The recent ETS Profiles on MaryAnne Brelinsky EDF Energy Services President was inspirational to me. I highly respect and admire MaryAnne’s contribution to the industry and I have witnessed her determination to encourage and support women in energy. I am honored to be part of this series of testament stories to continue an open conversation that will drive solutions that will improve our overall businesses and opportunities.

I would not be where I am today without my career mentors. One in particular used to say to me, “Amy, your bags are packed and it’s up to you to unpack them. All you need to do is to push out any insecurity to unpack your future.”

Background and personal drivers

That’s exactly what I did at 17 years of age. I packed my bags and moved to the United States leaving behind my father, mother, and five siblings. I wanted something different than what awaited me as a woman in Mexico. My destiny would likely have been marriage by 18, no education, and working for my father’s business, much like my mother and most women from my generation.

I guess you could say my father pushed me out of the nest. I asked to go, but before I left, my strong-willed entrepreneur father had already instilled in me the imperatives of persistence, hard work, and focus that are the cornerstones of my work ethics and my success. To him, Education was not a priority or a measure of the potential of future success. He believed women simply did not need to go to college to be happy or successful, but he did not know better.

While my father was busy building his businesses, my mother was busy just taking care of the family’s basic needs. Her ability to encourage each of her children to place a value on higher-level education was limited. It simply wasn’t in her mind to do so because the concept was so foreign to her. Her teachings were about life, kindness, patience, and being humble. This reflects how I live my life as an avid volunteer helping others achieve their goals.

Importance of education to create opportunities

Coming from a family background that didn’t encourage higher education, I knew that leaving my country and family was the only option for me to achieve the vision I had for myself to attend college and to pursuit a professional career and to gain independence. Like the “Angel of Independence” in Mexico City, I embraced my own true self and flew higher than I could ever have dreamed in a foreign land.

With little reservation at all, I arrived in Chicago at the age of 17. I spoke no English and had little knowledge about American culture, business, or even what life was like there, but I had the drive and dream to complete a higher-level education. Perhaps I had the foresight and vision to realize the value of a higher education, or maybe I was just lucky if you want to call it that. Regardless, it was my higher education that gave me the options and opportunities I’ve had in my career. I had set a new standard within my family by becoming the first to earn a college degree. That was over 30 years ago, but still many women find themselves in the same situation that I was in prior to leaving Mexico City. They simply aren’t being given the opportunities to step up, go to college, work in corporations and then run them as executives. This must change.

Executive roles and board rooms to reflect diversity and to be inclusive

Our population is changing and that means that the demographics of our employees, customers, and partners are changing. Our board rooms need to match these changes in demographics. Houston has claimed the title of “energy capital of the world” as well as “the most diverse city in America,” but we don’t see such diversity reflected in leadership roles within the energy companies in our city. Back in 1980 when I first came to the America, Houston was 63 percent Anglo, 20 percent African-American, 16 percent Hispanic, and 2 percent Asian. Thirty years later it’s now 33 percent Anglo, 18 percent African-American, 41 percent Hispanic, and 8 percent Asian. According to census projections for the American population, soon after 2040 Hispanics will constitute more than half of Houston’s population, and the nation’s overall demographics will look very much like Houston’s as well.

Upon finishing my Masters in Econometrics, I had the great opportunity to join the energy industry with BP Amoco, and I never looked back. Despite the challenges of usually being, not only the sole woman but also the only minority when working on the trading rooms or executive positions, I always brought my positive mindset while integrating myself amongst the various cultural working cultures I was a part of.

I continued demanding more of myself and so I completed an Executive MBA program while balancing my work and personal life. I was not just a student, but an employee, spouse, and mother of one child with my second son on the way. In fact, he was born the day I was supposed to be attending my graduation commencement at Loyola University. It was not easy, and it required focus and vision, but I knew going into my first job in energy that I was entering a white-male dominated space filled with highly-educated intellectuals with whom I would be competing for higher positions.

How can we all be part of solution

As a senior executive, I see the absolute need to have more inclusion within decision-making executive-level positions, but progress in diversity of the workforce is so very slow in the energy industry. That’s why it’s my dream and my responsibility to encourage more women and minorities, in particular Hispanics, to join such an important industry and to help our industry as we serve our customers, partners and employees. I am proud to see some progress in the industry; however, we cannot become complacent because just like the few other women in leadership in this industry, I too would like to see more diversity and integration.

I asked myself to consider what I could do to help our industry, our community, our economy, and our younger women and Hispanic future leaders to close these diversity gaps. I decided to be part of the solution by driving conversation among energy organizations, Universities and corporations to ask them to evaluate and to develop programs to address such critical issues and to invest in women and Hispanics to prepare them to lead.

We are at a time when this is a must, not just a requirement to meet diversity quotas. Our customers and our communities that we serve demand such integration. I know it is not only the responsibility of corporations or universities, it is highly important that women, Hispanics and other minority individuals take charge by continuing their own education, mentoring and advocating. Each of us has a part to take because alone it cannot be done.

I took a cue from MaryAnne who took immediate action to integrate more women speaking and participating at the GCPA conference panels (e.g. GCPA emPOWERing Women). She inspired me to do something similar. I teach a class at the University of Houston Bauer School of Business. I’ve added more executive women as guest speakers to bring their perspective to the classroom and to serve as inspirational role models to students. In return, executives can gain first-hand awareness of the diversity among our students at universities and within our great city.

We as industry members must dive deep into why more women and minorities are not part of the decision-making level roles, either at executive or board levels and so I challenge all energy company executives to reflect on this issue and make meaningful change. Not only will our customers and our communities demand it, we simply have a responsibility to act now. Let’s be proactive and tackle it in this moment. I suggest improving ways to identify and to develop future women and minority leaders that will help our industry to be a leader among other industries that are also struggling with similar issue. I am optimistic that including individuals, universities and corporations in our sector that can work together to improve diversity and integration.

I’m pleased to share that the higher-education standard that I set for myself all those years ago is now being met by most of my younger generation family members. Even some of the older ones have gone back to school. College is no longer an option in my family. I am a mentor and role model within my family, among my friends and my colleagues. I believe that things can change for the positive if we start with ourselves, help push our families, and then support all those individuals we encounter.

We have what it takes and if not then develop them to open up to opportunities

We individuals have all that’s needed to fulfill the dreams of becoming someone great. Everything about each of us is right. We are not lacking anything. Some of our talents are recognizable and some are not. These hidden talents are still inside us as we dream and hope. We need to develop them. We need to know when we need to improve and seek out help from others. It’s not always easy. We will face obstacles, struggles, fears, and insecurities. But when we face them and improve ourselves, we will begin to feel strength and we will know we can accomplish anything. And that is how you unpack your bags.

This is a personal stream, opinions expressed are mine.