PUC moves forward on diversity reporting, advocates say there’s more work to be done

By: - December 26, 2020 6:30 am

Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) Chairman Gladys M. Brown today joined with leaders from Gov. Tom Wolfs Administration, including the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) and Department of Labor & Industry (L&I), along with representatives from public utilities from across the state, to highlight the importance and impact of veterans in the utility workforce. (Commonwealth Media Services photo).

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) has given its approval to begin a rulemaking process that will require major utility companies under the commission’s jurisdiction to begin reporting on their diversity efforts and programs.

If also endorsed by the state Attorney General’s Office and several other state agencies, utilities such as those providing electric, natural gas, water, wastewater and telecommunications services will be mandated to report their diversity programs and efforts internally. 

“Properly structured, diversity programs can successfully leverage untapped talent pools to help fill these critical jobs,’’ the commission said last week after its unanimous vote. “Furthermore, as regulated monopolies, the Commonwealth’s jurisdictional utilities have unique beneficial community relationships which diversity programs have the power to strengthen.”

The proposal specifically focuses on “utility-wide diversity programs for employment and contracting of goods and services,” according to a statement from PUC.

While the commission’s proposal is a start, diversity advocates say there’s more to be done, specifically when it comes to enforcing requirements such as the ones in the proposal. 

“The PADC acknowledges the extraordinary step taken by the PUC as a whole and particularly under the leadership of Chairwoman [Gladys] Brown-Dutrieuille in mandating diversity reporting by companies who fall under the purview of the PUC,” said Karl Singleton, founding member and president of the Pennsylvania Diversity Coalition. 

“We remain committed to seeing mandates like these also embed penalties and enforcement language to address the reality of companies failing to comply with mandates beyond today’s current welcoming social equity and inclusion climate,” Singleton said. 

In 1995, the commission adopted the “Statement of Policy on Diversity at Major Jurisdictional Utility Companies,” in an effort to boost diversity internally among the state’s utility companies. 

However, an update included in the rulemaking proposal will revise the statement to include a more defined description of diversity and requirements for standardized reporting on diversity. 

The revisions include: 

  • Updating the definition of diversity to include minorities, women, veterans, LGBTQ, and the disabled.
  • A standardized reporting form with the goal of collecting the following information:
    • A copy of any corporate policy committed to improving diversity in the workplace and in the procurement process. 
    • A description of any training implemented on diversity initiatives in employment and in the contract of goods and services. 
    • A standardized format to account for diverse employee numbers. 
    • A description of any diversity recruiting strategies.
    • A description of any diversity promotion efforts.
    • A description of any diversity retention efforts.
    • A brief description of any involvement with organizations promoting diversity.
    • A summary of diverse-owned businesses the company contracts with for goods and services, including the percentage of dollars spent with diverse-owned businesses versus non-diverse businesses.

The next step for the proposal is a 45-day public comment period and review by the Office of the Attorney General, the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission and other state agencies. 

“Again, great start,” Singleton said. “Let’s continue to work to ensure realistic, equitable inclusion at every level.” 

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.