After listening to the presidential debates, I started thinking about an earlier election where much of the focus was not on who was better at fighting a hopeless war but rather on whether a woman had the makings to be vice-president. Think Geraldine Ferraro. It's been 20 years since she was nominated for vice-president, and she got shredded for daring to be openly intelligent, savvy, tough, and well-connected. Since then, no other woman has been on the national ticket. This election season, no female voice has been heard, other than a much-needed "shove it" from an otherwise controlled coterie of ptential first and second "ladies." I decided to give Geraldine a ring to see what she thought of how women have fared since 1984. I wasn't able to get through, but I know she can't be happy. I can almost hear the New York native saying, "Remember that August blackout? They couldn't stop it because they didn't know how to communicate. You know, if women were running the transmission system, they'd know to pick up a damn phone." What has-or hasn't- been going on in the political realm does make one wonder how far women have come. In the energy sector, it's obvious we have a long way to go. "We need a more balanced perspective and more differences in style," said Valerie Fong, Alameda Power's general manager. "Women bring a lot to this industry, and it is time to see more of them in the upper ranks," added Stephanie McCorkle, spokesperson for the California Independent System Operator. The vast majority of participants and speakers at energy conferences and proceedings are men. While the dearth of women in the power business, especially in the upper levels, comes as no surprise, I find it surprising that the gender imbalance gets such little attention. There's minimal griping about the disparity in numbers, and not a whole lot of talk about what should be done to get more women into the field. Diversity in the workplace-be it women or racial minorities-in and outside the energy market is not a numbers game. It is about equal opportunity. Numbers, however, can often highlight a problem. But it is also true that compatibility with jobs can have more to do with personalities and styles than gender or race, at least in this state. I also recognize that California's energy business has made strides over the last two decades, but talented women continue to be overlooked, and the numbers leave something to be desired. Nearly all of the women heading utilities in California are in the public power sector. This includes Jan Schori, Sacramento Municipal Utility District general manager; Phyllis Currie, Pasadena Water & Power general manager; Janona Jonas, Silicon Valley Power director of utilities; and Fong, who heads Alameda Power. Debra Reed, president and chief operating officer of Sempra Energy Utilities, is the highest-ranking woman among the state's three investor-owned utilities. Marce Fuller, Mirant CEO, is the only woman heading an independent power company operating in California. Jackie Pfannenstiel is the sole woman on the five-member California Energy Commission. Susan Kennedy and Loretta Lynch make up two of the five California Public Utilities Commission members, with Lynch's term up at the end of this year. There are also Marcie Edwards, CAISO interim chief executive officer; Dana Appling, Office of Ratepayer Advocates director; and Laura Doll, executive director of the nearly defunct California Power Authority. Please forgive me if I'm missing anyone. The women I spoke with attributed their promotions to hard work-extra-hard work-and having superiors or mentors open doors for them. There's a "subtle unspoken pressure" to go the extra mile to prove credibility, Lynch said. "You need to have patience and can't let gender lead the issue," Doll noted. "You also need to have a few wins." Gender became more of an issue for many of the women as they advanced to management levels. Doll and CAISO's Edwards said the lack of an engineering degree was as big an impediment to breaking into management as was gender. Although many in top management are engineers, a number of women with legal and financial expertise have managed to crack the upper tier. Repeatedly, the executives noted it is not uncommon for them to be the only woman at a meeting and one of a few female speakers at a conference. Another factor working against women is the traditional out-of-office get-togethers-at golf courses and poker games. Can't we occasionally get together for a hike or museum visit" Fong and Katie Kaplan, Independent Energy Producers manager of state relations, said one of their biggest struggles during the first few years was getting taken seriously. Kaplan added that having bosses and co-workers stick up for her makes a huge difference. She counts a number of men as mentors, including V. John White, Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies executive director, who gave her her first job after college; CAISO's Jim Detmers and Ziad Alaywan; and her current boss, Jan Smutny-Jones. Kaplan is not alone. That is largely because for those who started in the industry 20 to 30 years ago, there were virtually no women at the top then. Doll credited many men with helping her along the way, including Dave Freeman. Jonas said Jim Pope, former Silicon Valley Power general manager, helped advance her career. Fong said women at PG&E and Alameda Power, including Jonas, were largely responsible for her advancement. But she also credited Alameda's city manager for taking a chance on her. Another big issue is that young women are not exactly flooding into the difficult-to-master industry. Edwards, who has taken leave as Anaheim Public Utilities general manager, said the shortage of women senior executives is largely a reflection of the labor pool. She added that not too many women, for example, are interested in running steam plants, which can be physically challenging and involve different work shifts, including graveyard. Thus, many women do not have as large a range of experience as their male co-workers. But let's step back for a moment. The numbers of women in the energy sector are far from ideal, but they are impressive when you compare them with the country's large corporations. According to a recent study by Catalyst, 6 CEOs in the Fortune 500 companies are women, 12.4 percent are board of director members, and 5.2 percent are among the top earners in the country. In contrast, 28 percent of Southern California Edison's executives are women and 22 percent of its 162 managers are women, according to Gil Alexander, Edison spokesperson. At San Diego Gas & Electric, close to 30 percent of the utility's executives and 33 percent of its 3,741 managers are women, according to Denise King, SDG&E spokesperson. At PG&E, 17 percent of executives are women, and nearly 28 percent of its 523 managers are female, said PG&E spokesperson Claudia Mendoza. These are not exact comparisons because the utilities define management and executives differently, and the number of executives provided by SDG&E and Edison differed from the numbers posted on the companies' Web sites. While Ferraro didn't pick up my call, presumably because she's working on her Granny Voter Project to get out the vote next month, I can imagine her response to getting more women, particularly young women, interested in the power business. "There are no doors we cannot unlock. We will place no limits on achievement. If we can do this, we can do anything." Actually, that was from a speech of hers 20 years ago, but it still applies. Edwards said she expended considerable energy getting girls interested in her field but it was an uphill battle. CAISO has begun a program to bring in more young female engineers on the operations floor, and the numbers are slowly starting to improve. To change perceptions in and outside the industry, good communications skills, hard work, and creativity -in short, many of the attributes I think women generally excel at-are needed. Or as Ferraro says, "We've chosen the path to equality; don't let them turn us around." <b>Women in Utilities<\/b> <i>PG&E<\/i> Four out of 24, or 17 percent, of the utility executives are women:<ul><li>Karen Tomcala, VP of regulatory relations.<\/li> <li>Kim Walsh, VP of communications.<\/li> <li>Linda Chinn, VP of general servicesand performance.<\/li> <li>Beverley Alexander, VP of customer satisfaction.<\/li><\/ul><i>SDG&E<\/i> Six out of SDG&E's 20 executives, or just under 30 percent, are women:<ul><li>Debra Reed, president and COO.<\/li> <li>Anne Smith, VP of customer services.<\/li> <li>Michelle Mueller, VP of mass marketing.<\/li> <li>Margot Kyd, VP of business solutions.<\/li> <li>Vicki Zeiger, VP of human relations.<\/li> <li>Pamela Fair, VP of customer operations.<\/li><\/ul><i>Edison<\/i> Eight of the 29 executives, or 28 percent, are women:<ul><li>Pamela Bass, senior VP of customer services.<\/li> <li>Polly Gault, VP of public affairs.<\/li> <li>Jodi Collins, VP of information technology.<\/li> <li>Diane Featherstone, VP and general auditor.<\/li> <li>Mahvash Yazdi, senior VP and chief information officer.<\/li> <li>Barbara Reeves, vice-president, shared services.<\/li> <li>Beverly Ryder, corporate secretary.<\/li> <li>Barbara Parsky, VP, corporate communications.<\/li><\/ul><i>Calpine<\/i> Four out of 26 executives, or 15 percent, are women:<ul><li>Ann Curtis, VP and corporate secretary.<\/li> <li>Carolyn Marsh, senior VP of corporate acquisitions.<\/li> <li>Diana Knox, VP of marketing and sales.<\/li> <li>Lisa Bodensteiner, VP and general counsel.<\/li><\/ul><i>Dynegy<\/i> One out of seven executives, or 15 percent, is a woman:<ul><li>Carol Graeburn, VP and general counsel.<\/li><\/ul><i>Duke<\/i> One out of six executives, or 16 percent, is a woman:<ul><li>Martha Wyrsch, VP and general counsel.<\/li><\/ul><i>Mirant<\/i> Two out of six executives, or one-third, are women:<ul><li>Marce Fuller, president and CEO.<\/li> <li>Michele Burns, VP and CFO.<\/li><\/ul><i>Constellation<\/i> Two out of 11 executives, or 18 percent, are women:<ul><li>Beth Perlman, CP and chief information officer.<\/li> <li>E. Follin Smith, VP and CFO.<\/li><\/ul> <b>A Study in Contrasts<\/b> Marcie Edwards, the California Independent System Operator interim chief executive officer, is a third-generation power professional. She followed in the footsteps of her father and grandfather and began working at the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP) when she was 18. She started off as a clerk's assistant and later took a tour of the nontraditional jobs open to women at LADWP. She liked what she saw, particularly the pay, and left her desk job to become a "pit critter" a steam plant operator. "I can fire any size steam plant," she said. About eight years later, she became a load dispatcher, moved into management, and was later promoted to a division head. She was on the CAISO board of governors, and after 25 years at LADWP she went to Anaheim Public Utilities and became general manager. Janona Jonas, head of Silicon Valley Power (SVP), began her professional life as a high school teacher. After a number of years in this job, Jonas decided to go back to school and get a degree in finance. When she started thinking about a career move, she panicked, realizing she had never interviewed before. She decided to wet her feet at a job she didn't want and interviewed at Pacific Gas & Electric. During the interview, she discovered that she taught the kids of the man interviewing her. He told her he was going to ask his kids what they thought of her and if she passed muster, then he'd hire her. She stayed with PG&E 21 years, becoming a utility vice-president and chief operating officer of an unregulated affiliate. She left to start her own dot-com business and launched two ventures that fizzled when the tech bubble burst. Three and a half years ago, she was hired as Alameda Power's general manager and more than six months ago was selected to head SVP.