By Tony Khing
SAN FRANCISCO — Being a female leader in a corporate environment historically dominated by men can be a uniquely rewarding experience. But no one is going to make it easy. And the responsibility for getting there lies with each individual.
That was the common thread running through an onstage discussion between four of PG&E’s top executives — all of whom happen to be women. CEO and President Geisha Williams and three senior vice presidents spoke about their experiences rising through the ranks and the lessons they learned along the way. It was information that could prove helpful to anyone in the workplace.
The June 27 roundtable, called “Why Not Us? A Fireside Chat with PG&E’s Senior Women Leaders” was sponsored by PG&E’s Women’s Network Employee Resource Group. It covered topics such as how to plan a career path, the characteristics companies look for in a leader, how to balance work and family, and the dynamics of interacting with male colleagues and managers.
Julie Kane, senior vice president and chief ethics and compliance officer, noted that until Williams became PG&E’s CEO on March 1, she had always reported to a man. By contrast, Williams mentioned that her first two supervisors were women, yet the best mentors she’s had were men.
“Mentors and the people who pull you up and make you better come in different shapes, sizes and forms,” said Williams. “The greatest feminists I had in my career have been men. At the end of the day, it’s about all of us succeeding. We’re trying to be the best we can be, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman.”
However, one topic during the 60-plus minute discussion at the company’s San Francisco headquarters drew significant attention from the crowd of more than 200 employees in the company auditorium and an online audience: What can leaders do to make a difference? Each of the officers emphasized diversity.
“Six of me isn’t that great. But one of me with five others who have different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives — that’s terrific,” said Williams. She also said she looks for people who have high integrity, are trustworthy and are able to work together through the good and bad times.
Kane spoke about the importance of having a diverse pool of applicants for job openings.
“Not just women, but other minority and diverse candidates,” she said. “We have to ask for it and insist on it.
“It doesn’t mean that the woman or the diverse candidate is always going to get the job,” Kane added, “but if we don’t have [a diverse candidate pool], it’s just not going to move.”
It’s also critical to look inside the company, said Laurie Giammona, senior vice president and chief customer officer.
“We have to reach into our organizations and help people move and make sure diverse candidates are seeking these opportunities,” she said.
Giammona added that employees shouldn’t solely focus on moving up within a company; she said they should look to move across to other departments to gain more experience. She did this when she worked at other companies.
“I wasn’t asking to be promoted, but I kept asking for more responsibilities and to be moved around so I could continue to learn and develop,” Giammona said. “It gives people more exposure and broadens the talent pool.”
In addition to highlighting diversity, the panelists reminded the audience about some time-proven philosophies for success.
Karen Austin, senior vice president and chief information officer, emphasized the importance of succession planning and mentoring.
“It’s really important to talk to individuals and to make sure they have mentors and the right opportunities to grow,” she said.
“You’re never done growing as a leader,” said Austin. “I’m continuing to learn about myself and how to lead. Being humble, open and vulnerable to feedback helps to develop your people and sets an example for everyone.”
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.