Women’s Collaborative Hub, the U.S. Green Building Council (LI Chapter) and the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County – focused on Equity in the Energy Environment.

Moderated by Pat Malone, SBU’s assistant provost for engaged learning and founder of the university’s Women in STEM Leadership Program, the program featured speakers addressing the many leadership challenges facing women in science and technology industries – and discussing strategies that work to overcome them.

On the challenge of having your voice heard, finding and engaging advocates was the answer.

Florence Hudson, founder and CEO of FDHint LLC and a former aerospace engineer at Grumman Aerospace Corp. and NASA, spoke of her first experiences at NASA. New to her job, she recommended a change in equipment design. Her suggestion was dismissed – though ultimately, a team of male engineers was sent in to effect the exact change she recommended.

Margaret Digan, manager of gas field operations at National Grid, spoke about arriving on the scene of a gas leak, where everyone was waiting for the boss to arrive to determine the next steps. She said she was the boss, but the others kept waiting.

Drago: Stop apologizing, moms.

Hudson, who often found herself the only female engineer in her NASA group, surrounded herself with supportive cohorts and cultivated them, even inviting male colleagues to women-in-science events – where they could experience, even briefly, what it was like to be the “other.”

“We should always proactively invite men to participate in women’s events,” Hudson said. “Welcome them. We are all in this together.”

Digan, meanwhile, eventually relied on her team of male technicians, who would arrive at a scene and walk up to her and say, “What do you want us to do, boss?” And they would not allow others to bypass her.

Corporate culture is another staple of advancing through innovation, especially in cultures that incorporate a skills-based hiring approach. Intelligent Product Solutions President Mitch Maiman shared a story about hiring a candidate returning to work after time off to raise children, and collaborating on a work schedule that met both their needs.

In other words, a corporate culture that values skills and production over schedule.

“Making an accommodation is not a ‘special treatment’ only permitted for a mothers returning to work,” Maiman noted. “We make accommodations for temporary, flexible or part-time work schedules for those who need it, regardless of their sex.”

Keeping a competitive edge by maintaining a diverse workforce doesn’t end with onboarding. Ana Chacko, general council at the Long Island Power Authority, noted that challenges don’t disappear over a career, they change – and in some ways, there can be less resistance at the entry level and more as a woman advances in tech, energy and other traditionally male-dominated fields. Paying attention to shifts and consistently supporting diversity is critical, she added.

One of the most prominent issues facing young professional women was addressed directly by an attendee, who asked panelists what job candidates should tell interviewers about their plans to have children.

A variety of answers were given – don’t mention it at all, wait for a formal offer. As a mother of two young children (one fortunate enough to work for an organization that allows me to value and succeed at both work and home) I weighed in vehemently on this one: Nothing will change if we keep silent or keep apologizing. It perpetuates myths about women in leadership and ultimately holds back industry.

Advancing diversity in the workplace requires open and honest forums, like this one. Lisa Broughton, Suffolk County’s energy director and bio/high tech development specialist, intends to see they happen.

“I am committed to raising this issue and moving the dial for the next generation,” she said. “I hear back from women after every program that they heard something or met someone who helped them or inspired them, so it is very gratifying for me to keep this going in the region.”

Rosalie Drago is Long Island regional director for the Workforce Development Institute, a statewide nonprofit focused on job-creation and retention. The WDI pilots, supports and scales workforce-development initiatives that foster empowering careers for Long Islanders and a talented workforce for Long Island businesses.