“Start with why,” is the advice that energy executive Felecia Howard said she would give her 20-year-old self. ECC will introduce several women who have been important in the Carolina energy industry. Felicia is one of them.

This blog is a Q&A with Felicia, Vice President of Economic Development Strategy at Dominion Energy. Felicia has been in key accounts, demand-side management and gas operations, and fossil/hydro.

Question: When it comes to moving ahead successfully in a company, what advice would you give your 20-year-old self based on what you know now?

Answer: The advice I would give my 20-year-old self about moving ahead successfully in a company is to, “Start with why”. Looking back on my career, I can see that the times I have been most satisfied is when there has been the greatest alignment between my work, a substantial investment of my time and energy, and my overarching purpose. Understanding my purpose and priorities serves as a “North Star” to guide and direct decision making at every juncture in achieving both personal and professional goals.

Everyone must run their own race. I would also tell my 20-year-old self to think and plan ahead to prepare for shifts in life and career stages. Allow new doors of opportunity to open.

Question: How do women find and best use mentors?

Answer: I think mentors can be found anywhere. Throughout my career, I have benefitted from the wise counsel of many mentors at all levels in the organization and in my personal life. There is, literally, something to learn from everyone.

I have found the best way to find a mentor is to get engaged. Take an interest in other people and develop relationships. Over time, you will discern who can be a trusted mentor for each area of your professional or personal life.

I also encourage taking advantage of more formal mentoring programs, which may provide an opportunity to be mentored by someone with whom you may never otherwise come in contact or who offers a much different perspective from your own.

The key to the success of any mentoring relationship, however, is that you must understand your own objectives and remain receptive to listening and learning.

Question: Is the utility industry ready for more women leaders; how can women in the workplace now help improve the environment for women?

Answer: I believe the utility industry is not only ready for more women leaders, but also will greatly benefit from the contributions and different perspectives that women leaders bring to the table.

Particularly, as the utility industry faces increasing challenges to do more than simply keep the lights on and the gas flowing, there will need to be a variety of ideas, talent, and expertise to shape a future that is responsive to a wide spectrum of utility customer and community expectations for areas like sustainability, environmental stewardship, economic development, and diversity and inclusion.

In many ways, the utility industry is entering unchartered waters and for that we need all hands on deck, including women.

Two of the most impactful things women in the workplace can do today to help improve the environment for women is to mentor and advocate for other women. Mentoring can happen at all levels and in a variety of ways. Women can also help other women gain exposure by providing a forum to share their ideas and demonstrate their talent to a broader audience of decision makers and influencers.

It’s difficult to be recognized and appreciated for one’s good work if it, for all practical purposes, remains hidden. For women currently in leadership roles, I challenge us to accept the responsibility of making sure policies and practices surrounding hiring, promoting, compensating and retention are critically evaluated to ensure they are helpful, not harmful, to cultivating the success of women in the workplace.

Question: Ever been afraid of a job or project? What did you do?

Answer: I find that every new job, project, or opportunity carries a bit of fear of the unknown. The key is to push through that uncertainty with a healthy respect for the various complexities a situation may present and with a humble disposition and expectation for what can be learned and discovered, not only what will be contributed.

I like to approach a challenging job or project with collaboration while remaining open to hearing what others have to say before plowing in with my own preconceived thoughts and solutions. I find that I enjoy being on the steep end of the learning curve. Tackling the fear of the unknown is part of the adventure.