Hydropower: It’s Not Just a Man’s World

These six influential women are among the 10 honored with the Women with Hydro Vision award in 2014. They are, from left, Maryse Francois-Xausa, Celeste N. Fay, Jeanne Hilsinger, Linda Church Ciocci, Deborah Linke and Peggy Harding. Not pictured are Janet Audunson, Kristina Johnson, Lorraine Krout and Susan Skemp.

Ten influential women were given our inaugural Women with Hydro Vision awards in Nashville, Tenn., last July. Read on to learn the tools to their success and find out how to nominate women for the 2015 awards.

By Elizabeth Ingram

Elizabeth Ingram is managing editor of Hydro Review.

A glance around a hydropower industry conference, or a visit to a typical powerplant, quickly shows that hydro is a male-dominated field. I have no hard data as to why this is. I suspect it has to do with the facts that a “typical” woman might not put physically demanding work in a power facility at the top of her career aspiration list and women often still are guided into roles considered more suitable to their sex (nursing, anyone?).

Given this atmosphere, it is particularly impressive that even 30 or 40 years ago there were strong women blazing trails in the hydro industry. These first-of-their-kind women weren’t deterred by chauvinistic attitudes, lack of accommodations, or even the dearth of strong female role models. They knew what they wanted and they went out and got it. And in so doing, they became the role models for the women coming after them.

Why did we decide to focus on women in hydro?

  1. Women are severely underrepresented in leadership positions in the power and utilities industries. According to a 2014 report by Ernst & Young Global, for the top 100 power and utilities companies, women represent a paltry 4% of board executives and only 12% of senior management teams. This despite the fact that companies with the best record of promoting women to high positions report 18% to 69% more profitability.
  2. Women represent more than half of college graduates in most of the developed world but hold less than 25% of the jobs in the science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — fields in the U.S. and 14% in the United Kingdom.
  3. There are many women doing great work in the hydro industry, despite having to overcome significant obstacles. We want to recognize their hard work and dedication and hold these women up as role models for the next generation of female engineers looking to make a difference in this industry.

Recognizing influential women

In 2014, PennWell’s Hydro Group inaugurated its Women with Hydro Vision awards program. We were thrilled to have this opportunity to recognize 10 outstanding women who have made and are continuing to make significant contributions by sharing their unique talents and vision. Given the diversity of the hydro industry, the awards were broken into 10 categories. These categories, and the winner for each, are:

— Communications; Public Relations; Industry Support: Deborah Linke, Executive Director of the Hydro Research Foundation and President of Linke Consulting
— Dam Safety: Peggy Harding, Chief Dam Safety Engineer with the Turlock Irrigation District
— Engineering Consulting and Plant Services/Maintenance: Lorraine Krout, Chief Executive Officer of Hydro Consulting & Maintenance Services
— Environmental Protection and Mitigation: Celeste N. Fay, Senior Project Engineer with Alden Research Laboratory
— Equipment Supply: Jeanne Hilsinger, President of Mavel Americas Inc. and Executive Chairman of Mavel a.s.
— Marine Hydrokinetics: Susan Skemp, Executive Director of the Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center at Florida Atlantic University
— New Development: Kristina Johnson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Enduring Hydro LLC
— Policies and Regulations: Linda Church Ciocci, Executive Director of the National Hydropower Association
— Power Plant Portfolio Management/Operations and Maintenance: Janet Audunson, P.E., Esq., Senior Counsel — NY Regulatory with National Grid
— Research and Technology: Maryse Francois-Xausa, Senior Vice President of Global R&D with Alstom Renewable Power and Vice President of Global R&D and Product Management with Alstom Hydro

The awards were given at a Women with Hydro Vision Luncheon at HydroVision International in Nashville, Tenn., last July. HydroVision International, the world’s largest hydropower event, attracted nearly 3,000 attendees in 2014. HydroVision International 2015 is scheduled for July 14-17 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Ore. We will give awards to 10 more influential women during a similar luncheon on Tuesday, July 14. Visit www.hydroevent.com today to reserve your spot.

Learning from the past

At the luncheon, each of the inaugural Women with Hydro Vision awards winners shared their insights, experiences and lessons learned from blazing trails. I loved their inspirational and entertaining stories and want to share some of them with you here.

Deborah Linke, winner in the communications; public relations; industry support category, says things have changed significantly since she entered the workforce.

“In the 1970s, women were not team players. We excelled based on our own personal performance. I established my own ‘Board of Directors’ to provide advice and guidance. Most members probably had no idea they were a member. I valued them showing me the ropes, helping me understand the office/agency functions (and politics), and coaching me on how to handle tough questions, people and assignments. Because there were very few women in technical or leadership positions, many of my early ‘directors’ were men, and some still are.

“As more women entered leadership and management roles, I developed several wonderful female mentors as well. All had the same characteristics: smart, well-regarded by peers, freely giving of their time, and the ability to help me play to my strengths and away from my shortcomings. In addition to these wonderful mentors, I have had the great fortune to work with extraordinary team members and colleagues.

“As I moved ahead in my career, I worked to build strong, diverse teams and to mentor my team members to build interpersonal, technical and political skills needed for their success. I also remembered to take time to have fun. My former colleagues could regale you with tales of crazy sock day and ‘passing the stuffed bat’ to the person who was dealing with a work problem that was making them ‘batty.’

“Gratitude is the foundation of my career. I deeply appreciate my colleagues’ contributions and support and celebrate their successes every chance I get.”

Peggy Harding, winner in the dam safety category, said four concepts helped her and may help others in their “own personal journey in this wonderful world of hydro.”

1. Believe. We were part of the Camelot Era, and we were going to achieve great things. We were going to put a man on the moon, and math and science were very important. And we believed we were important in achieving those goals. On top of that, my father, who was the most important man in the world, told me I could be anything I wanted to be if I wanted it enough and was willing to work hard enough to get it.

2. Work hard. Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid had nothing on my father. The wax on/wax off was the only way we got our 50 cents. We developed a strong work ethic that has served me well. You don’t get into a good college or through engineering school without it. And when it came to boys being smarter than girls, there was only one way to deal with it: I studied extra hard to prove them wrong.

3. Remember who brought you to the dance. I owe many people for my success, including the Ford Motor company that in 1975 sent several people to the University of Notre Dame for a three-week session on Women in Engineering. St. Anthony Falls Laboratory hired me to shovel wet sand in the 90 degree heat in the basement, but our mentor listed our names on the publication when the research was done. Integral SA in Medellin, Colombia, hired me right out of school when I couldn’t even speak the language. Mead and Hunt taught me about Part 12s and meeting dreaded Federal Energy Regulatory Commission deadlines. FERC hired me for the Chicago Regional Office, where I became the first female regional engineer. Finally, Turlock Irrigation District hired me as its first-ever chief dam safety engineer. I thank all of them for the opportunities and believing in me.

4. Pay it forward. I have had the pleasure to work with some great young people. By not being the typical engineer, I believe I allowed others to consider this as a career choice and to believe they can succeed in this industry. We have all received much help along the way, and it is our turn to pay it forward. I remain available at any time to help any of you on your journey in this fabulous business of hydro.

Celeste Fay, winner in the environmental protection and mitigation category, also pointed to her father and childhood experiences as being instrumental in helping her succeed. “This community has embraced me with open arms and made me proud to be a hydropower professional,” she said. “My father, William K. Fay, P.E., is an engineer and hydropower owner and has always been my biggest advocate. He has encouraged my brother and me to become involved in all aspects of hydro generation, from raking trashracks, welding runners, or conducting Part 12 inspections, all the way to negotiating power sales contracts (when I was 16) or taking the leap into project ownership. The result is a unique mix of mechanic, entrepreneur and engineer.

“I have always sought to expand my knowledge and work alongside industry experts willing to reward my interest and passion by teaching me what they do best. I desire to understand all aspects of hydropower, and the community has responded to me with ‘floods’ of information. At Alden, I have the pleasure of being mentored by George E. Hecker, P.E., a well-known hydraulic expert. George said something that resonates well with my father’s teachings and I often reflect on it: Knowledge is to be shared. Once something is known and understood, one should move on to the next challenge and be free to share what was learned. I suggest that anyone desiring to be among the best at what they do follow this guidance.

“I am grateful for the opportunities the hydro industry has provided to me and the wonderful folks who I have come to know as friends. I encourage all young hydropower professionals to know that if you seek out the right individuals and show a real passion for learning, this industry will reward you with meaningful knowledge and an opportunity to grow.”

Maryse Francois-Xausa, research and technology winner with Alstom, shares her valuable experiences and lessons learned as well. “Early in my career at Alstom, I was a hydraulic engineer working on pump-turbines. I was also pregnant. I went to Electricite de France’s Le Cheylas pumped-storage plant for a site visit. Hydropower plants have many tight spaces that, even under normal circumstances, make maneuvering difficult, but in the last trimester of pregnancy, I was comical.

“I learned three lessons that have stayed with me. First, teamwork is key. A colleague was extremely helpful, and we were able to get the job done by working together. Second, a supportive and understanding manager and company builds long-term loyalty. My boss and Alstom as a company were very supportive during my pregnancy and maternity leave, and I’ve tried to be as supportive for my teams when it comes to balancing family and work. Third, it is important to keep a sense of humor. When you get stuck between two pipes in a hydropower plant, all you can do is laugh!

“I lead the team that designed the turbines for Three Gorges in China. At the time, that was the most challenging and ambitious hydro project undertaken. I learned three things from this experience. First, it takes a team to succeed. Our team worked long hours in close collaboration to deliver the designs. Second, a team can accomplish anything if the desire to succeed is there and supported by the experience, references and reach of a global company. Third, see challenges as a motivator, not an obstacle. The size and scope of Three Gorges was daunting, but we knew we were working on something historic and that motivated us!”

Finally, Linda Church Ciocci, winner in the policies and regulations category, says, “One of the primary lessons learned from years in Washington, D.C., working on policy and trying to effect change is that it requires a great deal of patience. Things just don’t happen overnight. It may take years to move a policy need through before final acceptance and implementation. Change is incremental and one needs to be able to accept that fact and continue to push on with the long-term goal in mind.

Celeste N. Fay and her father, William K. Fay, are shown here installing a new runner at the 1.92-MW Pepperell Hydroelectric Facility in Massachusetts.

“And that brings me to the second lesson. Because change takes so long, there are a number of individuals who are engaged in working to help effect that change in various capacities. Ultimately, it is people who make the difference. Building relationships, trust and respect among a group of individuals is what makes you successful in the end. Never forget how important each and every one is in the process.”

What women bring to the table

Women have strengths that can be valuable in any workplace. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman with leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman compiled survey data in 2011, published in the Harvard Business Review, that indicates women outperform men in 12 of the 16 competencies top leaders exemplify most:

— Takes initiative
— Practices self-development
— Displays high integrity and honesty
— Drives for results
— Develops others
— Inspires and motivates others
— Builds relationships
— Collaboration and teamwork
— Establishes stretch goals
— Champions change
— Solves problems and analyzes issues
— Communicates powerfully and prolifically

In three other categories, women performed at least as well as men:

— Connects the group to the outside world
— Innovates
— Technical or professional expertise

Zenger and Folkman say the above and other information gathered points to the fact that organizations looking to find the talent they need to achieve exceptional results “ought to be aware that many women have impressive leadership skills.”

Send us your nominations

Nominate an influential woman today for this award. It’s as simple as emailing elizabethi@pennwell.com. Tell me the name of this woman, her job title and company, and WHY she should be recognized in 2015.

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