I was one of only two women in my mechanical engineering classes, which was not uncommon. I wondered: was there a job in this field that I would find interesting and enjoyable?

A start in natural gas

All it took was one trip to an offshore drilling platform and I was hooked. When I worked on offshore rigs I was usually the only woman. While I was the subject of jokes and off-color comments both about my gender and being a “Yankee,” I earned respect because I worked hard, respected the knowledge of my bosses and peers and genuinely enjoyed what I was doing. My dedication to our shared goals was undeniable to all my colleagues.

I earned respect because I worked hard, respected the knowledge of my bosses and peers and genuinely enjoyed what I was doing.

In 1989, I began working at the American Gas Association (AGA), which represents more than 200 local energy companies that deliver natural gas. For generations, natural gas utilities have served communities and supported families through good paying careers that offer room for advancement and growth. Our customers are our neighbors, family and friends, and our employees reflect the communities they service. It makes our companies stronger and our service better when we have an engaged workforce where everyone is appreciated and respected for their experiences, values and perspectives.

Exciting opportunities

Many of our member companies have their own initiatives to provide leadership development opportunities for women. We created the AGA Next Level Leadership Women’s Program to complement these efforts. Each year, 35 women are selected by their companies to participate in a six-month program, which includes educational and networking events where participants can engage, connect and share experiences and provide guidance to their peers.

The participants have opportunities to talk to leaders in our industry and AGA Board Members, like Suzanne Sitherwood from Spire Inc., Diane Leopold from Dominion Energy and Kimberly J. Harris from Puget Sound Energy, who is Chair of the AGA Board of Directors for 2018. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, former Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Colette D. Honorable and U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn have also been extraordinarily gracious with their time, offering a first-hand perspective on rising through predominantly male industries. Now in its third year, everyone from our board of directors to the participants themselves agree that the Next Level Leadership Women’s Program has been an unparalleled success. I wish there was something like this when I was making my way through the industry.

The work continues

This conversation is growing. Building and sustaining a diverse, inclusive 21st century workforce is part of every facet of my job, whether it is in my role as chief operating officer at AGA, work with the Center for Energy Workforce Development or as board member for the National Energy Foundation and the Gas Technology Institute. While AGA has served as president of the International Gas Union, this has been an area of focus across the globe.

AGA is hosting the World Gas Conference (WGC) in Washington, DC, in June. We will also be hosting a Young Professionals Program simultaneously with the WGC to help develop and support the industry’s future leaders. I am proud to say that 1 in 5 speakers or panelists at the WGC will be female. This is better than it has been in the past, but it is not representative of the industry or our customer base. There is still work to be done, but I expect that with our efforts, we will continue to make meaningful progress.