Sloane Drake, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Georgia Power and Southern Company, levels the playing field. She does it, in part, by standing off stage, on the same level as attendees at a recent company event, drawing participants and the audience in with her warmth and eye to eye contact. It’s this approachability, combined with her wide smile, strength and femininity, that make her so authentic and successful in a male dominated workplace and beyond. Drake has become a powerful advocate for the industry. As part of her role with the Center of Energy Workforce Development (CEWD), she recently testified before the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee about workforce development, opportunities and challenges.
“This was a real case of conquering fear,” she tells PINK. “I understood how important the opportunity was. I was nervous but prepared like crazy and did my best testifying before the House subcommittee!” Few at Southern Company doubted her ability to make a strong case for the importance of the energy industry today which accounts for five percent of the nation’s GDP and supports more than seven million jobs with salaries paying twice the national medium wage.Her multiple leadership roles are daunting. They encompass diversity and inclusion, volunteer services, labor relations, health and well-being services, and HR delivery for Georgia Power. If that wasn’t enough, she also manages oversight of human resources for Southern Company Gas, talent acquisition, talent management and the development of diversity and inclusion strategies for all of Southern Company. For its commitment to inclusion, Southern Company has received numerous accolades including being named one of the Top 50 Companies for Diversity by DiversityInc. It is ninth on the list of Top Companies for Veterans.
Here, she shares her success secrets with PINK:
PINK: Tell us about your role at Southern Company.
Drake: I am very lucky that I am doing the job that I dreamed of. The work we do is primarily in male-dominated roles, but both Georgia Power and Southern Company are dedicated to an inclusive work environment. Having leadership share my passion for an inclusive work environment makes my job more impactful. [I started] in Talent Acquisition. Recruiting was an excellent introduction to human resources for me and provided a foundation for collaborating with customers, understanding workforce planning and organizational needs, and making data-driven decisions. All of these experiences helped me in the jobs that followed.
PINK : Did you feel that you were prepared for it?
Drake : Yes and no. I am a true believer in fail fast, recover, and learn from it. (…and don’t repeat the mistake!) There are things you learn by doing –- engaging your team; fostering an environment that embraces inclusion, performance and results; and applying emotional intelligence to situations. All are critical experiences for leaders and have to be learned by doing. Learning from mistakes is critical to being a prepared leader.
PINK: Did you set goals early on?
Drake: Yes, I set goals to help reach this point — not just for promotions or job levels, but to gain experience to help me accomplish my plans.One very important goal was to take advantage of opportunities that came along to learn, stretch myself and grow, which allowed me to work in various subsidiaries at Southern Company as well as multiple functions in human resources. Goals are important throughout your career, and it’s my experience that they change, evolve and mature as you do.
PINK: When you first became a manager, did you experience pushback from male employees?
Drake: I think the best way to eliminate pushback from anyone – male or female – is to be good at your job. Building relationships by expanding your comfort zone is also key. Being open to learn what your colleagues are interested in helps build those relationships. For me, I have been able to minimize pushback by being authentic, creditable and dedicated to the work.
PINK: What were your biggest challenges?
Drake: The pace. At a large organization, the pace of the work is sometimes fast and other times slow. Knowing how and when to push work and initiatives forward is as much art as science. In human resources, you often have to make immediate decisions that can affect the workplace for years to come or decisions which may have unintended consequences. In those cases, you balance speed with thoroughness. Other times, the organization may not move as fast as I would like. I am a fast-paced person! I think it is important to bring people along with me so we can tackle the project or issue together – all taking ownership in where our organization is moving.
PINK: Please name some strategies that have worked for you.
Drake: Surround yourself with a talented and diverse team – those who can create, plan, and implement. Build a team whose special skills compliment your own and each other’s. Have your own private “board of directors” that you can rely on to be honest with you and to provide guidance and feedback; not what you want to hear but the truth! Keep moving forward. Even if it is a little at a time; make progress where you can.
PINK: What is the best way to turn challenges into opportunities, particularly for women in management?
Drake : There is a saying that “our biggest opportunities are found in times of greatest challenge.” I believe that. I remember taking an HR project lead position in our Southern Nuclear operating company. This was new and very challenging as we began to build the first new nuclear plant in decades. There were a lot of people counting on the success of our human resources support. Even though this position stretched me, it was the job that helped launch my career. Also remember, you don’t have to face the challenges alone- leverage your network and reach out to your trusted advisors. You cannot avoid challenges; look for the opportunities they present.
PINK: You have filled many roles, many at the same time. How do you manage all the areas you currently oversee?
Drake: I am very fortunate to have built a team with a solid mix of expertise, experience, creativity and dedication. Leaders must surround themselves with the best people and clear the path for them to do their jobs to the fullest of their capabilities. With each job, you add to your experience and knowledge, you grow to meet the challenges of new situations from the foundations of your previous roles.
PINK: What are your favorite community projects/recreation/music etc.?
Drake : I am lucky to be involved in so much of the good work Georgia Power does in the community – Habitat for Humanity, Georgia Public Radio, various workforce and educational initiatives, etc. I am so glad to be part of all of them! I love biking in the parks with my husband, great music and sporting events, and the amazing food here. There is always something to keep me engaged.
By Mickey Goodman
Mickey Goodman is an award-winning freelance writer with more than 700 bylined articles in Reuters, People, PINK, This Old House, Veranda, Southern Living, Womansday.com, Countryliving.com, Atlanta Magazine, CURE (American Cancer), Simply Buckhead and more. Mickey has ghosted six books and is president of the Southeast chapter of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA).
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