Women in Energy: Diane Denton
The Women in Energy series is a joint project between USEA and USAID to help improve the visibility of women's participation and leadership in the traditionally male-dominated energy sector and their active participation in policies and gender outcomes at their respective organizations and the sector overall.
Every month we feature a woman who has shown exemplary leadership. The women highlighted come from diverse backgrounds and roles, and they bring with them a unique perspective on gender equality within the energy sector. We believe that increasing women's leadership and participation in decision-making for climate policies needs active communications campaigns and championing that catalyze behavioral change and urgent action.
1. How has your education and career path led you to where you are now?
My career path has been a windy road of continuous learning. During my undergraduate work at Guilford College, where I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Management, I was fortunate to be paired with local business leaders as part of an entrepreneurial scholarship. The best advice I ever received was to seek out profit & loss responsibility. And so, I began my career journey operating small businesses. I was responsible for generating sales revenue, managing operating expenses, advertising, hiring & training employees, setting the price of our service, and everything in-between. This experience built the foundation for how I approach work. I learned that in order to compete in business, you must be able to inspire a group of diverse individuals to work towards a common purpose, have a bias for action and act with a sense of urgency. These are the core characteristics that I have carried with me throughout my career.
Years later, while working on my Master's in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, I met several Duke Energy employees who spoke about how the energy industry was changing. Not only was a convergence underway between gas and electric utilities at that time, but the competition was increasing from new entrants and new supply technology was on the horizon. I became fascinated by the possibilities and joined the company after graduation.
Over my 26-year career with Duke Energy, I have changed not only jobs, but career paths multiple times pursuing opportunities to grow or shape the business. I have had the honor of leading functions on both the regulated and commercial sides of the business including commercial power plant development, regulatory strategy and compliance, customer products and services, and national and state energy policy. Today, I lead long-term strategic planning for Duke Energy’s Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky utilities. I have been fortunate to work for a company that supports the ongoing development of its employees and sees the value in diverse experiences.
2. What obstacles have you experienced as a woman pursuing an education and career in the energy industry? What can women who are vying for leadership spots do to be more successful?
Leadership can come from anyone, anywhere. The ability to lead does not come from a title. You can, and should, lead from where you are today. Speak up. Share your ideas. Volunteer to implement them or volunteer for the assignments no one wants. Make yourself indispensable to your leader. Over the years, I have observed these characteristics from some of the strongest female leaders I have had the honor to work with:
- Deal with it or live with it. Do not put off hard decisions, conversations, or tasks. It will not only get harder to deal with challenges over time, but unresolved problems consume mental energy that can be used more productively elsewhere.
- Make fact-based decisions. Gather the facts and do not be afraid to ask for more. Objectively weigh the information and then make a decision. I have seen leaders who make decisions with little to no facts and others who drown in data but can never make a decision. There is a need to balance both.
- Insist on inclusiveness. Companies accomplish goals through teams. Successful teams require both diversity and inclusion. Diversity brings unique perspectives to the table and true inclusion allows those perspectives to be shared so that more innovative thinking can occur. Having both can take a good team to greatness.
- Be a passionate student of the business. When you have a genuine interest and excitement for the business it comes through in engagement, communications, and leadership style.
3. Technology is transforming the traditional utility business model into a more modern interactive grid. Some utilities view this transformation as an opportunity to focus on innovation and diversity, which research has shown to drive better business performance. How is your organization attracting, retaining, and promoting more women into key positions to respond to this industry transformation?
Diversity and inclusion are a priority for Duke Energy. The company has a three-pronged strategy that integrates diversity, equity, and inclusion into everything we do, and support starts from the top. First, our executive team leaders take ownership of driving our diversity and inclusion goals forward and serve as ambassadors for diversity throughout the enterprise. Second, enabled by leadership commitment, there is a focus on improving the diversity of our talent pipeline with clear and transparent goals which are reported regularly. Achieving these goals require a balanced commitment to hiring external talent and continuing to develop and promote from within. Third, we continually work on strengthening our culture of inclusion so that we can both attract and retain the talent we need.
4. What are some untapped actions the energy and electricity sector could focus on to accelerate change, increase diversity, and foster a better gender balance in the sector?
In the United States, the energy sector is undergoing one of the largest transformations in its history. The Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, estimates roughly $140 billion in capital investment will be made annually over the next three years. One area of opportunity is to focus on the diversity of suppliers. Over the past several years, Duke Energy has been supporting community economic development organizations locally and nationally to help us identify diverse suppliers and vendors. For five consecutive years, Duke Energy has exceeded $1 billion in diverse spending. The award-winning supplier diversity program has been successful and recognized in recent years nationally, regionally, and locally.
5. What is one practical recommendation you would make to younger women pursuing a career in energy or climate action?
Seek out mentors and truth-tellers. We have all heard about the importance of mentors, finding those individuals who are more experienced and who are both patient and willing to go beyond the limits of a teacher-student relationship to help you succeed in work. In addition to taking a personal interest in you, a good mentor will also be a truth-teller. This person will provide you with constructive feedback and tell you what you need to know when others do not. We are all on a learning journey and having someone you trust to tell you the truth, even when it is uncomfortable to hear, is a gift. After all, the learning journey never ends.