Lessons in Reaching Board Leadership from Debra Reed, CEO, Sempra Energy

On November 17th, I attended the 2020 Women on Boards Luncheon at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center in Los Angeles.  I found my way to my table that was very much on the periphery and I wondered if I would even be able to hear the keynote by Debra Reed, CEO of Sempra Energy, from where I sat. 

Our table did not quite fill out and in short order, one of the organizers recommended that we find an empty seat at another table.  I headed towards the center front, happy at the prospect of having a better view of Debra and the other speakers.  I had a choice of a few tables with empty chairs, two of them sponsored by Sempra, and asked if they minded if I took a seat by one of the untouched salads.  In short order, the other empty seat was filled by Debra Reed herself and I marveled at my good fortune.

When Debra took the podium, her key message was to be optimistic, while also being realistic.  “There are no glass ceilings if you do not believe that there are,” she stated, “but being realistic about your board goals, starting with a non-profit or a start-up before being wedded to aspirations of being on a Fortune 500 Board will serve you well.” 

Debra's other tips were as follows:

  • Be the very best at what you do best.
  • Reach out to your network about your board aspirations with great specificity
  • Be a team player at all times; this quality is not dispensable when working on a board.

Debra concluded by sharing her philosophy that leadership is not about knowing; it’s about how we learn.  Our analytical ability is critical, but will only take us so far without a well-honed EQ.  And since that combination is what we do best as woman, we should be in good shape to move above the 19% of board positions we currently hold.


Blog by Denise Pirrotti Hummel J.D., Chief Innovation Officer, Lead Inclusively, Inc.

Denise began her career as an attorney before building a thriving organizational culture consultancy which she subsequently sold to Ernst & Young. After her tenure as a Principal there, she left to establish her second venture, Lead Inclusively, Inc., where she currently focuses on the connection between inclusive leadership and accelerated innovation.  

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