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Developing Diversity through Dialogue: Interview with Jessica Bian

Developing Diversity through Dialogue: Interview with Jessica Bian

IEEE PES established a dedicated committee on diversity and inclusion five years ago, and has made progress towards a diverse, equitable, and inclusive technical community.

Jessica Bian is Vice President of Grid Services at Grid-X Partners. Her background includes several leadership positions, among which are Manager of Operations, Planning and Engineering at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Publications and Director of Performance Analysis at the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC). Papers and reports she authored and co-authored have been cited internationally by CIGRE, US DOE, NATF, and the Canadian Electricity Association. As an active member of IEEE for over 30 years, she has been recognized as an IEEE Distinguished Lecturer and is the acting President of the IEEE Power & Energy Society Governing Board.

In this interview for Women in Power Systems, Jessica shares her journey and her leadership principles and about the implementation of diversity, equity and inclusiveness goals in IEEE.

WPS Jessica, thank you for joining Women in Power Systems to share your story. How did you decide to pursue a career in the power industry?

Jessica Bian When I grew up in China in the 1970s, my family apartment would often not have electricity because of power shortages. My neighbourhood could be in the dark for hours.

At the time, my parents were electrical engineers working for the utilities in China, and I used to accompany them to their offices to see what the grid and transmission lines looked like. There, my parents taught me how people have benefited from the often-overlooked basic service: how populations depend on a stable power grid for quality of life, safety, and health. I admired my parents’ ways and followed in their footsteps.

WPS In your experience, what are some challenges you have had to overcome through different periods in your career? What were some defining moments that effect you today?

JB I taught at universities, joined manufacture/consulting firms, trained grid operators at utility companies, worked in a standards-setting corporation, and collaborated with economists and lawyers in a regulatory agency. I quickly found out that different types of organizations have different focuses and require different skills to adapt. For example, I learned how to build consensus in the standards-setting environment. The key is to listen, understand and respect various views. This awareness has helped me adapt throughout my career.

Photo credit: IEEE PES

WPS Why did you choose to get involved with IEEE and how have you been able to make an impact through the organization and the industry?

JB IEEE is a support network. I joined IEEE as a student member more than 30 years ago.  When I attended my very first PES General Meeting, I met famous professors I admired.  Many of these professors wrote the textbooks I had used since my junior year in college. 

Throughout my 30 plus IEEE years, from connecting with professors, publishing my technical papers in IEEE Xplore, searching internship, to growing my young or mid-career profession, I have not only benefited from what PES offered every step of the way, but also became a mentor and lifelong friend of many PES colleagues.

I want to build a support network for the next generation to meet all of the changes coming our way. One of the new initiatives starting this year is to improve IEEE PES nominations and appointments process.  The new process will put out a call for nominations to the entire PES membership, and members will be able to nominate themselves or others for consideration. This effort would go towards not only increasing the diversity and inclusion of our community, but identifying new volunteers, particularly young professionals and student members to the PES leadership roles.

The key to building consensus is to listen, understand and respect various views. This awareness has helped me adapt throughout my career.

Another initiative underway is that PES has launched a new Grid Edge Technologies Conference & Exposition to share the latest in grid edge technological developments, speed up the grid transition and meet climate change challenges.  The inaugural Grid Edge Grid Edge Technologies Conference & Exposition will debut spring 2023 in San Diego, California. The Grid Edge Conference & Expo will be held every two years, bringing technologists and energy professionals together that drive the future design and development of a reliable, resilient, and carbon free grid.

WPS You are a leader in organizing the IEEE PES T&D event in April. What are you most looking forward to taking place at this event?

JB After what will be four long years apart, this year’s T&D provides an opportunity to reconnect the global community of energy professionals in New Orleans. This T&D has a new Smart Cities Pavilion. Technologies will include smart street lighting, advanced electric vehicle charging infrastructure, sensors, intelligent monitoring, and more. In addition, conveniently located on the show floor, the new Innovation Stages will provide a unique forum to debut state-of-the-art technologies, and discuss practical product applications.

Besides a world-class technical program and networking sessions for students and young professionals, I am most looking forward to engaging more utility companies.  IEEE PES introduced the T&D Utility Saver Package the first time this year. The Package will allow utility companies to send 10 employees, particularly young professionals, with full conference registration for a total of only $1,000, an enormous discount compared to the cost of traditional registration.

Photo credit: IEEE PES

WPS As a leader, what drives you to keep the organizations you work for thriving and overcoming complex energy strategies?

JB My drive has always been how to better meet PES members’ needs and give more power to the future. With the transformation of the grid and the use of electric energy worldwide, IEEE PES’s importance and value to industry is growing rapidly. As the world’s leading global forum for sharing the latest in technological developments in the electric power and energy industry for more than 50 years, we are the foremost expert in the development of standards that guide the improvement, engineering, construction, and integration of equipment and systems.

Besides the above two new initiatives I mentioned, the PES long-range plan also emphasizes on the most pressing issues facing PES for the next three to five years.  PES will focus on (1) developing stronger engagement with the industry; (2) improving and strengthen the global presence, diversity, and participation in technical committees; (3) reinvigorate PES Chapter communications with its members; and (4) grow life-long learning and expand student offerings world-wide.

Photo credit: IEEE PES

The evolution of technology helped create a level playing field in the last 50 years.

WPS What kind of support have you experienced on your career journey and how would you encourage others in the industry to support women?  

JB I would not be here today without friendship of so many of PES colleagues over last 30 years.  From my graduate research advisers, leading me to read PES publications, attend PES General Meetings since 1989; my mentors at work, Don Ramay, Mark Lauby; long-time PES contributors, Heidi Caswell, Hardev Juj; my forever bond with PES Women in Power, Taiwo, Ruomei, Shay, Noel and Wanda, just name a few.   They are my support network and role models.

PES established a dedicated committee on diversity and inclusion five years ago, and has made progress towards a diverse, equitable, and inclusive technical community. We have been tracking key demographics across PES, including membership, governing board, committee leadership, awards, Fellows, and conference speakers. PES has more than 42,000 members. Among them about 15 percent are women. PES governing board has placed a priority to promote women leaders for the last 15 years. It has made the difference. This year seven women (33 percent) are on the PES Governing Board.

WPS What is the proudest moment in your career?

JB I would never have dreamed that I could have the opportunity to serve as the PES President.  I was humbled and honored to have been chosen by PES governing board, as a candidate for PES President-Elect in 2019.  I thank my fellow PES members for their confidence in me, honoring me with their votes.  I look forward to continuing to work for our members, and together—we create clean, affordable, and sustainable energy solutions worldwide.

Photo credit: IEEE PES

WPS Are you involved in any organizations/projects supporting women in power industry roles? If so, what would you like to share about them?

JB I have been a member of the IEEE Women in Engineering, and with the PES Women in Power (WIP) since it was formed in 2012. WIP is a global network of PES members and volunteers dedicated to developing candidates for leadership positions through recognition and leadership education, and providing connections and resources to help women in power engineering to advance their careers.

In 2015, WIP nominated me to be a candidate for the 2016-2017 PES Secretary. This nomination raised my profile and helped me get elected. My experience really demonstrated how WIP has been providing visibility to members’ efforts, accomplishments and future potential while empowering them to be an inspiration and role model for other women in the industry. So please join the Women in Power to help advance your career or to provide support to this initiative

This is a great time for women to start their career in the power industry. Try different things—analytics, planning, design, operations—if you don’t like it, move on!

WPS What insight or advice would you like to share with women starting their career in the power industry?

JB When the power industry started more than 100 years ago, it involved lots of heavy machinery, heavy labor, and therefore men. It was a division of who did what. It’s not right or wrong — it’s just how we evolved. Now with technology, we use machines to lift and move things around. I think that gave a lot of equal opportunity to women — it helped create a level playing field in the last 50 years.

We are in an energy transition era again.  The industry needs skilled workforce at all levels for the rapid transformation of generation, major expansion and upgrades to T&D infrastructure, and enhanced grid support and resilience for electrification of buildings, transportation, and energy-intense manufacturing industries.  This is a great time for women to start their career in the power industry. Try different things—analytics, planning, design, operations—if you don’t like it, move on! That way you can find yourself, who you are. We’re all born with different genes — different family culture, peers, university, professors, mentors.

Keep trying things until you find something you like to do. Put 10,000 hours into it and you’ll be one of the best in the world. Once you put in those hours, you don’t feel it’s labor — it’s just a thing you want to do because it makes you happy.

WPS Thank you for sharing your story, Jessica, and for giving our community an insight into IEEE’s many projects and plans for the future. With organizations such as Women in Engineering and Women in Power, IEEE is already a support network for present and future women in the power sector, and we have no doubt that the organization will progress even further towards fruitful equity and collaboration. 

Find more inspiring stories in the Spring edition of the Women in Power Systems Magazine: Professions in Power. Download the free issue here.