Be Fearless

evans.jpgIn honor of Women’s History Month in March, TVA’s Employee Resource Group “Women Empowered” is focusing on how women in the workplace can “lean in limitlessly.”  We sat down with TVA board chair V. Lynn Evans—TVA’s first female chair—for a discussion on her career and being a woman in today’s workplace.

What are your thoughts on being female in the modern workplace?

There has been a significant amount of positive change from when I started my career. After graduating college, I worked with an international accounting firm—in a predominantly male industry—and you didn’t discuss family issues or concerns in the workplace. If you wanted to have a family, it was assumed you were not serious about your career.

Today, both men and women openly discuss life-work balance. The work environment has changed for the better, in part, because there are more women in leadership positions today and they are compelling that discussion. As more women are in positions to make decisions, they’re helping to drive policy changes that expand and enhance the pool of available talent within their companies.

You’ve said that diversity makes teams—and companies—stronger. Why, exactly, do you think that is?

Diversity of thought makes us all stronger. It allows us an opportunity to view things from the perspective of other individuals. It gives us an opportunity to take into consideration the unintended consequences of an issue. When problem-solving, we all try to identify the “what ifs”—how will this factor or that factor affect the outcome? When factors are brought to the table by individuals with varying backgrounds, experiences and expertise, we stand a better chance of attaining the most positive outcome—and that makes teams and companies stronger.

It’s human nature for us to gravitate toward those friends and co-workers who look like us and think like us. If we want to expand our horizons, if we want to be the strongest organization we can be, we’ve got to think outside our own little worlds. Diversity helps us do that. At the board level, we make policy decisions that will impact the lives of those we ultimately serve. We need the best thinking to help inform our policy decisions, so every effort should be made to achieve team diversity.

What would be your advice to a young woman just beginning her career?

Be prepared. Always be prepared. I’d give that advice to a young man, too. We really do have to ensure that we are doing our part to encourage young people first to identify their passion and then help them be prepared to pursue it.

Some young people make limited career choices because they are not exposed to other options. TVA has programs where employee volunteers go out into communities and schools, and those are so important. It’s important to let young people see various job opportunities. I encourage all professionals at TVA to look out into their communities and look for ways to give back. I believe that giving back to young people is the greatest investment, and it will give us the greatest return.

I would also say to a young woman that if you want to be taken seriously, take yourself seriously—in the way you dress and present yourself. And I would say: be fearless.

We’ve all heard people say, “I didn’t want to ask a question because I thought it would be stupid.” Well, we’ve all also heard that there are no stupid questions!

Don’t be afraid that people might laugh. Be proud of your intelligence and display it. Be humble, but don’t shy away. Don’t be afraid to be smart—and you have to be tenacious.

I would say to a young woman, be yourself. Don’t apologize for being a woman. It’s OK to be a woman, it’s OK to be a lady, it’s OK to be a girl. I would say, as women, we have to use our brains to ensure that our voices are heard.

How do you make decisions?

I’m a very process-oriented person. I like clearly identified goals, objectives and ground rules. If I know the ground rules, I can apply them to the situation. If ground rules are made up along the way, there is a greater likelihood for dissension, resentment, and problems to occur should someone not agree with the outcome. So when I embark on a new project, I ask: “What is the objective, what is it going to take to get there, and are we all in agreement on a process?” If you have a process, everyone may not like the outcome but at least you have some assurance that everyone has been treated fairly.

One of the things we do in the Audit, Risk, and Regulation Committee is make sure there is documentation of processes, policies and procedures that set the framework on how tasks should be performed and how decisions should be made. I’m very comfortable in that space.

If you could look into a crystal ball, what do you see in TVA’s future?

At TVA, I feel sure there will be other female directors, and other women to serve in the chair position. I expect to see a female CEO and President. I expect to see women in leadership positions at every level within the organization. I think TVA is poised for that to take place because at the board level we have set expectations and I believe (President & CEO) Bill Johnson is committed to an environment that encourages growth and opportunities for everyone.

Final thoughts?

I encourage every woman at TVA to consider being involved with Women Empowered (WE). It provides another source of support and encouragement. It also provides opportunities to meet other women within the organization to help build and expand individual networks. Networking is important.

Look for a mentor. I encourage women to take advantage of volunteer opportunities both within and outside TVA, because your perfect mentor may be found outside the organization. I also encourage women at TVA to seek opportunities to serve on corporate or non-profit boards. Doing so provides an opportunity to network with others who are giving back to the community and it allows you to hone your leadership and governance skills.

Finally, my main piece of advice is: read something inspirational every day, and then, do the best you can. Don’t compare yourself to others; compare yourself to your own capabilities. If you do the best you can, you have done well.

Modern Archeology Was Shaped by Women

TVA archeologist Michaelyn Harle was recently featured in the Tennessee Council for Professional Archeology (TCPA) blog. Her article focused on the role women have played in shaping the modern study of archeology. We sat down with her for a Q&A. Read our interview by clicking here.