I had the pleasure of interviewing Christina Halfpenny about her approach to women in leadership positions, at the Design Lights Consortium (DLC), and on the subject more broadly. There are a large number of very accomplished women in leadership positions at the DLC – many brought on board after Christina Halfpenny became Executive Director in 2015. DLC has grown into an independent international non-profit that drives energy efficiency and connected building solutions through solid-state lighting and controls, across North America. Halfpenny has been a strong advocate for diversity and representation on panels at every DLC meeting for the past several years, and in the imagery the organization uses on its website and in materials.
Of the DLC’s 21-member staff, more than half (12) are women, including Dorene Maniccia and Leora Radetsky, both with numerous published papers to their names, and Bernadette Boudreaux who co-leads a Diversity Equity Inclusion and Respect (DEIR) in Lighting Working Group, with the DOE. Also, Liesel Whitney-Schulte has over 20 years of experience working on utility energy efficiency programs and collaborating with lighting designers to create programs that simultaneously fit utility goals and promote quality lighting design. Bios of all the women on the DLC team are here: https://www.designlights.org/about-us/team/.
Shiller: More than 50% of DLC’s staff are women, despite the lighting industry historically being male-dominated. What advice do you have for other lighting industry executive leaders in a position to increase women’s representation, as well as diversity in hiring of all kinds (gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.)?
Halfpenny: It isn’t just executive leaders in a position to hire women and diverse people. Every person in the hiring process can influence the diversity of their team, their vendors and suppliers, as well as leadership. Inclusion of people on hiring teams and questions from staff for prospective employees can help not only get a view into the organization’s dynamics, challenges and priorities, but also provide a relevant assessment of culture fit. These things can be overlooked if we are not taking a deliberate approach towards diversity in our hiring methods. With the ongoing changes in lighting and the industry, it’s an opportune time to prioritize diversity for the variety of perspective and experience that comes with a diverse team. There is always room for women and diversity in leadership; on Boards and in executive functions, but truly valuing diversity happens when space is made for diversity at all levels of the company.
Shiller: DLC has many recognized industry thought leaders on its staff, both women and men. Do you have any advice to other executives on recruiting and retaining elite industry talent, both women and men?
Halfpenny: On their behalf, thank you for the recognition. We are fortunate to have (and had) people on staff who are extremely knowledgeable and passionate about lighting and protecting the environment. Our team thrives on making a positive impact, and these folks leave their marks on the work we do and affect colleagues and peers in positive ways.
Ultimately, personal fulfillment leads to job retention. Look at the statistics of how many people recently left their jobs for something that paid less but provided more meaning and balance for them. Individuals also need to know that their contributions are valued by the company, however, we all know that individual performance is not the sole driver for success. I find that fulfillment from work comes not only from enjoying the actual work, but also the people.
Leadership at the DLC sets expectations for the entire team to contribute value and exchange ideas and feedback in a productive and respectful way. We prioritize an organizational culture that enables and supports collaboration, and collectively celebrates success, so that leading and learning are simultaneous for individual satisfaction and collective success.
Shiller: Are there ways that having a majority women staff has been advantageous to DLC? How has it changed the culture at DLC?
Halfpenny: Yes! As far as a change in culture at the DLC, we have always been a majority of women or 50%, and we have benefitted from a culture of support and respect. That culture generates increased capacity to listen and consider the impacts of our work on our stakeholders. While we prioritize collaboration internally, that resonates with our work externally with members, industry experts and stakeholders, which a key success factor for a Consortium.
In addition, having a balance of women in the organization brings more honesty about life outside of work. For whatever reason, women are still juggling the majority of the home life – sick kids (and parents), doctor appointments, school activities, carpools, etc. – and we need to normalize that as a part of our lives. I hope if women can normalize it in leadership positions, and throughout the workplace, then men can too, and we will all benefit from a genuine work life balance.
Shiller: What’s your view of current efforts to increase women’s representation in lighting leadership positions? There are a couple organizations now working toward this goal (i.e. WILD, WIL, etc.)? Do you see specific women’s challenges that aren’t yet being addressed, in the lighting industry, that need to be addressed?
Halfpenny: Many of the women’s representation groups are providing much needed resources for mentoring, strategies to succeed and gaining visibility, particularly for younger women. There should be more efforts focused on inclusion and support to ensure that women and underrepresented groups have the resources they need to grow and be successful.
I do see many groups working on diversity who are made up of the diverse people themselves and that’s a little frustrating to see them doing all the work in this area. There have been a few changes in highly visible positions in the industry for women and diverse people, so change is happening, but we can’t lean on the minority to make it so. Everyone has a role to play in the change. As I mentioned previously, it’s in the hiring process, the procurement process and the values that shape the business culture.
Shiller: Thank you, Christina, for sharing your thoughts and expertise with our LightNOW readers.