They used to call Susan Gray “the girl” when she started as an intern at Tucson Electric Power in 1994. Now we call her President and CEO.
Still, TEP’s first female CEO recognizes that women have a long way to go to achieve equality.
“In middle school, my daughter was interested in an engineering class but decided not to take it because her classmates all would have been boys,” Gray explained. “She’s really strong in math and science, so I was crushed. But it also made me reflect that she’s a generation behind me and she still feels that gender gap in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) opportunities.”
At about the same time, Gray was listening to stories of other women in the workplace, who sometimes felt on the fringe of their male-dominated workgroups.
“I heard from one employee that she was never invited to go to lunch with the men in her department. They’d talk shop over lunch and when they all convened for a meeting later that day, the path forward was already decided,” Gray said. “My gender wasn’t a barrier I couldn’t overcome, but as I heard these stories, it became clear that not all women were having my same experience.”
So Gray, along with Vice President of Energy Delivery Cynthia Garcia and Frank Marino, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, decided to do something about that.
In 2017, they founded a business resource group: Women in Energy (WE). Open to men and women, the group’s vision is to support the development of leadership qualities in women and foster camaraderie and connections among employees of all genders.
The employee-led group offers networking and mentoring opportunities, hosts inspirational talks by prominent women and participates in STEM and career days to encourage more young women to pursue careers in traditionally male-dominated industries, such as energy. Members also are active participants in local women’s professional groups and regional Women in Energy professional organizations.
“We’re continuously working to bring this support not just to women, but to the men who work alongside us,” Gray added.
WE supports the company’s broader focus on diversity, equity and inclusion – often shortened as DEI – to power excellence within the company. TEP’s parent company, Fortis, has embraced DEI as a corporate goal and recently achieved gender parity on its Board of Directors. Women also make up 42 percent of all executives and 60 percent of CEOs or board chairpersons at Fortis utilities.
“WE’s broader focus is about diversity and inclusion,” Garcia said. “It’s about understanding that great ideas and skills come in different shapes, colors and sizes. Women are a vital part of our workforce and our ideas help strengthen us and result in innovative, resourceful solutions.”
“Representation really does matter,” added Garcia. “Girls seem more willing to consider a field when they see women role models in technical fields. When they see women in our booth at career fairs, girls begin to expand their career options.”
WE also supports our company’s business objectives by strengthening our leadership pipeline and workforce and helping us recruit and retain valued employees.
As we look ahead to Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26, which celebrates the day women gained the right to vote through ratification of the U.S. Constitution’s 19th Amendment, TEP is focused on opening more doors of opportunity for women in traditionally male-dominated fields, while striving to break down barriers to the full participation of all groups.
“We’ve come a long way since then, but there is always more to learn and more work to do,” Gray said. “I’m proud to work for a company that values a broad spectrum of perspectives because inclusive workplaces produce bright ideas. We are stronger and better together.”