'Everyone Matters' - Q&A with Keynote Speaker Giulia Privitera from UK Power Networks

Giulia Privitera, Low Carbon Technologies Delivery Manager at UK Power Networks, talks to us about what we need to do push for an inclusive construction industry, initiatives she is involved in that actively champion gender diversity and the importance of being involve...

We sat down with Giulia Privitera, Low Carbon Technologies Delivery Manager at UK Power Networks, ahead of her keynote speech at Women in Construction Summit on the 6th March.

She talks to us about what we need to do push for an inclusive construction industry, initiatives she is involved in that actively champion gender diversity and the importance of being involved with the event. 

Why did you get involved with the Women in Construction Summit

I’m participating in the Women in Construction Summit to share my personal experience on how a young woman can build her career in a male dominated field, such as the energy sector. I strongly believe in the power of sharing positive examples.

"The first key step to inspiring more women to take up careers in engineering is to share our success stories." 

By talking about what women can achieve and what motivates us we can drive the discussion around getting a better gender balance in the construction industry.

Taking my example, I come from a slightly unconventional background. Before joining the Innovation team at UK Power Networks, I was a researcher in nanotechnology at the University of Cambridge with limited expertise in power networks.

"However, I have been always passionate about energy and sustainability, with a key focus on the human aspect."

To follow my passion at university, I got involved with and led the Cambridge University Energy Network. It’s a university society aiming to raise awareness of the long-term challenges of the energy system.

This experience not only helped me develop a deeper understanding of energy matters, but also allowed me to create a synergy between my passions and the career I wanted to develop.

The following four years I’ve enjoyed at UK Power Networks then gave me the opportunity to strengthen my management skills and demonstrate true leadership through different roles - from Innovation Engineer to Project Lead, and more recently as Programme Manager.

What do you want attendees to learn from your session and the Summit? 

I will demonstrate that diversity is an added value to the construction industry and it can be extremely beneficial to the energy sector as well as to all other sectors. This is true first and foremost for gender diversity, but also for diversity and inclusion more broadly speaking.

"More diversity means seeing things differently, bringing new ideas and creative approaches to innovate and improve standard practises."

In particular, in my presentation I will show how the energy industry is transforming as we move towards a low carbon economy and how innovation and diversity are pivotal to bring creative perspectives to this fast-changing landscape.

The Innovation team at UK Power Networks is a great example of this.

"Currently around 43% of the team members are women, with most of them covering technical roles at all levels, including manager positions."

Also, almost 70% of the team comes from different countries from all around the world, which is reflected in diverse backgrounds, nationalities, ethnicities and education models.

Our work is to identify smart ways to operate the electricity distribution system that can benefit both our network and the energy customers.

"Female engineers can bring another perspective to a traditionally male dominated field, while diversity is key to stimulate the discussion and improve the creative thinking process."

All fostering innovation.

What is important to consider when discussing gender diversity?

First of all, stereotypes. We need to take down those barriers that prevent talented young women flourishing in in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Everyone should follow their own attitudes and passions.

"It is important that no one is discouraged to pursue their real interests just because of society’s preconceptions."

But it is not all about exposing girls to STEM subjects and celebrate role models that will inspire them into future careers in the construction industry. We also need to make sure that girls develop critical thinking and become well-rounded individuals.

This means that they have to be exposed to all sort of experiences, not just technical ones and can range from arts, theatre and literature, to fun scientific experiments.

Every little experience counts to make you the person you are today. Having a wide range of interests will empower women with one of the most precious tool that will allow them to follow their real passion – critical thinking.

"This will help them demonstrate their value even in a challenging environment and fight for their rights when they have to earn the respect of their peers."

What do you think we need to do to push for an inclusive construction industry?

We need to make it possible for women to have the same opportunities as their male-counterparts across all industries. In order to do this, we need to address social inequalities, such as the gender gap, and we need to improve representation of women at all levels, including senior management level and industry boards.

"We need to continue to advocate for the required support schemes that will allow women to combine a successful career with having a family if they wish to."

These two aspects of people’s life cannot be mutually exclusive.

Last but not least, we need to value those skills and strengths that women can bring to the construction industry, rather than looking for them to replicate a stereotypically male delivery and management style.

For example, in the electricity power industry consumers will have a more proactive role in the future smarter flexible energy system. This will involve increasing services to the consumers and increased customer interactions.

In addition to strong stakeholder engagement skills, having a deep empathy and understanding of customers’ needs will become paramount, particularly when working with those that are most vulnerable.

Would you like to share any initiatives that you or your company are doing to actively champion gender diversity in construction? 

"I am really proud to work for an organisation that takes diversity and inclusion very seriously with a series of commitments and initiatives running both at company and individual levels."

We have several colleagues trained as STEMnet Ambassadors and members of the Women’s Engineering Society.

UK Power Networks aims to be an organisation that attracts, retains and develops the best talent and we recognise that in order to sustain our business in the longer term we need diverse talent and teams led by inclusive leaders.

We are committed to developing a culture where all employees, regardless of their background and characteristics are able to share in and contribute to the success of the business.

"As part of our ‘Everyone Matters strategy’ we are doing this through a range of personal development and training sessions promoting equality and diversity." 

These include inclusive leadership workshops, inclusive behaviour sessions, e-learnings, interview refresher training and an interactive team building game.

UK Power Networks has also signed up to the National Equality Standard, a robust and comprehensive accreditation that has become the accepted standard for inclusiveness in business across the UK.

Are you working on anything exciting at the moment that you’d like to share with our readers? 

Last October I started a new role in the Innovation team at UK Power Networks. I am now heading the innovation programme that aims to facilitate the uptake of more low carbon technologies and reduce time and costs to connect them to the electricity network.

As part of this role, I manage a team of seven young passionate engineers, four men and three women, coming from different parts of the world.

Our projects range from investigating how energy efficiency, smart meters and new energy tariffs can help low income households who are struggling with their energy bills, to exploring the benefits of installing domestic batteries in conjunction with solar PV panels in residential properties.

An exciting area we are working on is supporting UK Power Networks’ readiness strategy for the uptake of electric vehicles in the areas we serve and more widely in the UK, which ultimately will improve air quality in big cities like London.

"For me it is really rewarding to explore innovative solutions that will support vulnerable consumers, reduce costs for our customers and deliver environmental benefits."

If you are a young woman passionate about your work and the positive impact it can have on society, it is a great time to be in this fast-changing energy landscape.

Catch Giulia Privitera's keynote on 'The Energy Revolution: The Key Role of Innovation and Diversity' at Women in Construction Summit on the 6th March 2018.