For most of my childhood growing up in a small town in the foothills of North Carolina, my dad worked in the blanket factory as a supervisor in the labs—working on fabric treatments, dyes, weaves, and all the other things that you’d never think about going into the design of a blanket. On Saturday mornings, he’d often bring me along to his office while he was catching up on work.
I loved those Saturday mornings. I’d tear through the science library in the lab, look at anything that I could under the microscopes, and, when my dad had time, we’d do some different “experiments” with the various chemicals. There was nothing else I’d rather have been doing—because I LOVED science.
That love of science and solving problems eventually brought me to MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I graduated with my degree in Chemical Engineering, and led me to want to be part of the oil and gas industry. What could be more important than ensuring people were safe and warm? Actually, there was more: there were the issues of not just affordability and reliability, but also social, environmental, governance, and corporate responsibility. As I’ve progressed through my career, I’ve realized that now, more than ever, our actions and our decisions must represent our values. Never could I have imagined how much the energy industry would change throughout the course of my career. Never has the role of the utility been so critical to our future.
Now in my current role at National Grid, I am proud to be living my values as we’re engaged in projects that are ushering in a new era of clean energy—one that eliminates fossil fuels from our gas and electric networks. My fellow engineers and I are engineering a clean energy future that will be powered by offshore wind, green hydrogen, and renewable natural gas. But, I can’t help noticing that there’s another critical need in the energy industry: We need more talented female engineers to join in this important work.
According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau Survey, while women now make up nearly half of the total workforce in America, women only fill 27% of all STEM roles. That just doesn’t make sense to me. Clearly, we need to do a better job inspiring a love of science in our daughters just as my dad did for his daughter on our Saturday mornings together.
As I’m reflecting on another International Women in Engineering Day this June, I can’t help feeling a renewed sense of urgency around the need to attract more women to STEM positions, particularly engineering, not just for the sake of our daughters but for the continued viability of our entire planet.
Just as I’m proud to work for a clean energy company, I’m also proud to work for a company that recognizes there are real benefits that diversity, equity, and inclusion bring to both colleagues and our organization. A mix of diverse experiences and backgrounds helps us to innovate and find solutions more effectively on the road to net zero. That’s why we place great emphasis on attracting and retaining women at all levels and across all functions.
I’m proud that National Grid has publicly committed to achieving 50% diversity across all company new talent recruitment programs as well as among our senior leadership group by 2025—if not sooner.
We’ve also launched one of the most generous scholarship programs for engineering students coming from economically disadvantaged households. National Grid will select six candidates accepted into engineering programs for the 2022–2023 academic year to each receive a $10,000 scholarship and a paid summer internship in National Grid’s Massachusetts or New York business. Scholarship and internship recipients who continue to meet the program’s criteria may continue receiving these benefits for up to four years. You can review all of the scholarship program’s criteria and find a link to apply at: https://www.nationalgridus.com/News/National-Grid-Launches-Scholarship-to-Aid-Diverse-Engineering-Students-in-MA-and-NY-/.
We recognize that if we’re going to tackle climate change then we need the talents and perspectives of all of us to engineer innovative solutions. For me, engineering has been a challenging and hugely rewarding career path, with still an exciting future and amazing opportunities ahead. I so want to bring more women into this field. Let’s find that next generation of women engineers.
If you know of a bright aspiring engineer who could use a helping hand, I urge you to direct them to the National Grid Engineering Scholarship Program. I promise to save a seat at the table for her.
—Caroline Hon is senior vice president of Network Strategy and Planning for New England Gas at National Grid, accountable for the asset, engineering, and work planning of the gas network to National Grid’s approximately 950,000 customers in Massachusetts. She is a chemical engineer and holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.