Diversity Practices at Consolidated Edison
RICHARD P. COWIE
Vice President of Human Resources
Consolidated Edison Company of New York
I am Rich Cowie, the vice president of human resources at Con Edison of New York. As a non-engineer, I am a member of a minority group in the leadership of Con Edison, where almost everyone else at the top of the company is an engineer. Fortunately, our chairman wants a diverse team, so every once in awhile he picks a non-engineer to join the group.
We are very fortunate to have been recognized for our efforts in recruiting and retaining women and minorities in engineering careers. We were the first utility ever to receive Catalyst’s national award for advancing the interests of women in business. We have also received recognition from Catalyst for the representation of women in our executive levels and on our board of directors. Our efforts have been recognized by many other organizations as well. For the fourth consecutive year, Fortune magazine has listed us as one of the 50 best companies for minorities. We have also been recognized by Working Woman magazine as one of the top 25 companies for executive women. Equal Employment Opportunity Publication named Con Ed one of the top 50 companies for minority engineers.
Con Edison of New York serves the five boroughs of New York City and the lower portion of Westchester County. We operate in one of the most diverse areas on earth, and we need the best and brightest in engineering talent to address today’s problems and tomorrow’s challenges. Success in this area is critical for us.
The tragic events in New York City on September 11 resulted in unprecedented challenges for our company and our people. To restore electric, gas, and steam service to lower Manhattan required laying more than 36 miles of temporary cables on the streets of lower Manhattan, repairing and restoring five
underground transmission lines, isolating five miles of gas mains and retiring more than one mile of gas mains in the World Trade Center area, installing 16 new gas valves to improve sectionalization and restore service, constructing a gas regulator station in less than 36 hours, and restoring more than 15 miles of steam mains. The estimated cost for the emergency response, temporary restoration, and permanent repairs is $400 million so far, and the final cost may be even higher. The engineering and leadership challenges have been extraordinary, but our people have risen to the occasion.
Our panel has been asked to talk about what works. So, let me describe three things that have worked for us. First, commitment from the top is critical. I believe the first requirement is a firm commitment to drive the effort from the highest levels of the organization, and we have that. Our chairman has long been active in the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) and has served on its board of directors. He has promoted or placed women and minorities in key organizations in Con Edison, and he meets with the New York chapter of the American Association of Blacks in Energy and has been a speaker at its national conferences. A member of our board of directors, a long time proponent of the advancement of minorities in engineering, has served as president and CEO of NACME and is currently the president of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.
As Dr. Wulf said in his talk, we need to increase the pool of candidates. The second thing that is working for us long term is starting as early as possible in the educational system to get women and minorities excited about engineering and technology. For many years at Con Edison, we have been a key sponsor of and participant in programs at the elementary school level, such as “Say Yes to Family Math and Science,” in predominantly minority city schools. We also support programs in high schools and colleges. Company members of our internship program and the American Association of Blacks in Energy and our Black Executive Exchange Program are frequent guest lecturers on careers in engineering and technology. We recruit at career fairs at some 30 targeted colleges, and we have a summer employment program heavily geared to women and minorities.
Finally, our GOLD Program, which used to be called our Management Intern Program, is one of the longest running and most successful programs for recruiting and retaining high-potential women and minority engineers. This is the program that was recognized by the Catalyst Award. It used to be a college intern program, but we now call it the GOLD Program (growth opportunities through leadership development). That name was suggested by people who had been through the program who were asked what most enticed them. They didn’t like the connotation of interns or continuing students. So, just last year we renamed the program.
In the GOLD program, through a series of practical, rotational job assignments, mentoring, and senior management guidance, GOLD associates tackle challenging supervisory and project-based jobs that provide them with highly
valued work experience as they prepare to move into senior management positions. Over the past five years, 30 percent of our GOLD associates have been women, and 55 percent were minorities.
I think the best measure of what works and how well it works is the people in key positions at Con Edison. Four of the 13 members on the board of directors are women, as are our executive vice president and chief financial officer, our senior vice president for gas operations, and four of our 25 vice presidents.
Among minorities, representation includes three out of 13 members of our board of directors, a senior vice president, two of our 25 vice presidents, and our corporate secretary. Obviously, we have made some progress in bringing women and minorities to the top positions in the company, but our real success lies just below that level. Graduates of our GOLD Program are now in critical jobs at the highest level of our organization, prepared to assume key officer positions in the future. Some of the top positions now occupied by GOLD associates include the vice president for maintenance and construction, the chief distribution engineer, the general manager of substation operations, three plant managers, two electric general managers, the general manager of gas operations, and the director of facilities management.
We have gotten this far by continuous self-criticism. We continually assess how we are doing and look outside our company to identify best practices. In that spirit, I look forward to hearing the thoughts and experiences of our audience.