‘Doing My Best Would Always Be Enough’: Excelling as a Conscientious Leader for Over 22 Years

Sponsored by Southern California Edison

Lisa Cagnolatti

Image courtesy of Southern California Edison.

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Fairygodboss
May 27, 2024 at 9:42AM UTC

Even after 22 years at Southern California Edison (SCE), Lisa Cagnolatti, Senior Vice President of Customer Service, remains excited about her work. This is due to a confluence of factors, including the “talented teams of people who are passionate about their work” and her own job, which enables her to work on “different kinds of projects in many different disciplines,” says Cagnolatti. “That is what makes working at Edison so interesting and fun: we never do the same thing every day or from year-to-year.”

As a woman of color, Cagnolatti notes that SCE enables her to feel empowered to bring her whole self to work.  “I know I will be respected for how I contribute to the company's success. My team members at all levels make me feel valued. I think that's what all employees want and deserve to have from their employer,” says Cagnolatti.

In this article, she shares more about her impressive career journey, her best advice for making companies more inclusive, tips for her fellow women in leadership positions (particularly women of color and women in traditionally male-dominated industries), how she helps other women and more!

Tell us a bit about your job. What’s your current role, and what did your career path look like prior to being in this role?

I have over 30 years of experience in the utility industry, including regulatory affairs, environmental affairs, marketing, customer service and transmission and distribution. In my current role as Senior Vice President of Customer Service, I am responsible for leading how we engage, serve and communicate with our customers. Some of our major initiatives are building electrification, electric transportation and energy-efficiency programs, including managing customer experience, call centers, technology and analytics.

After earning my bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from UCLA, I began working for Procter and Gamble as a team manager. Then I moved into another role at Southern California Gas Company, where I stayed for 11 years and held positions in marketing, environmental affairs and regulatory affairs. My career journey at Southern California Edison began in 1996.

What is your advice for Women of Color who want to make the company they work for more inclusive?

It starts with each and every one of us. We have more power than we realize to reach out and support people across the company who are different from us in background, experience, age, race, gender, sexual orientation and all of those rich areas of diversity that people bring to work. 

We also must have the courage to speak up when we feel that we, or one of our team members, is being left out or mistreated. We must continue to be an ally and an advocate for ourselves and our peers. If every person in our team makes an effort to practice inclusivity, it can transform an organization and improve the company culture. 

Do you have any career advice for women in leadership, particularly for Women of Color and for those in traditionally male-dominated industries?

During my time in college, I was the only Black student in my classes in the chemical engineering department. Later, in most of my professional positions, I was often the only woman or Black person in my department or who had ever held my position. I became quite used being a pioneer in my field. 

What I learned along the way is exactly what my mother told me: doing my best would always be enough. What this meant for me was always being punctual, responsible, conscientious and dependable. I worked hard to build my credibility and my network and I ensured that my work was accurate and completed on time. Once I started managing larger and larger groups of employees, I focused my efforts on making sure that each and every one of them felt valued and supported. The key to thriving in any work environment is holding yourself, and others, to high standards while treating everyone with respect and professional courtesy.

Who inspired you to be a leader and why?

My first and most important mentor was my mother. She always encouraged me to strive for greatness and set high expectations for myself. I was also very fortunate to have wonderful mentors and role models in the workplace who inspired me to take on more leadership positions. As I learned more about the utility industry, one mentor told me, “Never get complacent. Don’t let the grass grow under your feet”.

How have you used your role to help bring up other women behind you? How do you build time into your schedule for this kind of work?

I feel that it is very important to mentor future leaders, so I always find the time. Over the years, I found that doing group mentoring allows me to reach more employees. I love having leadership development discussions with individuals and with groups of employees. I have also hired and mentored many outstanding, talented and ambitious young women who continue to climb the corporate ladder today. 

What’s the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at the end of your workday?

First, I check my email in case there is something urgent that needs my immediate attention. Next, I review my calendar to ensure that I have it clear in my head what I need to accomplish for the day. At the end of the day, I wind down by reading something non-work-related to clear my mind and relax. Then, I always get a good night’s sleep. That is my secret weapon.

What’s the #1 thing you think your colleagues should know — but probably don’t know — about you?

I am a passionate and active philanthropist. I work with several nonprofit organizations to raise money for scholarships to benefit outstanding young scholars. I believe we should all help to ensure the success of future generations.

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