Increasing the number of women leaders at NiSource.


NiSource Inc. (NYSE: NI), based in Merrillville, Indiana, USA, is a Fortune 500 company engaged in natural gas transmission, storage and distribution, as well as electric generation, transmission and distribution. Designated as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies since 2012, NiSource operating companies deliver energy to 3.8 million customers located within the high-demand energy corridor stretching from the Gulf Coast through the Midwest to New England.

Building a Diverse Leadership Pipeline

Companies around the world are facing the challenge of developing diverse leadership perspectives to guide their strategic growth and direction. The topmost factor that will determine their fate is the quality and diversity of their leadership talent – both current and future. Despite the urgency, the solution is often stalled due to embedded mindsets and processes and practices that seem benign, yet perpetuate the risks of inadequate leadership bench strength. Such was not the situation at NiSource Inc.

Five years ago, just as the end of the recession was in sight, NiSource executives foresaw that the energy sector was in the midst of a major, fast-moving shift. To be future ready, they knew NiSource needed to invest in its people, with the end goal of improving the diversity of qualified talent in the leadership pipeline. NiSource’s two top-female executives – Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer Carrie Hightman and Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Violet Sistovaris – asked each other, “Where is the next generation of women at NiSource, and what can we do to support them?”

Then, backed by the President and CEO Robert Skaggs and their peers on the NiSource Executive Council (EC), they applied their resources full throttle to answer these questions and strategically integrated a new vision for high-potential women at NiSource.

Building the NextGen: Women in Leadership

NiSource’s executive sponsors knew that it was not enough to identify and train for the “right” skills and competencies. They understood they had to create systemic and sustainable changes to develop the next generation of women leaders and position them visibly in the pipeline. To do just that, Hightman and Sistovaris called on Tiara International LLC to partner with them in creating a full-circle women’s advancement program tied to NiSource’s core business strategies. In their work with corporate clients, Tiara International brings expertise in organization development, change management and applied leadership development that supports an integrated, business-oriented solution.

Women in Leadership

Through its Building the NextGen: Women in Leadership (WIL) initiative, NiSource began investing in its women leaders through corporate-wide leadership summits, a formal mentoring program, an employee resource group, and various other growth oriented programs that reach women at all levels of the organization.

Leadership Summit: Jointly sponsored by Hightman and Sistovaris, the now-annual Leadership Summit has grown to include NiSource’s top 200 women leaders, its executive team, male senior leaders and Board members. In the inaugural women’s leadership summit, attending female leaders were asked, “What do you want and need to grow as leaders?” The collective input generated three desired, and delivered, program elements:

  1. Reach more women in the company by rolling out regional leadership summits

  2. Create a formal mentoring program for female leaders

  3. Launch an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for women

“The Annual Summit is the time and place where women leaders can talk openly, compare notes, identify common experiences and strategically engage with each other,” says Hightman, explaining the demand for an event dedicated to leadership growth, networking and making connections. “It’s the hottest ticket in town. Company executives from other traditionally male-dominated sectors are vying to observe our NextGen accomplishments.”

Mentoring Program
Mentorship is often an idea companies have for developing women leaders. However, these programs typically fail because they lack focus, structure, development and inclusion. NiSource worked with Tiara International to develop a sustainable menteedriven, mentor-guided program to encourage women to set higher career goals. Each year, using an opt-in application process that aligns participants along areas of professional focus, 16 female mentees are matched with mentors (both male and female senior executives). The mentoring program works in tandem with other leadership development efforts at NiSource, and leverages best practices for change management, leadership effectiveness and preferential learning styles for female leaders. Sistovaris, the WIL mentoring executive sponsor, describes the selection process as widely anticipated and in high demand. “Women see the advantages of having active mentors – front and center. Their WIL colleagues are more visible and better heard. Thinking ahead, they want the same accelerated career paths for themselves.”

Employee Resource Group: DAWN (Developing and Advancing Women at NiSource)
The third component of the NextGen WIL initiative is the Employee Resource Group, DAWN. Launched successfully in 2011, it provides opportunities for group members to support each other. In 2013, applying Tiara International’s leadership development techniques and Model for True LeadershipSM, NiSource launched volunteer-led DAWN resource circles. Annually, NiSource now offers informal leadership opportunities for hundreds of women to strengthen their personal brand, focus on career goals, and grow their confidence while leading and participating in these circles.

Where are the women in the talent pipeline?

According to McKinsey’s fitness test,1 most senior executives know intuitively how many women do (or don’t) hold top-leadership roles at their companies but surprisingly few keep track of them. That’s not the case at NiSource. The pipeline for talent that is ready to move into leadership roles is clearly identified. Since the creation of the NextGen WIL initiative, NiSource has over 80 percent more female leaders at or above the director level. In NiSource’s WIL mentoring program:

  • 100% of mentees have shown growth and close to 80 percent have shown significant growth, as rated by their direct supervisors using the NiSource performance scale

  • 80% have acquired more prominent responsibilities

  • 50% have been promoted or assigned new roles with increased responsibilities

As women’s leadership presence makes inroads up and across the organization, NiSource is well positioned for growth and expansion – especially as they embark upon their plan to separate into two premier energy infrastructure companies (NiSource and Columbia Pipeline Group) in mid-2015.

1 McKinsey Quarterly. “Fostering women leaders: A fitness test for your top team” by McKinsey principal Lareina Yee. January 2015.