Even though Kristy Rees has been doing a “man’s job” at UniSource Energy Services for 15 years, she still feels that women have more ground to gain in the workforce.
“Our society is divided into accepted tasks for men and accepted tasks for women,” said Rees. “When I was young I asked my dad if I could go duck hunting with him. I was told ‘Girls don’t do that.’ It wasn’t until I was 30 years old that I got the opportunity to finally go, and now I’m an accomplished hunter. This happens all the time to women and girls.”
Planner Rebecca Quintana, a 35-year veteran employee in our Show Low office, has a similar story. She pursued a technical career for better pay to help support her family. “I’m grateful for the encouragement and support from colleagues. I worked hard on building my confidence, but it was a sink or swim situation. So I invested in my education and skills to help me succeed.”
Then there’s Janice Pierre. As our Regional Corrosion Technician based in Cottonwood, she often walks for hours and travels hundreds of miles across the state inspecting our gas system to protect equipment from corrosion. “I’m grateful I was given the opportunity. Working in a male-dominated industry inspires me to push myself. I broke a personal barrier, and it has given me confidence to believe in myself. I hope to be an inspiration to other women interested in non-traditional careers.”
While these women and others are increasingly working in jobs traditionally held by men, gender persists as a barrier for opportunities and achieving parity in the workplace.
That’s something that Susan Gray can relate to. When she started at sister company Tucson Electric Power as an intern in 1994, her coworkers called her “the girl.” Now our employees call her our President and CEO. She was able to overcome the gender barrier. But as she listened to stories from women throughout our company, it became clear that not every woman shared her 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 are active participants in local women’s professional groups and regional Women in Energy professional organizations. WE also supports UniSource’s business objectives by strengthening our leadership pipeline and workforce and helping us recruit and retain valued employees.
“We’re continuously working to bring this support not just to women, but to the men who work alongside us,” Gray added.
WE supports UniSource’s broader focus on diversity, equity and inclusion – often shortened as DEI – to power excellence within the company.
“In a world where women have been suppressed for so long, we have surely made progress and it has been slow. But with companies like ours setting the bar higher and encouraging women is a step in the right direction,” Pierre said, who advises young women to pursue their goals like she did. “Don’t hold back or be intimidated. Help reverse the stereotype that women can’t be successful in technical careers.”
Role modeling is one way that women are advancing in the workplace. “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.”
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, UniSource is focused on opening more doors of opportunity for women in traditionally male-dominated fields.
“We’ve come a long way since then,” said Gray, “but there is always more to learn and more work to do. 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.”