Breaking the Ceiling, Pole by Pole

Line worker Stacey Metheny

Stacey Metheny—a grandmother, no less—represents one outstanding break from the mold. Now fully engrossed in Dominion Energy’s lengthy lineman trainee program—which takes more than 4 1/2 years to complete—Stacey began in January to learn the techniques and skills of a profoundly dangerous occupation. To succeed, you must demonstrate superlative physical and mental ability.

Stacey had flourished in the wide open spaces before. She spent more than 20 years as a groom in the stables and paddocks of northern Virginia’s horse country. She does not shy away from work that involves physical adroitness. No question, this is different. Dominion Energy threw open the door to a whole new, face-to-the-wind world. There are no ceilings here, she was told, glass or otherwise. If you qualify, you get hired. Period. Even so, there are certain realities about who does this work and what it means to join their ranks.

"The work often comes down to a test of character. Do you have what it takes to think and function in the midst of chaos, get it done and stay alive?"

Asked about the common characteristics of a lineman, a representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (a woman) cut right to the core of it. “Swagger,” she said. There were some other descriptive words about line workers: Tough. Skilled. Fit. Disciplined. Courageous. And male. Who, after all, in their right mind, drives out to repair downed electricity lines in the middle of a thunderstorm? A lineman does. And now Stacey does.

The dangers are real, and Stacey’s achievements are already impressive. “I love being outside and staying physically fit,” she says. Has she encountered, in one manner or another, any “cultural” push-back? “A little, depending on the person,” she replies. Beyond that, however, the responsibilities of Stacey’s work have been just as challenging as anticipated—and fun. She’s doing the work and liking it. “I enjoy it, very much so,” she says.

Truth be told, when it comes to “inclusion,” America’s working places, hazardous or otherwise, continue to be problematic. That was the message recently from Nitin Nohria, dean of the Harvard Business School. “It requires courage to speak up about inclusion issues,” he says. And even more nerve to throw yourself directly into it, as Stacey has done.

Dean Nohria also urges people “not to assume that bias and discrimination underlie every slight.” That also rings true to Stacey’s tenure with the company. Even with the occasional, passing dissuasion, the overall experience has been one of encouragement and support. She’s proving herself and Dominion Energy is behind her. Stacey proves the progress that can be derived from one highly motivated, brave and committed human being. As Nohria puts it, “History shows that large-scale social change usually comes incrementally, one small step at a time.” In the rain, wind and exposure, Stacey is taking those steps right now—for Dominion Energy and for generations to come.