Women wield power, literally, in California's electricity grid

Critics of America's corporate culture insist that a glass ceiling still exists, but at the California Independent System Operator Corp. in Folsom, women wield considerable power in more ways than one.

The person in charge of the ISO power grid, which meets the energy needs of 30 million Californians and draws electricity from resources throughout western North America, is a woman.

Half the executive-level ISO staff is female.

That puts the ISO in the minority of employers with women in their top ranks. In November, a study released by the University of California, Davis, concluded that progress for women at the 400 largest public companies headquartered in California has improved little since the first UCD survey in 2005.

Among the study's key findings: Women hold just 10.6 percent of board seats and executive positions among the companies, and 118 out of the 400 firms have no female directors on their boards and no female executive officers.

That's no surprise to Deborah Le Vine, ISO's director of system operations, who recalled that not everyone was "tolerant of a woman in a man's field" when she was working her way up.

When she was getting her undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from San Diego State University in 1981, Le Vine was one of five women in a group of 125. In her first job at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, she was the only female engineer among 130.

Le Vine recalled that an instructor once told her that she couldn't possibly know the answer to a thermodynamics question because she was female.

Since then, Le Vine has spent nearly 30 years in the utility industry, including manager of power resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. She has been with ISO since its inception in 1997.

Since October, Le Vine has overseen the ISO power grid and market operations, with primary responsibility "to keep the lights on" and garner affordable power for California's considerable energy needs.

According to the ISO, Le Vine is the only woman in the nation to run an open market power grid.


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