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Itron Inspire

Paving the Way for Women in the Energy Sector

Women in Utilities Session

At Itron Inspire 2022, leaders in the utility and energy industries came together for the seventh annual Women in Utilities session. The engaging discussion featured women who are driving transformation and influencing change and shared the panelists’ perspectives on navigating their careers in a male-dominated industry.

Session moderator Kimberly Britton, CEO of EPIcenter, sat down with Dr. Andrea Nuesser, director of customer strategy and experience, Hydro One; Natalie Hammer, senior manager of AMI strategy and analytics, ComEd; and Michelle Kolp, director of AMI Operations with WEC Energy Group, to hear firsthand about their experiences over the years and how they’ve grown into the leaders they are today

Here are a few of the highlights:

Q: There’s pressure on all of us to be a bit superhuman these days and to aspire to be a superhero’ if you will. What is your superpower?

Kimberly: “Mine is to read a room so watch out,” she said with a smile.

Natalie: “I would say mine is about communication and connecting with my team. That’s the one thing I’ve always been able to do – connect with those that work with me and for me and build those relationships.”

Michelle: My team tells me I have a great BS detector. And I’ve learned that it comes in handy at home with my teenagers.

Andrea: “My superpower is outside-the-box thinking.

Q: Every superhero has a weakness. What is your kryptonite?

Andrea: “My impatience with slow processes and sometimes with people when they don’t catch up quick enough. That’s definitely my kryptonite.”

Michelle: “I’m a great overthinker. I tend to overthink things quite a bit so I would say that’s my kryptonite.”

Natalie: “I’m the same – I’m an overthinker. Especially when there’s a hurricane coming toward us.” 

Kimberly: Mine is procrastination.

Q: One of the things you learn when you have kryptonite is how to overcome it with certain compensation strategies. As a leader, what is your compensation strategy to mitigate that weakness?

Natalie: “For me, it’s about trying to pause, take a moment, reflect and take a breath. I think a lot of times that’s what makes the difference.

Michelle: “I tend to write things down. I saw how my overthinking played out on my team. I saw the real reaction to that and thought, that didn’t feel very good, I should change this up. So, I started writing things down and if I find myself in a spin, I will stop talking and pause.

Andrea: “When it comes to my team or people around me, it’s about figuring out what motivates different people, what their values are and really understanding where I need to pick them up and how I need to bring them along to work together in a more efficient way.

Kimberly: “For me, it’s not putting things off and doing that thing you don’t want to do first. That de-stresses me quite a bit.”

Q: In this traditionally male-dominated industry, do you think being a woman has been an asset in the movement of your career? Has it been a challenge? Or a little bit of both? 

Michelle: “I think it’s a little bit of both. On a weekly basis, I would get nervous when walking into a room because I knew I wasn’t going to look or speak the same as the rest of the folks in the room. I’ve learned throughout my career to use that as an advantage whereas when I was first starting out, it made me nervous and held me back in meetings. Now I use it as an advantage because they should hear from people that don’t speak and think like everyone else in the room.

Andrea: “I have to admit, I was never as aware of my gender identity as I was when I entered the energy sector. I never really thought about my gender very much and then all the sudden I find myself in a room with 10 males a lot of the time. I’ve started counting the ratio of men versus women and it’s usually 6:1 or 8:1.

Natalie: “It’s hard to put it in one or the other. Going to engineering school, that was the point in time where I was the only female in the room - from the time I was 18 years old to today. I feel like I have been ‘fighting this battle,’ if you will, for a long time now so I don’t notice it as much. I will say, subconsciously, it probably makes me work twice as hard.”

Kimberly: “For me, it was never a negative. But it might sometimes be challenging to prove yourself in some environments and you do have to work harder.

Q: Now that you know what you know, what do you wish you could go back and tell your younger self?

Natalie: “I would go back and tell my younger self to enjoy where you are. There’s much to be learned everywhere you are and there’s positives in every job you have. Take a moment to enjoy it.

Michelle: “I would have told myself to believe in myself. Trust in the journey even in your mistakes.

Andrea: “Don’t chase someone else’s career. Pave your own career path and do it based on what you like. Do the work that energizes you and makes you happy.” 

Kimberly: “I always love to tell people - don’t worry so much about what people are thinking and realize that 99% of the time, they’re not thinking of you at all.

A special thank you to Kimberly Britton, Dr. Andrea Nuesser, Natalie Hammer and Michelle Kolp for engaging in the discussion and paving the way for women in energy. Watch the full Women in Utilities session here.