When you’re a CEO in today’s world, your responsibilities extend beyond simply overseeing your company’s operations. For Kevin Payne, being successful in this role at Southern California Edison (SCE) — which employs tens of thousands of people — means not only meeting business objectives, but also ensuring that he and the company are intentional about defining and staying true to their values. He puts it plainly: “Ideology is fine, but there is nothing like turning it into action.”
Payne also says that identifying as a male ally plays a huge part in how he carries out his role as a CEO. “For me, being a male ally starts with understanding that improving gender balance will improve how we perform as a company and as a leadership team,” he says. “But being a male ally with a CEO title means you have the opportunity, and responsibility, to do something about it.”
Payne recently chatted with Fairygodboss about just that: he shared what, specifically, SCE is doing to become an even more diverse and inclusive workplace (hint: it has a lot to do with goal-setting and holding leaders accountable) and his tips for men who want to be more supportive allies to women at work.
How long have you been with SCE? What about it made you first want to join?
I have been with SCE for 32 years. I started as a Mechanical Engineer working on power plant projects. What attracted me initially was the opportunity to grow as an engineer and work on important projects that helped power southern California, where I grew up. What made me stay was the challenging work, the values of Edison leadership, and the vision we have to help California meet its sustainable energy goals and manage climate change.
What are your main job responsibilities, and what about your role most excites you?
As Chief Executive Officer of SCE, I am responsible for all aspects of the company’s operations. This includes planning and building the electric system, managing the supply of power, providing clean energy programs for customers, and ensuring safe and reliable electricity for the 15 million people we serve.
Although the work we do is truly fascinating, especially for an engineer, the most exciting part of my job is leading the 12,500 people who work on the Edison team. Our strength comes from the diversity of our team and the values we share. What has inspired me over the years is that, when Edison people come together with an objective, there is nothing we can’t do. The most exciting thing for me is focusing our people on the important work we need to do for our customers and creating an environment where we get the best from everyone on the team. In a big company, this is always a challenge, but we are making progress and I find inspiration in it every day.
While we’ve made progress toward achieving a more gender-balanced workforce, there remains a lot of work to be done. What kinds of actions do you incorporate into your day-to-day routine at work (or beyond) to serve as a male ally?
For me, being a male ally starts with understanding that improving gender balance will improve how we perform as a company and as a leadership team. But being a male ally with a CEO title means you have the opportunity, and responsibility, to do something about it.
So, I want to know where we are as a company in our journey toward gender parity, what obstacles may be in the way, and what things we can do to make progress. Ideology is fine, but there is nothing like turning it into action. I personally engage my top leaders in regular discussions about how we can attract and retain a diverse, talented leadership team and I hold them accountable for action plans that improve the diversity and inclusiveness of our work environment. I look at what our team is missing in each area across the company to make us stronger, and I am personally involved in the selection of every executive.
Importantly, I spend time talking to our employees and listening to their thoughts and observations. For me, this sheds light on areas of opportunity and allows me to better understand the experiences they have working on the Edison team. Sometimes this reveals near-term actions we can take, such as different attraction strategies or mentoring and developmental assignments for high potential female employees. Sometimes it reveals much more complex societal issues requiring long term commitments to solutions, such as increasing the number of female engineering graduates from universities or attracting women to roles in field construction.
Being an ally is about being engaged every day and being committed to progress.
What kinds of longer-term initiatives are you participating in to advance gender equality at SCE?
For me, gender equality has two critical elements — pay parity and representation. Pay parity within jobs can be more immediately addressed, and I am proud to say that, on average, men and women at SCE are paid the same within each job category.
The tougher issue for society to manage is that women are not well represented in some higher paying job categories such as engineering, field construction, and executive leadership. This issue is more complex and will require time to solve, but in the meantime, finding ways to make progress is critical.
I focus on supporting our employee resource groups (such as Women’s Roundtable), engaging directly with our women leaders, offering mentor opportunities with me or other executives, ensuring that we have strong talent attraction strategies, benchmarking with other businesses to learn about best practices, and encouraging engagement with external organizations that may be able to help. And as CEO, I frequently talk with our employees about where we are in this journey, where we are going, and why it is important.
Why do you believe your company is a particularly supportive place for women employees?
It is our commitment to diversity and inclusion that makes SCE a particularly supportive workplace for women, but also for employees of all backgrounds; because this commitment does not stop with just words. It guides our decisions. It is embedded into our employee programs, development programs, and benefits.
We are committed to pay parity and improving the representation of women across our ranks, and this is reflected in our talent attraction processes. We have opportunities for women who are leaders and for those who want to become leaders, and we offer training and development to help women reach these goals. We understand that work and life go together, and we offer benefits that help our employees succeed in both.
We are deliberate about taking actions that make our aspirations reality, and I’m proud of that.
What’s your #1 tip for men who want to be allies to women at work but aren’t sure of what to do or where to start?
I think the first step to becoming an ally is to better understand the experiences women have and how they may be different from your own. Talk to some of your female colleagues in a curious and genuine way to find out how they see the work environment. Do they feel valued? Do they feel comfortable offering new ideas and speaking up? Do they see opportunities? If not, what obstacles do they see? Being an ally means you are more than moral support; it means you are engaging to help.
What was the best quality of the best boss you’ve ever had?
Empathy. As a leader, true success is assembling a great team and getting the very best from every member. Unlocking the power of a diverse and inclusive team requires the ability to understand perspectives beyond your own and see the value in them. An empathetic leader understands how to inspire, motivate, and develop each employee as an individual, and brings the team together in harmony.
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
Never be afraid to take on hard problems or challenging assignments – they are opportunities in disguise.
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