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BY SCOTT FLOOD AND ANN FOSTER THELEN

A generation ago, if a young woman expressed an interest in working in the energy industry, it’s possible her friends, family, and even prospective supervisors would have steered her away. Keeping the lights on was traditionally seen as men’s work.

Today, women represent an increasing share of the electric cooperative workforce and governance structure, and not just in traditional roles of the past. As you look around our electric co-ops, you’ll find women in every imaginable role – including lineworkers, engineers, financial managers, communicators, board directors and CEOs.

Diverse perspectives are vital to the industry’s future

International Women’s Day is celebrated annually in March. It’s a great occasion to recognize the accomplishments of the many women who are transforming electric co-ops and how they serve their local communities. It’s hard to imagine a better career field for today’s young women who are interested in making their communities better places to live, work and play.

“The competition for talent and skill shortages has highlighted the need to expand recruitment strategies to get a more diverse range of candidates,” explains Desiree Dunham, workforce programs manager for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). “The diverse experiences and perspectives of women contribute to more creative and effective problem-solving, which can be especially beneficial in navigating complex challenges and finding innovative solutions that cater to a broad range of consumer needs.”

NRECA recently reported that nearly 90 electric co-ops are headed by female CEOs, including five in Iowa, adding that strengths like teamwork, problem-solving and communication that women often bring to leadership are particularly important to the industry’s future.

Programs build awareness among students

Co-ops across America are actively working to build awareness among young women about the opportunities available to them. Some even host day camps for teens in which they get a behind-the-scenes look at what’s involved with delivering electric power. Beyond the highly visible roles such as linework, participants learn about how people in areas as diverse as IT, finance, economic development and environmental compliance are vital to co-op operations. Without that exposure, those future co-op leaders probably wouldn’t know those jobs exist. As the familiar adage reminds us, it’s difficult to be what we cannot see.

Students are just one of the targets of such efforts. Dunham points to the priority the industry is placing on supporting career development for women. Mentorship programs and networking opportunities create platforms for women to connect and share their experiences. The recently launched Women in Power Mentoring program for the electric co-op community provides mentorship and resources to support and guide women in their careers.

“These positive shifts need to be continuously reinforced with targeted outreach efforts, career awareness campaigns and support systems to enhance the entry points and career progression for women in co-ops,” Dunham notes.

Co-ops as best places to work

As nearly 20% of the nation’s co-op workforce nears retirement age over the next five years and local cooperatives struggle with an ever-tighter job market, expanding the pool of potential workers is an effective solution. At the same time, there are many reasons women who are entering (or reentering) the workforce should consider finding a place in the electric co-op world.

“Cooperatives are often recognized as ‘best place to work’ employers in their communities, offering competitive benefits, caring cultures and support for families,” Dunham says. “Co-ops also have a solid commitment to strengthening inclusion and diversity, and women are often strong advocates for fostering a culture where all individuals are valued for their skills and expertise.

Scott Flood writes for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing nearly 900 electric co-ops. Ann Foster Thelen is the editor of Iowa Electric Cooperative Living.


I like working at Farmers Electric because of the co-workers and the members we serve. I thrive in learning new things and working in the ever-changing electric industry is exciting. The family environment of the cooperative has proven to be successful, and I am so fortunate to be a part of it.

Holi Weston, CEO, Farmers Electric Cooperative, Inc.

 


Serving on my local electric co-op board allows me to make a difference to communities in our service area. As board members, we approve low-interest loans sponsored by USDA to support businesses creating jobs, hospitals, emergency services and many other projects. As a not-for-profit utility, we also return any margins above the co-op's financial needs to our members.

Share Brandt, Board Director, Butler County REC

 

 

 


I enjoy serving on the board for the electric cooperatives because we all follow the cooperative principles and do our best to work together to serve our co-op members. Our decisions are important, and we never make a decision lightly, knowing it could have an immediate or long-term impact on our co-op and the members we serve.
I also believe the industry is – and will continue to be in the future – facing some of the biggest challenges we have ever faced as a cooperative and a utility service provider. The demand for electricity continues to grow, with reliability being pushed to the limits and our energy sources being limited. I enjoy being a voice for these concerns with our members and legislators and having a seat at the table to find solutions to these challenges. 

Deena Moore, Board Director, Southwest Iowa REC and the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives

 

 


I enjoy working for a cooperative because we hold ourselves to the highest standards of professionalism and integrity while maintaining a close-knit, family-friendly work environment. The cooperative provides excellent benefits, paths for career advancement and the opportunity for longevity, which is great for a hometown girl who plans to stay! I like to think of working at Chariton Valley Electric Cooperative as a paycheck with a purpose. We have a commitment to improving the quality of life for our families, friends and neighbors through the work we do each day.

Anna See, Executive Assistant/Communications Coordinator, Chariton Valley Electric Cooperative


It is rewarding to know that the work we do has a tangible impact on our members’ daily lives. This impact is not possible without investing in our number one asset, our employees. It is an honor and a privilege to be part of a locally owned organization that simply exists to serve our membership, contribute to our communities and be part of this great cooperative network.

Teresa Floyd, CEO, East-Central Iowa REC

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