6 Women in Leadership at Duke Energy Share Career Advice

For Women’s History Month, they want to inspire other women to keep going
Mar 17, 2021 11:00 AM ET
Blog

March is Women’s History Month, so we asked women at Duke Energy what they wanted to know about how to advance their careers. Then, women in leadership roles responded to their questions.

Duke Energy is committed to attracting and retaining a diverse workforceData showed that during the pandemic, one in four women considered leaving their jobs or taking on less as their responsibilities grew at home and at work. That's roughly 2 million women at risk of leaving – enough to significantly stall the last decade’s progress on increasing women in leadership.

Meet the six women who answered questions from employees in Florida, the Midwest and the Carolinas about leadership and what they’ve learned:

Faith Young

Managing Director of Materials and Equipment Sourcing

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Young joined Duke Energy 11 years ago in the supply chain department to ensure the company has the vendors and materials it needs to keep the electric grid running. Her teams provide value for customers by staying on budget and maintaining quality.  

What is the most important thing you’ve done to advance your career? 

When I came to Duke Energy, I had a diverse background, but I didn’t know anyone. It was important to establish relationships across the company, but it was also important to listen to good, critical feedback and put it into action. I think people can be sensitive to it, but take that feedback and be objective.

Responsibilities in our personal lives have increased during the pandemic, how do women become better at sharing childcare and home responsibilities?

You have to speak up. I think the pandemic has highlighted it, but I don’t think it’s new. My kids are in their 20s now, but when my kids were younger, we had to have some negotiations about labor distribution. We had to literally write down what our labor distribution was going to be – domestic chores, the kids, dogs, etc. I was against it at first because I thought you should be able to look around and see what needs to be done.

I have read articles that there’s a squeeze today on women in the pandemic, and I can’t imagine trying to do Zoom school and keep the house running while working, but I would advise to not do what I did and fight it. Put a list together. It’s going to make your life a lot easier.

Have you ever felt you were not heard or respected despite your experience because you are a woman? 

Early in my career, it was tough at times because I was the only woman in leadership in my market. I was not only a woman but a woman of color, and I was new in my role out of college, so I had to prove myself. That meant making my commitments, applying my training and building relationships with my peers. It’s interesting because after a year or two of doing that, the man who gave me the hardest time apologized because he saw how well I was doing. He said, “I should have been nicer to you. I should have helped more.”

Barbara Higgins

SVP and Chief Customer Officer

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Higgins started her career in hospitality, where she learned how to focus on customers and improve their experiences. After 19 years, she moved into the financial services and airline industries before coming to Duke Energy in 2017, where she’s on a mission to improve customer satisfaction.

What is the most important thing you’ve done to advance your career? 

I always raised my hand. Anything that was a challenge, scary new assignment or hadn’t been done before, I was always open to it. I think the shadow side of that is I might not have been as intentional about where my career went. It took me a while to realize I needed to advocate for myself and take control, but by being so open, I learned a lot and have a varied background. So, you want to be more intentional than I was, but you should be open to possibilities. Had I been more rigid, I would have missed out on a lot of great experiences.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership? 

Women are in a likability trap where you can’t advocate in the same way that men can. I didn’t understand that for much of my career. I realized I have to be more delicate in how I treat people. It’s important women understand that, but I think it’s more important that men understand the role they play. It’s an issue where we have to come together because women can’t fight that alone.

How do you find a mentor, and what effect have mentors had on your career? 

An informal mentor is really what you want, and that’s chemistry. It comes from working with someone, doing a great job and having them rely on you, and then they start clearing the path for you to do more. If you have chemistry with someone, cultivate that relationship. Early in my career, I would always hand-write notes to keep in touch and recognize people for doing things, and that really helped.

Anita High

Senior Project Director at McGuire Nuclear Station

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As a mechanical engineering student, High joined Duke Energy at the former Buck Steam Station through the company’s co-op program. She started in 1996 as an engineer at McGuire Nuclear Station before moving into project management where she’s now responsible for upgrades that will ensure the reliability of the nuclear plant, a major source of carbon-free electricity.

What goals should women set for themselves to advance to leadership roles?

Duke Energy is in this transformational period with senior leadership interested in advancing women, so my advice to smart, hardworking women is to seize the moment. Take the job opportunities that come your way.

Responsibilities in our personal lives have increased during the pandemic, how do women become better at sharing childcare and home responsibilities?

If you don’t ask for the help, you’re not going to get it. I have three kids. Two are doing schoolwork from home, and one is in college. When I worked from home, I had to shut the door and ask to not be interrupted. We had a set time for my youngest to touch base with me or ask for help with schoolwork. When my kids were young, I wanted to do it all. I was working, taking care of the kids, doing the cooking and cleaning – everything that women are “supposed to do” – but as you move up in leadership, you realize you can delegate and ask for help.

How do you know when it’s time to take a risk or when you’re on the right path despite challenges?

I think you know you’re on the right path because you enjoy your job. If you’re in a job and you’re not sure, you’re probably not happy. Take the opportunity to look around and talk with people. I have loved every position I have had—they’ve all had something challenging, interesting and different. You’ll always have times where you’re working long hours, and it might be tough, but then that also makes it exciting and interesting. And the stressful periods always pass.

Meko Hunter

Director of Training, Quality and Business Continuity

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Hunter trains customer service specialists so they can deliver the best experience. She also leads call center emergency preparedness planning for situations like hurricanes or a pandemic. When the pandemic hit, Hunter, who’s worked at Duke Energy for 32 years, helped shift hundreds of representatives to home-based roles without interruption in customer service.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership? 

I think the biggest barrier is the limitation we put on ourselves. I think women have the challenge of trying to balance work and home, and sometimes we’re our own worst enemy in thinking, “I can’t do that.” For women in leadership, we need to make sure we’re encouraging others and providing opportunities to let them see their potential.

Many women report feeling impostor syndrome. How do you combat it?

I think if anyone was really honest with themselves, we all have that feeling. Part of combatting that is understanding we need to be realistic with the expectations of ourselves and others. If there’s something you don’t know, acknowledge that. It doesn’t have to be in front of a group, but you can seek out someone as a mentor or other resources to improve confidence.

Responsibilities in our personal lives have increased during the pandemic, how do women become better at sharing childcare and home responsibilities?

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all have biases, and the pandemic really highlighted some of that. I think we have to make sure we’re seeking out the resources that are available, but I think it’s also making sure you have conversations and are being honest about what you’re dealing with. I think as women sometimes we feel vulnerable when we say we’re having trouble balancing things because we don’t want to be viewed as inadequate. Nobody does, but we need to make sure we’re setting expectations and communicating what we need.

Dekebra Andrews

Manager of Transmission Project Controls

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Andrews manages projects in Duke Energy’s Transmission department, which delivers electricity from power plants to the smaller power lines that run to your house. For the last 10 years, she's helped build substations, install new equipment for a smarter grid or upgrade power lines to increase capacity and improve reliability.

What assumptions about women in the workplace do you love crushing?

The one that stands out is crushing the idea that you can’t have it all. When I stepped into this role, I had three kids, and I have since added one to my brood. I think in the past, I didn’t always get the best feedback – even from other women – about family, so I like crushing the idea you can’t have family, love and a career and be happy in all aspects.

Responsibilities in our personal lives have increased during the pandemic, how do women become better at sharing childcare and home responsibilities?

We can’t be afraid to say we need help. As a family, take assessment of what we need to happen to function well. Women are quick to take on more and not say anything. I think we’ve all been guilty of that, but you will be surprised at the freedom you feel when you stop and have a conversation at home or with your team at work and lay out what you need to meet deliverables and accomplish goals.

Many women in the workplace report feeling impostor syndrome. How do you combat it?

I think it’s important to have your support system and have them remind you who you are and of your strengths. We’re working so hard to do the best we can that sometimes we forget and find ourselves doing things the way we think others want us to do it, but having a support system that grounds us and encourages us to be our authentic selves helps.

Amber Lineback

Director of Natural Gas Learning and Readiness

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Lineback started with Piedmont Natural Gas 21 years ago and has held roles in departments including IT, Corporate Communications, HR and now operations, where she said her purpose is to make sure workers are trained for success.

Have you ever felt like you were not heard or respected despite your experience because you are a woman? 

I have, and it’s why I am passionate about speaking up when I see that happening with other women. If I witness it, I will speak up because it’s important for people to know that women have a lot to add, and there are some stereotypes that don’t serve us.

How do you know when it’s time to take a risk or when you’re on the right path despite challenges?

When I think about the right path, I think are you stretching and growing. If you’re in your comfort zone, then you aren’t growing. So, if you feel a little uncomfortable, congratulations, I believe you’re on the right path for yourself.

When it comes to trying something new, not every role I have had was a perfect fit for me, but every one of those roles helped me get clearer on where my strengths are, where I add value, and what work lights me up. If you’re interested in it, and you think you can do a pretty good job, quiet the self doubt, and give it a shot.

What effect have mentors had on your career? 

I have been fortunate to have folks mentor and advocate for me behind closed doors that I didn’t even know about at the time, and I am incredibly grateful for that. I think any of us can be a mentor by advocating for others and complimenting each other – and that doesn’t have to come from someone with a title.