“Be Passionate! Be Progressive! Be Uncomfortable!” – The Story Behind PG&E’s Strategic Allies Leading Transparency Task Force
By Tony Khing
George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers over Memorial Day weekend, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, spurred countless emotions and concerns. Two PG&E IT Department employees and IT Diversity Champions, Ali Flowers and Ken Forward, were spurred to action and provided a platform for their teammates to voice these emotions and concerns.
“Ken and I assembled an engaging discussion for leaders and non-leaders in IT to talk about civil unrest and racial injustice in this country,” said Flowers. “We wanted to offer our perspective as Black men living the experience, to educate, inform and create a safe space for dialogue.” said Flowers.
This discussion started the foundation of what would soon become the Strategic Allies Leading Transparency (SALT) Task Force.
PG&E's SALT team (left to right): Kenneth Forward, LaTasha Jackson, Ali Flowers and Samira Saffarzadeh.
Since that initial meeting within IT in early June, SALT has played host to more than two dozen of these conversations within various organizations such as Gas and Electric Operations, Customer Contact Centers and Enterprise Records and Information Management. SALT has facilitated these conversations with groups as small as 30 to more than 1,000 employees.
SALT’s mission: “To facilitate the uncomfortable conversations, help expose unfair processes and practices, create a space for meaningful dialogue, setup a comprehensive framework to drive progress and lasting measures that prioritize human values.” Their call to action: “Be Passionate! Be Progressive! Be Uncomfortable!”
Flowers said SALT discussions within departments are designed to address specific issues, ones often suggested by the leader and employees of the organization. Many of the conversation topics are typically not discussed openly at work—things such as race, privilege, civil unrest, protests, and immigration.
“Race isn’t the only issue,” he said. Gender bias, wage gap, hiring issues, work culture, process/protocol gaps, and recruitment are other areas of focus and engagement for the team.
“We welcome and embrace all different perspectives in our conversations because at the end of the day, it’s all about learning,” said Flowers.
“With everything going on socially, there’s a renewed focus on checking ourselves. Everyone is taking a breath and looking inward,” he added, “and SALT is exploring ways we can engage in a more direct, purposeful, and progressive way. It’s okay to not have known what’s been going on until now.”
In addition to Flowers and Forward, the SALT team includes Samira Saffarzadeh from Electric Operations and LaTasha Jackson from ERIM. Leaders within PG&E saw the impact and contributions of the SALT Task Force and asked them to take on an 18-month assignment to focus solely on leading this work.
“The main point of our programs and services is to engage and help provide solutions at the grassroots level,” said Flowers. “We drive concerns and engagement strategies to leadership rather than having leadership push these strategies on us.”
The foursome believes and shares with others the philosophy extolled by Vice President of Regulatory and External Affairs Robert Kenney: “Practice empathy on steroids.”
Taking that belief into consideration, SALT continues to leverage their program and services, have conversations across the company, and partner to build communities of trust and engagement amongst employees. SALT is here to help PG&E support the “speak up, follow up, listen up” culture and strengthen the company and the communities it serves.
“Political Topics” and the Workplace
PG&E, like other companies, has employees who feel the recent issues raised are political. Some employees feel the company should keep politics out of the workplace.
What’s SALT’s perspective? “We understand some believe these topics are political and best left outside of work,” said Flowers.
As a company, PG&E has supported issues such as Affirmative Action, same sex marriage, and several other “political” resolutions as well as having taken stances on various ballot propositions.
The company’s stand raises some questions. “Is the right for citizens to marry political or human? Is taking a stance against injustice political or human?” said Flowers. “Some of the legislation PG&E supports represent the real-life experiences, struggles, or issues, of employees and customers.
To address this, SALT’s approach utilizes the concept of what Flowers calls the “invisible backpack.”
“We all have invisible attributes which weigh on us that aren’t visible to our colleagues,” he said. “Yet they’re a critical part of what makes up who we are, how we feel, how we act, and how we respond.”
“If we deny ourselves the opportunity to acknowledge and understand what’s in our backpacks, how could we ever bring our authentic and complete selves to work? Or anywhere for that matter,” Flowers added. “We can’t speak up about issues and gaps that may face us as a company, if we as employees and human beings can’t speak up and be acknowledged for all that we are.”
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