Coffee Talks with Shahrzad Simab

Earlier this year, the Canadian Electricity Association published our Commitment to Advancing Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (ED&I) in the Electricity Industry in Canada. For the first time, the organization and its Board of Directors created measures to operationalize the commitment including, establishing a digital community of practice, establishing partnerships, standardizing best practice sharing, and champion industry efforts. While our industry has made great strides on ED&I over the years, we know we have much to accomplish in the years ahead. In order to fulfill our mission of being the best trade association, we have to steer the conversation towards a brighter future including prioritizing ED&I conversations with CEA staff members.

Once a month, CEA staff tune into the Gender Partnerships Coffee Series. Shahrzad Simab, Manager, Climate Change & Clean Energy and member of CEA’s “Women in Electricity Alliance” explains this new project and why these conversations are essential to moving forward not only as an organization but, as an industry.

Can you tell us a little bit about the CEA Gender Partnerships Coffee Series and how it came to be?

The Gender Partnerships Coffee Series is a monthly meeting of CEA staff during which important issues related to gender equality and treatment of women in the workplace are discussed. The Vision is for the Gender Partnerships Coffee Series is to be a safe space for CEA staff to share experiences and thoughts on important topics with the intent of learning from one another and encouraging reflection. The Mission is to create an open space where staff can engage in discourse on the topic of gender inequality, identify key areas where more work needs to be focused, and brainstorm solutions collectively in an effort to create impactful change throughout the sector.

This coffee series was born as an idea during a meeting with my fellow CEA ‘Women in Electricity Alliance’ colleagues on how we, as the Canadian Electricity Association staff, may contribute to creating a more diverse and inclusive environment, in what has traditionally been a more male dominated industry.

How did you recognize that there was a need to hold this type of conversation?

Gender equality is an issue that Canada and many other countries have made extensive progress on but there still remains a lot of work to be done. I read a quote once which stated, “the energy sector remains one of the least gender diverse sectors and closing this gender gap will be vital as women are key drivers of innovative and inclusive solutions” and that really stuck with me. I believe the way to move forward on any topic is awareness, education and understanding, and the objective of the coffee series is just that. While disagreements, various opinions, and differing experiences are expected, by simply having those conversations, we move one step closer to creating empathy, understanding, and broadening our minds.

What are some of the topics of discussion during the Coffee Series?

Some of the topics of discussion during the coffee series include:

  • The impact of maternity/biological (menstrual)/caretaking leave on women’s careers.
  • Whether employers should place gender quotas for job hiring
  • Acknowledgement of women in formal settings – do’s and don’ts
  • Overcoming barriers to women stepping into leadership positions.
  • Addressing salary gap between genders
How can other associations promote the conversation of gender equality from an internal perspective?

As representatives for entire industries, it is important for associations to ensure their internal staff first have the tools and knowledge to be able to sincerely promote change widely. The goal should be to raise awareness, understanding, and empathy, rather than encouraging staff to subscribe to specific opinions or ways of thinking. In order to achieve this goal, it is important to create a space where staff can safely have open discourse, share their thoughts and opinions, and learn from one another. When done respectfully and genuinely, it is touching the connections that are made and growth that takes place.

Why is equity, diversity and inclusion important in the electricity sector right now?

With electricity being central to Canada reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, now is the time to create that equal and inclusive work environment so that the electricity sector may continue prosper and help the Canadian government decarbonize and achieve climate targets. The electrification of the economy will inevitably result in increasing demand for electricity. Meanwhile, technological advancements will transform the way customers receive and consume electricity. At this cusp of this massive change in the industry, there is a need to recruit and foster the brightest minds amongst all races, genders, and ethnicities. Also, there is an opportunity to become a leader in advancing women’s rights and treatment in the workplace, and carry the torch for future generations.