Bringing Diversity To NRG And Diversified Energy To The World

By Nell Derick Debevoise, Contributor
President & CEO of NRG, Mauricio Gutierrez NRG Energy

Nell Derick Debevoise: As President & CEO of NRG, what has your journey looked like from your perspective?

Mauricio Gutierrez: I was born and raised in Mexico City. and then went on to grad school in the US and in France. I always had a passion for the energy industry, beginning right after high school. It was clear to me that the energy industry had largely shaped the economic and political spheres in the last century. Working in one of the most prominent energy companies in the US brought both prestige and sacrifice. I was leaving all my family in Mexico but at the end of the day I was pursuing my dream. This dream has led me to leading a Fortune 500 company at 45-years-old. 

As a leader, I think about how I can use my position and influence to create opportunities and positive impact for our world, our communities, our employees and our customers. To me that means embodying the principles of purposeful leadership. Focus on what you love and get really good at it, and then prepare for a long journey. These are the ingredients for success and there are no shortcuts to success. As you achieve success, opportunities for leadership will arise. These opportunities allow you to share your purposeful leadership with a much greater sphere of influence and bring people along for the journey.

Derick Debevoise: On that journey to purposeful leadership, how do you think of your own purpose, specifically?

Gutierrez: It's not lost on me that I'm one of the few Hispanic CEOs in the Fortune 500, and I have embraced that. I am a role model for many Hispanics that want to have a successful trajectory, and be in a position of leadership and I own it. I also have a tremendous sense of responsibility and understand my ability to open the path for others and act as an example for what can be achieved. 

As I moved from COO of NRG to the CEO, I wanted to change the way we were as a company, not just our purpose and our intention, but the culture and DNA of the company. I elevated diversity, equity and inclusion as one of our corporate values, making sure it was at the forefront of every decision that we made as an organization. This is a journey and we are committed to it.  It always starts with a very open and candid conversation about where we are on this journey, because if you don't have that sense of awareness, you're never going to get to your destination.

Derick Debevoise: It's a brave thing to be so open about not being where you want to be. We've built this culture that if you're the leader, you're supposed to be right and you're supposed to know. Would you share some examples of the changes and initiatives that have worked or that haven't and are still in progress?

Gutierrez: The first part is awareness and communication with all stakeholders. It started with us getting clear on our numbers, so people could actually see where we were. We reported our statistics in our sustainability report to open the lines of communication with our shareholders and employees. The second thing was to facilitate unconscious bias training to increase awareness. Next, we conducted a pay equity study. I was very pleased to see the results, and where we needed to make corrections, we did openly and transparently. 

I believe in a feedback culture, where two-way communication exists with our employees. It's not just about leaders talking to our employees, but it's equally important to hear and listen to employees. We launched a survey and I have committed to share the results of the survey, which has created this incredible feedback loop. We’ve launched a D&I committee comprised of people deep in the organization that are passionate about these topics. I am completely impressed and blown away by the ideas and the commitment that all of them have demonstrated during this process. 

NRG Energy: Team meeting with the President & CEO of NRG Energy NRG Energy

Derick Debevoise: And what's not yet where you wish it were? What's your next hurdle that you're excited about improving?

Gutierrez: Traditionally the electric industry has been a very male-dominated industry, and you don't see many diverse employees at powerplants. We are on the journey of attracting diverse talent, and asking how we make it attractive for the new generations to want to come and work for a company that is really changing the way that energy is being consumed by people. In this process we recognize that we are not necessarily representatives of the communities where we live and work. As a customer focused organization, in order to understand our customers better, we need to have a diverse workforce driving value for everyone.

Derick Debevoise: So, you’re building the pipeline of women and non-white folks that you can pull up into leadership?

Gutierrez: Absolutely, and we need to remove obstacles from the ones who are growing in the business. Here are two examples:

  1. ‘Put your money where your mouth is’. We need to change our suppliers to support minority and women owned businesses. 
  2. ‘Lower the obstacles for diverse candidates to join our company’. A few months ago, I asked our Head of HR to give me all the open jobs that we have and I noticed that every one had a four-year degree requirement. A lot of the diverse candidates cannot afford a four-year degree. We were basically creating these artificial obstacles to become a more diverse organization. 

Derick Debevoise: What about the connection between the wellbeing of diverse populations, inclusion, and clean energy?

Gutierrez: We’re in the middle of a transformation of our energy system. We believe that we're at the forefront. I am very vocal around our responsibility and our reduction of carbon emissions to impact climate change. We are on a path to be net zero by 2050. We want to do it in a way that is responsible because we don't want to create an energy system or an electricity system, where it's not safe, reliable and affordable. We’re working with our employees and instead of saying well we're going to shut down these plants and you're going to be unemployed we are learning how to train on new technologies and create careers in this new clean economy. I want to make sure that we bring everybody along through training, education, and creating opportunities.

Derick Debevoise: Coming full circle, how do you create that same spark you found in the energy industry for your employees? How do you build that into their work to give them a sense of purpose and connection to their impact?

Gutierrez: It starts by having a very clear purpose for what we stand for. Thinking about NRG as a house, our foundation is our corporate values and our sustainability framework. This is the vehicle that brings all the stakeholders together with a common goal. Then our business strategy is built on these strong foundations, and perfectly aligned with our purpose. For our employees we create a feedback culture to instill dialogue amongst teams and individuals. I have asked every employee to map how their job and their actions impact our purpose. I want everybody to make the connection between their work, their purpose, and the company’s values. Every employee should understand their contributions to achieving our company’s purpose, which is bringing the power of energy to people and organizations. 

Derick Debevoise: That mapping exercise is incredible. It's not rocket science but that's the magic! It's simple, which is what makes it so powerful.

Email us to get a mapping worksheet similar to what Gutierrez’s team did with their employees. It is a simple and powerful way to help your employees connect to purpose, which leads to engagement, motivation, creativity, and collaboration. 


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