An unusual leadership team in the Pacific Northwest is setting a new precedent in the energy and utilities sector across the United States. Puget Sound Energy (PSE), based in Bellevue, Washington, has struck an equal balance in the number of men and women at the helm—a remarkable fifty-fifty ratio in an industry historically dominated by men. Yet the equilibrium wasn’t born out of an effort to promote gender diversity, according to Kendall Cammermeyer. The director and assistant general counsel points out that it was the result of identifying and promoting talent.
“It wasn’t something that we said we need to do because of women; we looked at the top talent in the room, and the talent in the room was women,” Cammermeyer says. “It’s about people who have the potential and are recognized as those who can lead the organization to the next level.”
That approach resulted in the diverse leadership team that inspired Cammermeyer to join PSE in 2003 as corporate counsel. She had been looking for an in-house role after years of working with regulatory issues at firms such as Stoel Rives. Cammermeyer was drawn to PSE after hearing good things about its then general counsel, a woman known for being a strong mentor and employee advocate.
Now Cammermeyer is paying it forward by using her fifteen years of experience at PSE to create more opportunities for others at the company. Guided by the support of the company’s leadership, she set out to take on employee empowerment. She recalls one conversation in particular in 2015, when she met with colleagues to discuss succession planning and ways to develop talent for some of the more technical roles.
The result? Cammermeyer’s new initiative at PSE, the Women in Leadership program. “We saw an opportunity to be more intentional in our efforts to cultivate talent and skill sets of aspiring women leaders and thought that if we were to focus our attention on operations, we might be able to help business initiatives also succeed,” Cammermeyer says. “The goal was to have high-potential women leaders in those areas help others to exercise different skill sets and support them in getting opportunities and establishing contacts.”
Having previously received professional coaching opportunities, Cammermeyer and her colleagues opted to make the initiative employee-driven and led by five female directors. They launched the program through a number of speaking engagements, including one event sponsored by the company’s president and CEO, featuring the well-known author Tara Mohr.
Then they received input from employees about what information might be most helpful, including focus groups with women from other operational areas. With that feedback, they expanded the program by adding training on different leadership competencies such as managerial courage, strategic agility, and networking and mentorship opportunities.
“We’re approaching it from the perspective that strong leadership benefits from gender diversity and drives PSE’s business success,” Cammermeyer says. “With the mentoring program, we’re trying to be deliberate about creating opportunities for women who have already made strides in their career here to help mentor other women who are interested in pursuing their career, either here or at a different company.”
Early on, Cammermeyer focused on making trust a cornerstone of her mentorship style that she now applies on a larger scale through the company-wide Women in Leadership program. “It’s about giving people opportunities to succeed and also creating a space for failure,” Cammermeyer says. “You’re creating a support network, and you’re also creating a place to make and learn from mistakes, which is a necessary part of development.”
Part of the reason why the launch was so successful, Cammermeyer adds, was because of that culture of trust throughout PSE. “Our atmosphere of doing what’s right, that we have each other’s back and we all have a voice, fosters a culture that embraces trust relationships,” Cammermeyer says. “When we succeed, it’s because we have a high-functioning level of trust. And it’s because of that trust that we felt empowered to move forward.”
Since its launch, the Women in Leadership program has been well received across the company. It’s also attracted attention from other organizations in the industry that are interested in establishing similar efforts. Recently, members from the Women in Leadership team also met with other groups who are interested in getting their own programs off the ground.
“People are excited about it, and they want to know how to engage with it and support it,” Cammermeyer says. “It’s not just looking at what we can do to support women leaders, but also what we can do to support directors and management to identify talent and support an environment that cultivates its aspiring women leaders.”
For Cammermeyer and her fellow program directors, the process of creating the program within the company has been a uniquely rewarding experience. “None of us are experts in coaching, but we know our culture and we are steeped in it,” Cammermeyer says. “We’ve been able to learn from our own experiences in order to help others at the company.”
As the program moves into its fourth year, the Women in Leadership initiative has become a meaningful effort that is outside her day job as a lawyer, and it’s one that she embraces at PSE. “It’s something that I’m completely excited about because it’s moving the company’s vision forward,” Cammermeyer says. “It’s helped me to tap into my passions, and one of my passions is supporting others and developing others to do their best work.”
Davis Wright Tremaine LLP:
“Kendall successfully navigates the challenges of a complex, regulated industry with style and skill. We at Davis Wright Tremaine look forward to a continued partnership with Kendall and Puget Sound Energy.”
—Kelsey Sheldon, Partner
Gordon Tilden Thomas & Cordell LLP:
“PSE faces myriad legal issues in a highly regulated and complex landscape. Kendall’s mastery of this constantly evolving arena is remarkable. As outside litigation counsel to PSE, we benefit greatly from Kendall’s expertise and judgment.”
—Jeffrey M. Thomas, Partner