Oct 11, 2021
In Canada, women represent approximately one to two percent of active powerline technicians working in the electricity industry. What are the barriers that these women face? And what improvements can be made for future generations of women? Lana Norton - Executive Director and Founder at Women of Powerline Technicians as well as the Supervisor of Field Metering Services at Hydro Ottawa joins us to share her experience since graduating as one of two women from a powerline tech program in 2010.
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Dan Seguin 00:02
Hey, everyone, I'm Dan Seguin.
Rebecca Schwartz 00:04
And I'm Rebecca Schwartz, both from hydro Ottawa.
Dan Seguin 00:07
And we'll be hosting the ThinkEnergy podcast. So are you looking to better understand the fast changing world of energy? Every two weeks, Rebecca and I will be taking you on a tour and discuss some of the coolest trends, emerging technologies, and latest innovations within the energy sector.
Rebecca Schwartz 00:26
We'll be engaging in great conversations with game changers, thought leaders and industry leaders who welcome the opportunity to share their expertise and views with you, our listeners.
Dan Seguin 00:37
So stay tuned as we explore some traditional and some quirky facets of this industry.
Rebecca Schwartz 00:43
This is the think energy podcast.
Dan Seguin 00:50
Hey, everyone, welcome back. This is the ThinkEnergy podcast. And this episode is titled, The Wonder Woman of powerline technicians, folks, I'm Dan Seguin,
Rebecca Schwartz 01:01
and I'm Rebecca Schwartz. Hey, Dan, did you know that there are still industries that use gender job titles, and the default is always men? I'm thinking jobs like firemen, policemen, mailman,
Dan Seguin 01:14
Batman, Iron Man, Superman?
Rebecca Schwartz 01:16
Hmm, kind of like that, but not exactly. I'm also thinking about our own industry, and how within the energy sector line men is still very commonly used. You're
Dan Seguin 01:26
absolutely right, Rebecca. I think these gender job titles are an artifact from a bygone era, when women were forbidden to work, and later had very limited career options, the jobs you mentioned, and many more were deemed men's work. And so their title reflected that,
Rebecca Schwartz 01:47
right. And because it's taken so long for women to achieve any sort of equality in the workforce, and side note, we still have a very long way to go. A lot of these gender biases and male dominated fields still very much exist. And as a woman, I can say that it's kind of frustrating.
Dan Seguin 02:02
I know it's overly simplistic, but it makes you wonder if these gender bias job titles dissuaded lots of women from considering these careers,
Rebecca Schwartz 02:12
probably and I think the energy sector remains one of the least gendered diverse industries, with women making up only 22% of workers. And in the renewable energy space. It's just slightly better with 32%. But most of these are admin positions.
Dan Seguin 02:28
Hmm, I guess you're right. We do have a long way to go. Let's move on to today's big question. In Canada, women represent approximately one to 2% of active powerline technicians working in the electricity industry. What are the barriers these women face? And what improvements can be made for future generations of women?
Rebecca Schwartz 02:52
Well, I'm excited about our guest today Dan. Lana Norton is the executive director and founder at women of powerline technicians, a not for profit whose mission is to have women as equal participants in trade and technical roles in the energy sector. With a decade of field experience in Canada's electricity sector, she has held progressive roles and distribution operations. Now she's a colleague of ours here at hydro Ottawa as the supervisor of field metering services. Welcome, Lana. Maybe you can start by telling our listeners a bit about what drew you to the powerline Technician program.
Lana Norton 03:29
And thank you very much, Rebecca again for having me. Yeah, so I first attended the powerline Technician program just over 10 years ago, the journey that led me to the pursuing a career in the trades and as a powerline technician, was that it kind of it happened unexpectedly that I ended up in the trades and what kind of prompt and that was, I was a young mom. And so I became a mom at 20 and by the time I was 21, I was a single mom. In the next two years, I spent my time getting established and creating a life for my daughter and I and I was really on the path of you know, financial stability and what was that going to look like in creating a life for her and me. So to me, that was a career in the trades. And so, you know, I spent two years looking all over the province for you know, an opportunity within the powerline technician and I had one employer reach out to me and let me know of new school in Sudbury that was now offering a two year college diploma and powerline technician and from their employers where we're hiring out of that program because it would give apprentices a jumpstart on their apprenticeship and the knowledge and what we kind of brought into the trade,
Rebecca Schwartz 05:06
I understand you were the second woman to graduate from the powerline tech program back in 2010, at the first college in Ontario to offer the training, what was that experience like?
Lana Norton 05:16
I worked for it. When few people that have that have been like you that have come before you and gone through that you really do show up every day, and you're showing other people that you can do it. And at the same time, you're also building that skill and that resiliency within yourself. I was very fortunate. And, you know, I met a lot of amazing people along the way. When I was up in that power line program, you know, something that comes to mind is the, you know, I mentioned that I was a mom. And so my daughter had relocated to attend school with me. And yeah, in the time that I was up there, if she was safe, or if a daycare was closed, there were definitely instances where I had to bring her to class with me to write a test. And so, you know, me being the only woman there. When we parent and a group of 24 young men, they were like a bunch of brothers. And, you know, if I was still writing my test, and they'd finished my daughter, who was three at the time, you know, they would watch over her, so I could finish my test. So there was definitely a lot of really great things that came out of that program.
Dan Seguin 06:42
Lana, can you tell us more about the roles you've had, and what you love most about your job,
Lana Norton 06:48
Sure. So I was hired as an apprentice powerline technician. And from there, I took on a role as a field operator. And as a field operator, I worked as an intern, the system works in a 24 hour, seven days a week capacity if you're on rotating shifts. And you know, what I really enjoyed was, so as an apprentice powerline technician, you've got a view of the city, one job one specific geographical area, the time you're working on building this pole line. And and when I took on the role of the field operator, I became city wide, meaning that through like an outage that happened in the east end of the city, I was going there. And I was just as comfortable in the East operating equipment as it was in the west. And so I really enjoyed the overall view of the grid, and how the power moves throughout the city. And from there, I took on a field technician role. And so as the field technician, I was a member of distribution engineering, and asset management. And so what we did there was we did the overall planning and preparing the work to hand over to the crews to execute in the field. So there were a lot of large pull lines that we had to get built. And I was in charge of preparing that for the crew. In my current role, I'm a supervisor of metering Field Services, and I oversee a team of meter technicians. So with that, every morning, I'm preparing the team for the you know the day's jobs and revealing jobs, and timelines and the resources available to complete the work. My favorite part of the day is meeting with my team in the morning. And I get to hear their challenges and what they see in the field. And then how we can go ahead and problem solve that.
Dan Seguin 08:39
Maybe you could tell us about your nonprofit organization, women of powerline technicians and what motivated you to create it? And lastly, what are some of the benefits of joining your organization?
Lana Norton 08:52
Women of powerline technicians was first established in 2016. And we are the voice from the field committed to increasing women in trade and technical roles in Canada's electricity sector and beyond. As a national not for profit. Our mission is to have women as equal participants in the trade and the technical roles in the electricity sector. So our approach consists of two streams. We advise leaders through a gender equity lens on how to advance their diversity and inclusion goals. And women as PLT also offers programming. Our programming is open to men and women with a focus of supporting women in early mid and late careers in the trade and technical roles in our programming includes mentoring 24 seven peer group, career postings, networking events, we have a student bursary and the illuminate blog. What motivated me to create women's PLT was I'd mentioned earlier Dan, when you know when I first came through the program at cambrin I was the second one To do so, and up until that point in, in early 2010, I had heard, I'd heard rumors that there are other women doing this job in the province, but I couldn't specifically find find them and connect with them. And so after I graduated, many of the men that I made friends with in the program as they went on, and we all became employed in the province, could reach back out to me to say, Lana, like, I saw another woman working today. And so it was over that time that I was able to connect with those women and be able to, you know, like tie in the network. And it's the overall ability, knowing that you might be alone, where you are geographically, every day, because there are so few of us. But at the end of the night, you get to go home, you can log on online, and you can connect with those women. That was really the motivation, because we're not alone in this,
Dan Seguin 11:11
with skilled trade shortages across Canada. What would you tell women considering a career in this line of work? What advice would you give them, Lana?
Rebecca Schwartz 11:20
And what do you wish someone might have told you when you first started?
Lana Norton 11:24
women are able to do this. And when we look broadly, and especially in the recovery of the pandemic, we see we hear, it's out there that women are overrepresented in sectors that have been most vulnerable during recessions. And during the Coronavirus rate. So we see that women are over represented in service and hospitality and tourism. And these have all been slower to recover, when you put that in context. And you will also consider beginning of this month on October 1, there was a 10 cent an hour increase to the rate of minimum wage, bringing it up to $14.35. And you pair that with the Ontario government has has such a push on right now to support people in coming out of the pandemic, and upskilling and being able to train and, you know, take on jobs within the skilled trades, because there is a labor shortage there. But I would say that for women that this is the time that that you do need to plan your life backwards sometimes. And that. While it may not have been, you know, initially, most people I would say don't wake up in the morning thinking that the skilled trades are absolutely for me. But at any point during your life, you're you know, you're able to re evaluate that and where you want to be. And, and having, you know, a career in the trades provides that stability that that lifestyle, but maybe what you're seeking.
Dan Seguin 12:58
Now moving on, why do you think women are underrepresented in the energy sector, Lana?
Lana Norton 13:05
I think that the energy sector has been doing a great job in communicating ours and their value to customers. And through the different medium, and media platforms, we've been able to demonstrate that women are here, and that we're successful. As an industry, the expectations of our customers, I feel has shifted over time, right. And like, we see that here today with the podcast as well, that our customers are now expecting something different of energy companies and are expecting communications on the touch points of their lives. Historically, that line of communication hasn't always been open and available to our customers. And one of the effects of not having that open ended communication is that the customers don't necessarily see who's here, right. He's here, and he's keeping the light on and on the different jobs that are currently available within, you know, a local distribution company. So that visibility always hasn't been there. But it's through, you know, podcasts, that we're able to create that new line of vision into what it is we do. Right, so really speaks to you creating visibility for the sector. And so I would also say that there's always been a push to have women, you know, join the workforce, right. And I think over time that what people believe is that women were just going to start trickling in and that the numbers would just continue to grow and grow and grow with the times. And and we just haven't seen that to the effect that I think everybody thought that we would and so creating further visibility for what it is we do, really helps but when it also speaks to some of the historical underrepresentation meaning that you know, the career has been harder to find. And so if you didn't necessarily have a parent working within the energy sector, you may be yourself you weren't sure how to how to get that started.
Dan Seguin 15:13
Now I just learned from a recent interview you gave that in Canada, only one to 2% of powerline technicians are women, how can we close the gap in advancing the role of women in this sector?
Lana Norton 15:25
We're still sitting at the one to 2% as powerline technicians. And so how we can work in advance that number, quicken the pace of change. We've seen some brilliant initiatives and programs happen as of lately. So one of the ones I'll speak about is a Algonquin College, they put together a program called "We saved you a seat". And what that program does, it saves 30% of the seats for women in the top five STEM programs. powerline technician being one of them. And so you know, the research is there on the tipping point. At which point, you know, a class balance shifts, and that, you know, you no longer feel like you're one of the few but the conversation the dynamics in the class have started to shift. So 30% really starts mixing the gender balance. So we're seeing progressive movements in programs like that come forward, I also think that we need to set goals, and that we need to target the talent. You know, without setting a goal becomes very difficult to achieve. And we need to be intentional about who we're targeting. And you know, the talent that we want to come come work for us. It's also time that we change the conversation. Since the 80s, this conversation has been like more women in skilled trades, we're looking for more women in skilled trades. But the conversation I believe that you know, would be valuable and having is start explaining to, to the to the talents of the people that we want to come work for us what it is we exactly do like that we are building energy systems to power our future. we're advancing smart grid technology for netzero communities. And we're investing in energy storage. I think that would be a thing that you know, the new talent like they want to connect with, right? And then we're finding people that align with the goals that we're looking to achieve.
Rebecca Schwartz 17:38
So as the chair of the program Advisory Committee for the electrical engineering and the powerline Technician program for Algonquin College, what are you learning from new students and graduates,
Lana Norton 17:50
the new students are informed and they're prepared. And they have access to more data, more podcasts, more blogs, and more social media than we've ever seen before. And with that comes a lot of insight to to how things are evolving and changing in the trade and what those expectations are. And as leaders, we need to remain mindful of the knowledge that they're able to bring to the job. And you know, when we look at the electricity sector, there's been such an emphasis placed on tradition, right? Like, we are very traditional and how we do things and for the last 120 years, we've always set poles and, and the wires and that's our business and, and this new generation, they have a lot of insight and ideas. How to transform things and being able to take that information and and keep them engaged is something that, you know, I'm continually learning from that program.
Dan Seguin 19:00
In your opinion, how should employers in the energy sector be attracting, recruiting and retaining the next generation of women in trades?
Rebecca Schwartz 19:12
Basically, Dan is asking, what do women want?
Lana Norton 19:15
if we're looking at what women want, and they're looking for equal pay equal leadership and equal opportunities and electricity sector does a good job of this. You know, like when we look at equal pay, for example, that's a given based on the fact that we have a union in here and whether you like all level one apprentices are paid the same, all level two apprentices are paid the same. You know, and we have that and I may not be clear to somebody on the outside looking in, but that is something that is already there and given when you come to the table. So I think we're partway there. And when we look at equal leadership, although women are underrepresented within the electricity sector, the Equal Opportunities are here. Right? that women are given, you know, being given a chance to, to work their way into leadership, to take on different roles. And so in time, we will see that leadership comes, but, you know, like, equal leadership. But for now, you know, the pay and the opportunities are here, and inviting more women to, you know, come into the organization and join that just means that there's more of us among the ranks in order to move into leadership positions.
Rebecca Schwartz 20:51
As we talk about inclusivity and making sure that everyone belongs at work. Can you speak to some of the biggest challenges for women, it is clearly still a male dominated field. But is that changing? And is it fast enough
Lana Norton 21:05
for people living at the forefront of change? And speaking about the women, sometimes it can feel like it's simply just not fast enough. And then there are some that when reflecting on the history of providing an electrical service over the last 120 years, when all of the gains and diversity has been hiring a handful of women in the last decade, they can simply feel like the transition is too fast, only look at our energy systems and climate change. The reality is that it's simply not fast enough. It's a conversation about being better than we are today. And better includes diverse voices, and perspectives.
Dan Seguin 21:50
What excites you about the energy field of the future? What would you like to see or maybe even lead, we exist
Lana Norton 21:58
in a place where power has become a necessity and time without it is measured in minutes. And this speaks to the astounding reliability of our electrical systems and the people who are accountable to our customers. As we look to the future, I'm really excited by distributed energy resources and what they bring to our grid capabilities, and the ways that we will continue to evolve to meet our customer expectations. In the future, I would like to contribute in a larger way to the multilateral grid sustainability, and energy policy. For now though, I'm enjoying my time the metering team.
Rebecca Schwartz 22:40
Alright, Lana, how about we close off with some rapid fire questions?
Lana Norton 22:44
Rebecca Schwartz 22:45
What is your favorite word?
Lana Norton 22:46
Rebecca Schwartz 22:48
What is one thing that you can't live without? My family? What is something that challenges you?
Lana Norton 22:53
Rebecca Schwartz 22:54
And if you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Lana Norton 22:58
That I was good at telling jokes?
Rebecca Schwartz 23:00
And if you could turn back time to talk to your 18 year old self? What would you tell her?
Lana Norton 23:06
That you're going to enjoy the person that you become and you're going to be fiercely independent? Alright, Lana,
Rebecca Schwartz 23:12
lastly, what do you currently find the most interesting in your sector,
Lana Norton 23:17
the willpower of others, in recognising the need for change to transform our electricity sector to meet future climate targets, and energies
Dan Seguin 23:27
Well, I know, we've reached the end of another episode of The ThinkEnergy podcast. Thank you very much for joining us today. I hope you had a lot of fun.
Lana Norton 23:36
I did. Thank you very much for having me.
Dan Seguin 23:40
We've reached the end of another episode of The think energy podcast. Again, thank you for joining us today. And Rebecca. I hope you had a lot of fun.
Rebecca Schwartz 23:49
I did. Thanks for having me.
Dan Seguin 23:51
Rebecca and I will be co hosting going forward in 2021. Thanks for joining us. See you folks.