Women's History Month
Thomas King Executive Director and President, National Grid USA Inspiring others to act Service providers need to stay in tune with their customers—understand their...

Thomas King

Executive Director and President, National Grid USA


Inspiring others to act

Service providers need to stay in tune with their customers—understand their concerns, anticipate their needs, change when they change. We provide natural gas and electricity to more than 7 million people across the Northeast. And the only way to succeed—and satisfy these customers—is to ensure we have talented, diverse employees who are local to the community and truly represent the communities and customers we serve.

So the diversity of our people is key to our success in today’s competitive market. The challenges are: 1) moving from dialogue to action; and 2) attracting, retaining, and promoting the best diverse candidates.

I’m happy to say we’ve had good momentum on challenge number one. We’ve moved from “Why is this important?” to “How can we make it happen—embed Inclusion & Diversity into everything we do and make it part of our DNA?” With business engagement, a robust I&D team, a new chief diversity officer, and a growing, re-energized set of employee resource groups, we’re on our way. And we’re making diversity part of our corporate goals because it’s a real business case.

We still have work to do on challenge number two—but I’m encouraged to see a steady improvement in our number of women and minority leaders. More than half my direct reports fit these categories and they’re the right people for the right jobs. That’s the shadow I’m looking to cast further down into the organization.

In short, we’re changing with the times—and with our customers’ and employees’ needs. We know that Doing the Right Thing is doing the smart thing for customers, communities, employees, and our company. As a leader, it’s my job to set the vision, then build trust and empowerment to achieve that vision. I’m looking to inspire people to believe in our mission, take action, and work together to meet challenges along the way.

One of the things that excites—and inspires—me most is the increasing leadership role women are playing in the corporate world and the world at large. As our world gets smaller and more socially connected, women bring valued traits like gentleness, empathy, tolerance, and nurturing. Traits desperately needed in leadership. As I tell my three daughters: Be true to who you are, find a passion that will drive you, and fundamentally care. And I believe women like them will naturally guide us in business, government, and society by doing the right thing, always.

Waltham, Massachusetts

Louisiana State University;
Executive Program Graduate—University of Michigan

Regulatory Analyst, Interstate Pipelines

Unbroken: A World War II Story by Laura Hillenbrand

Optimism–positive energy is contagious.

  • Deborah

    April 8, 2014 #1 Author

    Although I believe that Mr. King’s comments are made in good faith, I must argue that the comments on women’s “valued traits” represent a grade-A gender stereotype.

    King’s stereotype that women are “gentle, empathetic, tolerant, and nurturing” makes it difficult for women to succeed in the workplace because they are then expected to exhibit those traits, and if they do not fit that mold they are labeled as ineffective, or worse.

    This stereotype also impacts male employees. If the stereotype applies to women, the converse applies to men. Any man who dares to be gentle, empathetic, tolerant, or nurturing risks being seen as effeminate or equally ineffective.

    Rather than listing perceived qualities of either gender, King would be better off keeping his comments high level and not labeling either gender. Stereotypes harm everyone.


    • Jessica

      April 11, 2014 #2 Author

      Agreed. I couldn’t have said it better myself.


      • Tom

        April 15, 2014 #3 Author

        Agreed. In an effort to be more transparent my comments were made to specifically honor and revere these traits. Hoping that both women and men embrace with these traits in order nurture a culture in the organization that is caring and empathetic of each other, both internally and externally. Further, these traits will create a better tomorrow. Business needs these traits and should reward them. Thanks for the feedback.


    • Engineer & third wave feminist

      April 15, 2014 #4 Author

      I’m a female employee at National Grid, but I don’t work closely with Tom King, nor do I know him personally (though he always says hi in the hallway, which is good), so I can’t attest to his general beliefs.

      However, I’d like to pardon him for his perceived stereotyping because his stance is very important and he’s not 100% wrong in his assertion that men and women are different.

      His stance is very important: the utility industry is a male-dominated field, partly because we have many construction and engineering employees. It also has a reputation for being an old boys’ club–and I’ve heard this characterization of the industry from multiple female employees, including a female member of our board*. By publicly supporting the employment of women, Tom King is standing up against the tradition of the male majority–and we could use more executives like this in every industry.

      Not 100% wrong: in my education on women’s issues, I’ve realized that (1) character traits exist on a scale between two extremes, (2) the average female and male stands on different points of that scale, and (3) common stereotypes are destructive. 3: commonly-understood stereotypes found in magazines and on TV (“all women like…”, “all men want…”) are destructive to both genders because they generate expectations that mischaracterize most people. I do not consider Tom’s characteristics stereotypes though because I think they are valid traits that women rank more highly on. 1 & 2: on average, women are better at some things like collaborating and understanding emotion (see Helen Fisher’s work). Men are capable of these characteristics–and some men may be better at these than some women–but on average, women rank higher on these scales. A problem in traditional business is that men’s strong traits are thought to be the most valuable while women’s are thought to be weak. Tom asserts that “women bring valued traits like gentleness, empathy, tolerance, and nurturing.” In this phrase, he is advocating for the value and necessity of these feminine traits in business. Thus, if we acknowledge differences between men and women, Tom’s words are again taking a stance against the “tradition of the male majority.”

      *I’ve generally felt respected and valued equally as my male counterparts since starting at National Grid less than 10 years ago, though I do acknowledge that women and minorities are underrepresented in leadership positions here. I’ve seen the company’s increasing interest in creating a more-equal environment and I’m proud of National Grid’s leadership team for supporting this.


      • Tom

        April 16, 2014 #5 Author

        Engineer and third wave – thank you for the comments and perspective. The gender traits are a complex and are a deep emotional issue, never easy to debate, and are so important to address. I applaud you for stepping in and joining the conversation, this is such an important conversation. I am a glass half full person, and believe strongly that as a society, we will conquer, and embrace, the differences, and be much better at resolving our broader critical social issues going forward. Further, we will get there sooner with more women in leadership roles…


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