Duquesne Light CEO Steven Malnight a champion for diversity
Hires African Americans for senior-level positions
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Sure, anyone would be excited, even exuberant, about the prospects of leading one of Pittsburgh’s most cherished companies, one that’s been in existence for some 140 years. That was the case for Steven Malnight, who received his bachelor’s in chemical engineering from Notre Dame, an MBA from Dartmouth College’s prestigious Tucker School of Business, then later worked magic for nearly 15 years at the Pacific Gas and Electric utility company (California) in a variety of roles, including senior vice president, energy supply and policy.
Malnight was named president and CEO of the Duquesne Light Company in April 2019, but then realized that, while his appointment would be instrumental in moving the company forward from a tactical perspective, the company was missing one important component.
“We’re a 140-year-old company and we had not had the kind of priority around diversity and inclusion throughout our history that we needed to have,” Malnight told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview, Sept. 30.
Duquesne Light Company wants to lead diversity and inclusion efforts in the Pittsburgh region
From Day 1, when he took his first seat in Duquesne Light’s big chair, he noticed that there were no African American members of his “executive cabinet.” From the vice president of external affairs, to the VP and chief customer officer, to the chief compliance officer, and everyone in between, there were no signs of diversity.
“This was an issue that the (Duquesne Light) board asked me a lot about when I came here, my views on diversity and inclusion as a company,” Malnight said. “I will say throughout my career, it’s become very clear that if you don’t have a team that is diverse in their thinking and perspectives and can see problems from different angles, because they have different experiences and their background, they can better represent the customers and communities we serve. If you don’t have that around your table, you are not going to get the best ideas. And if you don’t have an inclusive environment where their voices are heard, you’re not going to get to the best solutions.”
African Americans reaching the C-Suite has long been a problem in the Pittsburgh region. A partnership between Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business and The Advanced Leadership Institute has graduated dozens of African Americans in the past year through its Executive Leadership Academy, in an effort to get African Americans ready to advance to high-ranking positions at companies.
And organizations like Vibrant Pittsburgh, led by Sabrina Saunders Mosby, are in constant communication with the region’s top companies, pushing them to diversify their workforce and promote African Americans to C-Suite-level positions.
Thus, it wasn’t just Duquesne Light that didn’t have Black personnel in the highest positions. But Malnight told the Courier that he wanted diversity and inclusion to be a priority at Duquesne Light.
THE BEST CANDIDATES—Within the last 15 months, Duquesne Light has made a number of key hires involving African Americans. Sara Oliver-Carter, top, is DLC’s Chief Diversity Officer; David Johnson, left, is Vice President and Chief Customer Officer, and Kevin Walker, right, is Vice President and Chief Operations Officer.
In July 2019, his first hire was Sara Oliver-Carter, in the newly created position of chief diversity officer.
“I think the team knew that we needed to improve our diversity and inclusion efforts holistically,” Malnight said. “When we found Sara, we recognized that she just has a tremendous background and experience.”
Making sure Oliver-Carter’s title was “chief diversity officer” certified that she would have “significant influence” across Duquesne Light, Malnight said.
In January 2020, Duquesne Light hired industry veteran David Johnson as its VP and chief customer officer, marking the first African American to hold a title of vice president for Duquesne Light in recent memory.
Johnson had served as vice president, customer service, for Entergy Louisiana, where he led day-to-day customer service operations and established and maintained relationships with customers and community stakeholders, according to the Duquesne Light website. Before Entergy Louisiana, Johnson was senior vice president, customer service and economic development, for DTE Energy in Michigan.
A few months later, in April 2020, the company hired Kevin Walker as its VP and chief operations officer. Walker, who is also African American, had served as senior vice president of customer and operations services and nuclear decommissioning at Southern California Edison. Walker is a U.S. Army Veteran who served six years as a field artillery officer during Operation Desert Storm, according to Duquesne Light’s website. Walker has an MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
Malnight said there was a national search for both positions, and while the company was intentional in having a diverse slate of candidates for the positions, “in the end, we picked the very best candidates that were there. Dave and Kevin are national leaders in the utility industry with deep experience. They are incredible additions to our team.”
Today, two of the six vice presidents of Duquesne Light are Black. Duquesne Light has one senior vice president, Mark Kaplan, who is White. Kaplan also serves as the company’s chief financial officer.
Malnight told the Courier that while he commended the Duquesne Light team prior to his arrival of “making some good progress” on diversity and inclusion, “my job was to try and accelerate that and move that forward faster.”
An electric utility company is one that reaches just about everyone in a particular market. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, single or married, Black or brown or white, a Pittsburgh native or a transplant; you use electricity.
And you know Duquesne Light, which has 600,000 customers in Allegheny and Beaver counties, and nearly 1,600 employees.
Duquesne Light’s coverage area just so happens to include the second-largest Black collective population in the state, behind the Philadelphia area. Allegheny County alone has more than 150,000 African Americans, and another 10,000 in neighboring Beaver County.
“We must have a team that can look to our customers and understand the issues they need, understand the unique experiences they’ve had, understand what they need from us as a company, so that we as a team can come to the best solutions,” Malnight told the Courier.
When Malnight looks at Pittsburgh, his current residence now for about 18 months, he can see that the Steel City wants to thrive. It wants to be known as a destination spot for technology, innovation and professional upward mobility (along with the Steelers and pierogies). But last year’s Gender Equity Commission Report, by University of Pittsburgh researchers, was a harsh wake-up call to the entire Pittsburgh business community; Blacks in Pittsburgh, as a whole, are suffering.
“Black women and men in other cities have better health, income, employment, and educational outcomes than Pittsburgh’s Black residents,” the report read in its executive summary, obtained by the Courier.
The report also found that “over one-third of Pittsburgh’s Black women live below the federal poverty line,” and “more Black children in Pittsburgh grow up in poverty than 95 percent of similar cities.”
Malnight told the Courier that in addition to the diversifying of his executive team, he and Oliver-Carter are working to make sure Duquesne Light keeps diversity and inclusion a priority in its hiring practices and overall company culture. He wants Duquesne Light to take the lead in diversity and inclusion among Pittsburgh’s companies.
Those efforts are being noticed. Mosby, Vibrant Pittsburgh’s president and CEO, told the Courier in July that she felt Duquesne Light just “gets it” when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
“After hiring Sara Carter-Oliver almost a year ago in their first-ever (Diversity and Inclusion) executive role, we’ve seen numerous executives of color hired into senior level positions. The difference,” Mosby told the Courier, “is Sara works directly with (Duquesne Light) CEO Steve Malnight and their leadership team.
Having a direct line to the CEO matters and it’s changing the face of leadership.”
“As a company, we are not going to succeed and thrive unless this Pittsburgh region succeeds and thrives. That means all of Pittsburgh,” Malnight told the Courier exclusively. “From my perspective, we’re trying to lead internally, but it’s also important that we look to how we can lead the way in the community and make a difference in the community.”
As appeared first in New Pittsburgh Courier
Editor’s note: READ the full statement from DLC on its commitment to the community, and its pledge to invest in local Black-owned businesses and offer opportunities for sustainable growth.