Sharing Their Journeys: Women in Gas Operations Love Their Work

Jan 5, 2022 9:00 AM ET

Originally published on PSEG newsroom

Upgrading pipelines is physically demanding work and can present extra challenges for the 5’ 2” Cristina Ramirez, who has worked in natural gas since 2018 but joined PSE&G Gas Operations last summer. Ramirez, a service mechanic, is one of many women now seeking careers in fields traditionally dominated by men.

Cristina Ramirez

“You can see some of the men doing the job and breezing right through it,” Ramirez said. “I have the mindset that women can do the same things that men can do. Our bodies are structured differently but you put your mindset to it, build your physique to get your upper body stronger and it becomes second nature.”

Ramirez, who worked for years as an officer in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security before seeking a higher paying job in energy, said she was attracted to PSE&G for a few reasons, including the fact that Kim Hanemann, who is the utility’s first female president and COO, got her start in Gas Operations.

“I feel empowered by her position. I look at her and see she’s done it, so I can do it and other women after me will be able to do it, too,” Ramirez said, “She definitely set the mark for us.”

Ramirez, who performed a similar job at a different utility, said she’s very happy at PSE&G because of the high standards, professionalism, teamwork, integrity and commitment to customers.

Gas System Modernization Program Staff Engineer Veronica Candela had a slightly different experience when she first started working with PSE&G as a contractor in 2015 and was recruited to join Gas Ops a little more than a year later. Candela helped the team streamline a high-end purchase order process that used to take two months and now only takes two days.

“Before, there was no consistency throughout the state – no standards. My current boss, Bill Elmer, recognized that I could help,” Candela said. “He’s always been really good with that – seeing opportunities and pushing me to go after them.”

Veronica Candela

Originally from Colombia, Quality Assurance/Quality Control Specialist Yinnet Gonzalez also saw opportunities at PSE&G but didn’t know how to get a hiring manager’s attention. With a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering, acquaintances would advise her to move to Texas for opportunities in the oil industry, but Yinnet wanted to raise her two daughters on the East Coast. Fortunately, she came across a readiness and job placement program run by Nontraditional Employment for Women in New York.

“On my first PSE&G job interview, they asked if I knew how to break concrete, perform an excavation or use a jackhammer; I kept saying no. Then they asked what I did know … and I told them about my OSHA certification and engineering background,” Gonzalez said. “Seeing my potential, they wanted to know if I believed I could do the job – and I did.”

Yinnet Gonzalez

During her first day on a Gas System Modernization Program street crew, in August 2017, Gonzalez asked as many questions as she could, and the men on the crew were extremely helpful and supportive. She kept learning, worked overtime and studied as much about job safety as she could, to the point where she became the go-to person on the crew for safety assurance. The work was grueling yet rewarding and her dedication landed her a promotion earlier this year to a quality assurance/quality control specialist.

“PSE&G is the best thing that has happened in my life professionally. People here are proud of the company and really care about the customers,” Gonzalez said.

Dispatch Supervisor Arlener Hall began her career at PSE&G in 1997 as a part-time collections representative and moved to Gas Operations in 1998 to take a full-time position as a dispatcher. Hall said although there were few women in Gas Ops when she started, she found colleagues responded well to her willingness to ask questions and get her hands dirty.

Still, Hall said she may not have had the confidence to go for a supervisory position had it not been for networking with other women at the company.

Arlener Hall

“I thought I couldn’t progress if I didn’t know more about what they were doing out in the field,” Hall recalled, “And then I talked to Beth Acquaire about her career journey and that made a big difference in the way I envisioned my future here at PSE&G.”

Acquaire has worked for PSE&G for 34 years, the first 10 in Customer Operations. Currently she is the highest-ranking woman in Gas Ops, serving as senior director of Gas Operations – North. Acquaire said she transferred to Appliance Services at a time when HVAC Replacement launched and she was drawn by the energy, excitement and growth opportunities for the business. Acquaire said she’s inspired when she sees others succeed, particularly when women work out of their comfort zones.

“I founded the PSEG’s POWER (Pursuing Opportunities for Women in Energy Resources) employee business resource group and one of our first programs was to develop mentoring relationships. These relationships are not only a win-win for both parties, but it makes our company stronger,” Acquaire said. “Investing time through mentoring is one way to maintain a learning culture, promote personal and professional development, and where I also continue to grow and learn from others, and develop fantastic relationships.”

Beth Acquaire

These women agree that dedication, asking for help when needed, networking and diversity are all attributes for success, and encourage even more women to join Gas Ops. (These qualities also are highlighted in PSEG’s first-ever Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) report.)

“Watching a woman soar at PSE&G the way Kim Hanemann did makes me feel really good,” Hall concluded. “It means we all have the opportunity to do the same thing.”