Power of Diversity
It could be said that Joe Dominguez is the man responsible for keeping residents of the Windy City warm during their famously frigid winters. As CEO of ComEd, Illinois’ largest electric company, this Cuban-American is used to meeting challenges head on. Growing up in New Jersey, Dominguez earned a law degree at Rutgers and worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, prosecuting crimes such as money laundering and murder-for-hire. In 2002, he joined Exelon, ComEd’s parent company, as associate general counsel.
Since becoming CEO in 2018, Dominguez has epitomized a newer business mindset and expanded diversity and outreach programs at ComEd, which provides power to 4 million customers, or 70 percent of Illinois’ population. Such programs include the Icebox Derby, where young women transform defunct refrigerators into racing carts, and Solar Spotlight, where Latino students are exposed to the wide range of careers in STEM. Recently, LATINO Magazine sat down with Dominguez to get the scoop on how to power the workforce of tomorrow.
You’ve had a very dynamic career. Looking back, are there any common threads? What has motivated you over the years?
Well, it certainly wasn’t a plan, but if I think about that common thread in all the jobs I’ve had, it’s really two things. First, I’m lucky to have this intense curiosity about almost all things. And second, I’m mindful about doing an assessment each year about how I’m developing and driving myself forward, both in terms of professional responsibilities and my own personal growth.
What does diversity mean to you?
When I think about it, I think about it more broadly than sexual orientation, race, gender or ethnicity. Really, it’s about bringing different perspectives to the same situation, both in terms of how you assess the situation, and how you assess the possibilities that come from it. When you bring people together from diverse backgrounds, they can see the connections between what we do, the services we provide as an energy company, and the need to be an employer for the community and to give folks the power to solve the everyday problems they are facing.
At ComEd, what sort of different perspectives are you looking for? Do you see them affecting any direct outcomes at the company?
There is a way to think about our business that is constrained: We provide electricity reliably, affordably, and safely. If you think about our business over the last hundred years, those are words you would hear describing it. At the end of the day, that’s a narrow conception of what we do. What we really do is serve a much bigger and broader social purpose. If we are, for example, tackling air pollution and climate change in the electric sector, which we absolutely need to do, how do we turn that into a way to create jobs and economic opportunities? Certainly we need electrical engineers who are hyper-focused on the design and evolution of the power grid, but you can’t get there if they are the only ones studying this problem. You have to bring a collection of individuals that have many different experiences to think about the possibilities.
I’d like to connect what you’ve said about diversity to the STEM fields. What are the challenges of bringing these opportunities to young people?
You have ambition to be the things that you can see in your life. For many women as well as people of color, they don’t see as many examples of people who look like them in the STEM fields. So, they have an inherent disadvantage of not seeing role models. We have to change that. If you think about a kid growing up in a underserved South Side community in Chicago and you say, “What do you think about working for a technology company someday?” it’s hard for them to envision, since they don’t see it in their everyday life. So, we must take extra steps to make sure we’re introducing both STEM fields as well its career possibilities to areas of our community where historically that just hasn’t been apparent.
That brings me to my next question. Could you tell me more about ComEd’s Icebox Derby and Solar Spotlight initiatives, and if the results that you’ve seen?
We recently completed our Icebox Derby where we have teenage girls take old refrigerators from our customer recycling program and turn them into electric and solar-powered vehicles they can drive and race. For Solar Spotlight during Hispanic Heritage Month, we brought together bright and ambitious Latino high school students to work with our engineers on advanced solar energy projects. Both programs have this common dynamic of getting kids together to work as a team and use technology for a tangible product at the end of the day.
I think the genius of both programs is that the kids can see the application of the technology and get inspiration from women and Latino professionals from ComEd. And there’s an easy connection for anybody to solar energy. Intuitively, you get the power of the sun and its potential.
With the Icebox Derby, a number of participants in the program are coming back to ComEd as interns. We’re getting the real benefit of it. But more than that, when you talk to some of the kids who’ve been involved and their families, we’ve changed the direction of their lives.
We didn’t intend for this to become a feeder program for the next generation of ComEd employees--if we get that, that’s the cherry on top of the sundae. We did it because we wanted to change the way that people get into these fields. We’ve created a spark and an interest. It’s very obvious when you’re in the room with them, there’s huge enthusiasm for these projects and the kids are genuinely proud of what they’re able to accomplish both individually and as a team.
If you gave advice to a young Latino or Latina who wants to work for a company like yours, what would you say?
Here’s what I would say, and this just comes from my life: You don’t have to know how the journey’s going to end. Don’t get fixated on exactly what you want to do with your life, what that final job looks like. In all likelihood, it’s almost impossible to see as a young adult what the end goal looks like. Don’t worry about that. Look down at your feet and know where you’re going in the next half-mile, and keep moving forward. That’s what becomes important. Don’t worry about the whole marathon.
In terms of the trajectory of your company, what do you see as the future of diversity at ComEd?
I think that the next big piece of our journey is to make sure that we are as inclusive an internal culture as we can be. I want everybody to be able to bring their full self to work. Today, about nine of our 10 most senior people are women or people of color here at ComEd. That’s pretty incredible. Approximately 50 percent of our workforce are women or people of color, and our hiring the last eight years has probably been 70 percent women and people of color.
So we’re attracting a great deal of diversity into the company. What we now have to make sure we get are the best ideas. That means allowing them to be themselves within the ComEd mission and including them in our decisions. If we’re able to get to that, then we’re going to have the team here that will set the groundwork for the next hundred years at ComEd.