Monday, February 14, 2011

Nancy Ann Hart: a trailblazer on the path to diversity

Nancy Ann Hart

Nancy Ann Hart is one of the pioneers for women in non-traditional careers.

A Professional Engineer with an electrical background, she, like all trailblazers, has run into an occasional bump.

She was on her first road trip with Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) Hydro, visiting an operations facility, when she discovered a lavatory conundrum.

“There was no bathroom for women,” Nancy said, in an interview. “I just went about fixing it, by working with the team to designate a women’s bathroom. There was no confrontation or anything. I’m a secure individual but, at the same time, I realized that a young woman who wasn’t as outspoken as I, probably wouldn’t have dealt with it as well.”

That was in 2004, but a lot has changed since then. Nancy earned her professional engineer status, rose to a management position, and started a family.  In the meantime, the Government of NL created a provincial energy corporation, Nalcor Energy, and Hydro became one its key lines of business along with Churchill Falls, Oil and Gas, Lower Churchill Project and Bull Arm Fabrication.

She started in a junior role with NL Hydro, but Nancy is now the Interim Operations Manager of the Bull Arm Fabrication facility, with Nalcor Energy. She has experienced enormous growth and change at the company, and is helping guide its gender diversity policies. Nancy will be bringing the benefit of her experience to the Fueling the Future Conference, in a presentation titled Diversity as a Critical Success Factor for Energy Companies.

“Since starting here in 2003, I became a mother of one and am currently expecting my second child. Being a young female growing up in this industry, the issues of diversity and how women play a role in a large energy company have played a big part in my career and career development,” Nancy said. “And my company has been amazingly supportive of just about every initiative that I ever brought forward. But a lot of times they just said, ‘Wow, we never thought of that’.”

During the 1990s, when gender diversity emerged as an issue, there was very little hiring within NL Hydro. The workforce was static with little turnover. “There were not a lot of new employees, including women, coming in so they didn’t have to deal with maternity leave and issues like that. All that started to change after 2000 and I just happened to be one of the women hired at that time, in a non-traditional role.  In my role I was able to help stimulate that change. So these issues were very real for me early in my career.”

Last year, Nalcor set about developing a diversity management plan, to implement across all five of its lines of business. At the same time, Nancy started researching best practices in diversity for her university studies. It was a perfect match.

“I was able to marry the research I was doing for my MBA with an initiative I was doing here at work,” she said. “That worked out really well! So I did a great deal of research, drawing upon a variety of sources, and found a lot of consistent themes. Many different people were saying similar things about best practices, so I was able to distill the 60 to70 articles I reviewed down to a handful of key themes. When I presented those findings to management, they recognized the same consistent messages from their own research, and it provided them with a good roadmap to proceed.”

Nancy performed a second piece of work for her employer, by recommending the best mechanism to put the diversity plan and resulting procedures into action.

“A large company like Nalcor has well established processes, policies and procedures they follow for corporate planning, accounting strategy, project management, and so on. So I suggested we apply that same process to embark on our diversity strategy. We aren’t reinventing the wheel; we’re using a process that is already familiar to most managers in the company. We’re integrating diversity into the corporate structure and making it another key aspect of what we do, and how we operate.”

In her presentation, Nancy will discuss the short list of best practices that she developed in her research, and the internal process that was used to recognize and address diversity issues. Following is the abstract for her presentation:

Strategic change occurs for a number of reasons - both initiated within the organization and as a result of external pressures. Industries such as financial services have had major change initiatives thrust upon them by corporate governance and financial reporting reforms such as Sarbanes-Oxley. The nature of these corporate governance reforms has been to force senior executives to assure that the financial statements they are presenting to regulators and other stakeholders are correct. Senior management gains comfort through process-mapping the systems and identifying critical factors needed to ensure accuracy and reliability in their financial reporting systems. There is much merit in energy companies applying the same type of rigour and process to diversity management. Too often, diversity is delegated and not owned by senior management. Without a full understanding on how diversity is approached from a process and critical success factor level, executives deal with diversity at too high a level to have real meaning or to effect lasting strategic change within their organization. This presentation will show how energy firms can tactically approach diversity within their organizations. Using their existing core competencies to plan, map and succeed in managing diversity, energy firms can move beyond talking about diversity and instead focus on managing inclusion within the organizations. This presentation will examine good practices towards managing diversity by analyzing the work of other companies and their relative successes, and then use this information to propose a process method to managing diversity. The presentation will also provide a number of strategic and tactical approaches to achieving diversity goals in the energy sector.

Fueling the Future: Women in Oil and Gas takes place March 8 and 9, 2011 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It is presented by the Harris Centre, of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Please visit the official conference site, for more information or to register.

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