22 Oct Diversity and Inclusion Champion: Public Service Commission of Wisconsin Chairperson, Rebecca Cameron Valcq
The vital importance of community was instilled in Rebecca Cameron Valcq from an early age, and the necessity to participate in and contribute back to your city was not lost on her.
“We were taught to never forget that our grandparents came to this country looking for better opportunities for their kids,” Valcq said. “It was woven through my childhood and ended up serving as my North Star in terms of how I was going to spend my free time once I became a professional.”
Valcq has served as an attorney at We Energies, general counsel at a sports management company, partner at a private law firm, and now, Chair of the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Wisconsin. She has been one of the few people of color who has worked in a senior level position within the energy and water sectors, and the first Latina to hold her position at the PSC.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion have been a balancing act. On the one end, Valcq’s career accomplishments serve as a model for others looking to achieve similar success. On the other end, there are underserved minority populations that need to be seen and heard.
“When I first got to We Energies, I was fortunate to have sponsors, both male and female, to take me under their wing. They made it a point to get me in front of different non-profit boards,” Valcq said. “I learned early on I had a real opportunity to use those moments to serve non-profits and give a voice to traditionally underrepresented groups.”
Through her involvement with the board of Centro Legal, Valcq lent corporate support as a lawyer and helped expose the non-profit to a broader group of potential donors. As a board member of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Valcq was able to bring on companies offering job apprenticeships to students. At Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast, Valcq’s role on the board was to help build trust between the organization and Hispanic mothers and daughters.
At Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee, an organization founded by Valcq’s mother, the late Maria Monreal-Cameron, Valcq served on the board with a focus on helping the Greater Milwaukee area grow and sustain diverse talent.
“It is important that we are intentional about working to increase visibility and showcasing representation to underrepresented groups,” Valcq said. “If young girls and boys don’t have role models to look up to in higher-level positions, they will never have the faith nor confidence to believe that they can get there.”
Early on at We Energies, one of Valcq’s mentors and friends was a Black woman. When she was promoted, she told Valcq, “This is not for me. This is for you and everyone who comes behind you, and I promise I will keep the door open for you all.” This left a lasting and motivating impression.
Valcq maintains this balancing act of opening doors while lifting the underserved up at the PSC. She appointed a female as Chief of Staff, a Black man as Communications Director, and a Black woman as Employee Engagement Director, all firsts in the history of the agency. As a member of Governor Tony Evers’ Cabinet, she has the unique privilege of sitting with the governor and other agency leaders to discuss strategy for the State of Wisconsin. In February, as part of Evers’ effort to promote diversity across the state, the PSC announced an unprecedented requirement for utilities to report data on the diversity of their workforce, and the energy burden that each community faces.
“Diversity and inclusion within the utility industry are not just important because of the tremendous impact they have on both employees and the financial health of the utility. Ultimately, diversity and inclusion efforts impact how utility customers are served,” Valcq said in a PSC press release. “Collecting this data also will provide an opportunity for our partners to encourage diversity and inclusion throughout the industry.”
Going forward, Valcq and her team have specific goals related to diversity and inclusion:
- Understand and keep track of diversity and inclusion in the utility industry workforce.
- Understand and keep track of the supplier diversity in the utility industry and within communities that utilities serve.
- Understand and keep track of the energy burden and why it matters.
- Encourage the participation of the traditionally unvoiced in PSC proceedings through education, outreach, and funding.
“If the utility customer base is 46 percent diverse, it should follow that 46 percent of procurement dollars are spent on diverse suppliers,” Valcq said. “While we have utilities with programs in place and they are spending dollars and looking to move the needle, we know there is a lot more work to be done. And there is no better way to move the needle than to collect information, take a look, and have follow-up conversations. We are still in the process of analyzing data. It is important to me that we are deliberate, and that we look at the data thoroughly before we entertain next steps.”
The energy burden – which is the percentage of household income that goes to pay for energy costs – is a real challenge for lower-income communities in Wisconsin. A 6% energy burden is considered high, and Wisconsin’s average is 5.7%, which means residents have to choose which bills to pay. Some of the reason for high energy burdens in lower-income communities has to do with the quality of the housing – drafty windows are going to let heat out and raise utility bills. The step forward is to draw an accurate picture based on data, then offer more education and outreach.
“We know that a financially healthy utility will provide safe, reliable, and affordable service. We also know the more diverse a workforce, the more profitable the company. That business case was made years ago,” Valcq said. “When we put those two things together, what follows is that a more diverse utility will be more profitable, which means it will continue to be able to provide safe, reliable, and more affordable service.”
Other factors at play are that the industry is evolving and introducing technologies like battery storage, solar power, and distributed energy. This creates real opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators to enter the market and an expanded pipeline of clean energy jobs to fill. In addition, the PSC hopes to become a matchmaker to provide utility companies with suppliers who can adequately fill their needs.
“My mom used to say it all boils down to economic empowerment. If you talk about everyone wanting a piece of the proverbial American pie (my mom would say, a piece of the tortilla), a more diverse and inclusive environment does not mean that others must settle for a smaller piece. Rather it gives us the ability to make the tortilla bigger, so more people have the opportunity to have a piece,” Valcq said. “It’s not about elbowing people out but expanding the table to bring more people in. That is the way you grow communities and the economy.”
BECKY VALCQ’S ADVICE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF ATTORNEYS
Find your voice early.
“I wish when I was 30 years old that I had been more of an advocate for myself. I wish I would have taken a couple more risks to challenge or push back – not in a disrespectful way – but to have had the confidence to speak up when I knew I was right.”
Build your brand.
“People talk about building a network, but networks are fluid. They can ebb and flow and morph over time. Think about the value your perspective brings to the table.”
Surround yourself with diversity – diversity of thought, education, life experience, ethnicity, men, and women.
“I think it is really important to build a very diverse cross-section of colleagues. It invites diversity of thought and opinion that open up new ways to approach an issue.”
© MWH Law Group LLP 2021. All rights reserved.
OUR COMMITMENT TO DIVERSITY & INCLUSION
At MWH Law Group LLC, we believe a law firm should represent the society it serves. Our strength lies in our differences, not in our similarities. MWH is comprised of people from diverse backgrounds whose individual experiences form the basis of our unique corporate culture. Our diverse backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and ideas allow us to help our clients achieve the best solutions for the legal challenges they face. We are seeking to transform the legal profession by demonstrating that it is possible to deliver the highest quality legal services in a firm environment that is genuinely diverse and inclusive at all levels.