NECA TransmissionsNotes from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry
  • 50% of Women in Executive Positions: A Workable Goal?

    Posted on Sep 20, 2011 by Beth Margulies

    by Beth Margulies, NECA Director, Communications

    My job at NECA is communications for both our members and the public, which has me going through different sources to see what’s working for other shops. I thought members of the NECA Women's Peer Group (and their male colleagues) would appreciate this blog post from Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman, one the most successful, independent PR agencies around. Edelman recently wrote about his goal to put women in at least half of the senior positions at the company by 2016. He also mentions that he plans to pass the company on to his three daughters, something many NWPG members can relate to.

    "Our goal is simple—50% of those on Strategy Committee, Operating Committee, GCRM and practice leadership will be women by 2016," Edelman wrote in the post about GWEN, or Global Women Executive Network, the company’s internal task force  exploring how to put more women in its top jobs. "They will have earned the positions; there will not be a quota."

    Edelman acknowledges that the PR industry has no problem attracting women. Some two-thirds of his workforce is female, he writes. But the ranks of women start to thin in leadership roles.

    While he says that his company never overtly paid attention to the gender issue, Edelman seems keenly aware of the barriers to women entering the company's executive suite, including the burdens of childcare and the frustrations of being passed over for plum assignments because moms have to leave early for soccer practice.  He even cites Sheryl Sandberg's famous "Don't Leave Before You Leave" essay. Many companies talk in general terms about increasing participation of women in the senior ranks. Few executives come out and set an actual numeric goal.

    At the National Association of Women in Construction’s annual meeting in St. Louis two weeks ago, I was frantically trying to cram in all the sessions I could, while letting as many fellow attendees know about our fledgling women’s peer group here at NECA. In the midst of all this, I managed to catch one point made by speaker Tamara Vaughn:

    “It’s been said women bring different strengths than men do to an office, and we shouldn’t try to be anything other than who we are. Women tend to be more collaborative and supportive – and that’s a good thing. But until more women are actually in control of businesses, making those senior executive decisions, we are going to have to recognize that we have to utilize some of the same strategies as men do in the office. And quit apologizing for that fact.”

    Two very interesting points about women moving into senior leadership at their companies. What do you think about it? How should company CEOs and Boards start talking about getting more women to join their company’s senior ranks?

  • Response from IBEW President Ed Hill

    Posted on Jan 17, 2009 by John M Grau

    One reason I blog at NECA Transmissions is because I want to hear directly what people on our industry's frontline are thinking. I don't expect everyone to always agree with me, and I appreciate the people who take the time to write comments to my posts. While most NECA members agreed with my position on the Employee Free Choice Act, IBEW International President Ed Hill had another view.


    I am somewhat surprised that your editorial regarding the Employee Free Choice Act hits as something that has little to do with our working relationship, but is more of a personal attack on the rights of working men and women.  I understand your concern regarding the favored nations issue; however it is our opinion that this is not a real issue, but one that some of you are using to mask your disdain for the rights of workers.  I believe that in the past when your organization wanted something legislatively that we did not necessarily agree with, there was a gentlemen’s agreement that we would not get involved, but would sit it out.  I believe for the most part this has happened and for the most part when there was something that was good for the industry we were there to work with our partners.

    Your buy-in of the position of the anti-union forces does surprise me, and like the rest of them you have got it all wrong.  The present situation lends itself to the control of management when it is they who decide whether to have a card check for representation or not.  As you know if there are 95% of the people want a union, and the company refuses to accept the wishes of the employees and recognize the union as their bargaining representative, then the employer can demand an election. It is then that they grind the process to a halt until they can intimidate enough people against the union that they will permit the process to continue. Well, since it has been that way and anti-union management types seem to like it, we would like to be able to have something to say about the process as well, and if there enough cards to determine that the majority want a union then they should be permitted to have one instead of being brow-beat with the threat of loss of their employment and in many cases the actual loss of their job, until there is an election held.

    However, there may be a bright side to this issue. Your position of concern for the voting rights of working men and women, however narrowly applied to a single issue, may be something to smile about.


    I appreciate Ed's willingness to share his response here. Feel free to use the link below to send me any additional comments on this topic.

  • Pension Perils

    Posted on Oct 27, 2008 by John M Grau

    I hate to add to the pile of bad financial news, but have you checked your local defined benefit pension plan lately? If it wasn’t underwater before this current stock market crisis, it is now. At least in terms of the funding standards under the new pension regulations established a couple years ago.

    Add private and public pension plans to the list of institutions that Congress needs to save from technical bankruptcy. I say “technical bankruptcy” because in most cases the plans themselves are not bankrupt. They just don’t meet the funding standards established by the government. While funding standards are good and necessary, in times like these strict interpretation of the regulations can lead to even more disastrous results.

    To my way of thinking the solution is fairly simple. Allow pension plans to spread their liabilities out over a longer period of time. That way, they work their way out of the hole as their investments recover over time.  (Right now, it looks like that might be a long time). 

    This isn’t a bailout.  It shouldn’t cost the government or the taxpayer anything. The alternative would. If plans ultimately fail, they fall back on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) to pick up the pension liability and payments. Then it does become a bailout, and we all pay the tab.

    The problem is, Congress seldom does it the easy way. There is already talk of finding ways to make 401(k) participants whole for their losses. This has lead to more talk about re-engineering the whole pension system in our country, including a government take-over of all pension and 401(k) plans. Private pensions and savings plans would cease to exist.  A government-mandated plan, skewed toward lower-income participants, would be substituted.

    So far this it just talk. But some kind of Congressional action will be required in the months ahead, which opens the door to all kinds of ideas.

    NECA has already moved pension issues to the top of its government affairs agenda. We will not only be actively monitoring the situation, but proactively working with other like-minded organizations in coalitions to promote sensible solutions while fighting off harmful alternatives.

    Small businesses, like all citizens, have a big stake in how the government addresses our current financial mess. NECA won’t hesitate to jump into the fray to represent the interests of electrical contractors. Your support, advice, and guidance will be needed as with deal with some issues we have never had to confront before.

  • A Tie to Future Success

    Posted on Jun 23, 2008 by John M Grau

    In case you missed the news, the Men’s Dress Furnishing Association (MFDA) is shutting down after 60 years. MDFA is the trade group for American necktie manufacturers.

    The group decided to close its doors when its membership dropped from 120 to under 25. Their leaders blame competition from manufacturers outside the U.S. and, more importantly, the fact that fewer men are wearing neckties. They claim they saw the writing on the wall a couple years ago when, at their annual luncheon in New York, a good number of members showed up at the event tie-less. Oh my!!

    Just another example that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in business or how successful you have been; it’s how you adapt to change that’s important. I wondered if there were any insights for NECA and its member contractors in this story.

    While neckties may be on their way to obsolescence, I don’t think the same is true for electrical contracting. Electricity running through wires should be with us for a long time to come. Of course, it’s possible that some huge technological breakthrough will create a new universal source of power or some new way to deliver that energy to buildings. But, even if that were the case, it would take many years to retrofit our current building infrastructure to the new energy source. And who’s to say that electrical contractors wouldn’t be doing that work?

    Competition is the most likely force impacting our future. While we tend to focus on the competition within our own trade, we might consider some other sources of competitive pressure. Could another type of contractor come to dominate what is traditionally thought of as the electrical contractor’s realm? The mechanical/technical contractor, for instance? At one time, general contractors considered hiring all the labor on a site. Today, they don’t want to hire direct labor at all.

    A change in construction technology may be more of a threat to traditional electrical contracting. While manufactured homes and buildings have been talked about for decades, they have not become the norm in construction, but prefabrication of assemblies off the jobsite is a hot trend. A natural extension would be to prefab or manufacture even more of the building offsite and then assemble it onsite. Whole modular sections of a building could be manufactured in a foreign country and shipped to the building site. The only task left for an electrical contractor may be to connect the electrical systems in the modular units together. It could be the ultimate version of the “plug and play” concept.

    While we might dream up a number of scenarios where the electrical contractor may fade from existence, we have to consider that as a whole they are a pretty resilient bunch. After all, the industry has evolved in many ways over the last one hundred years, and resourceful electrical contractors have learned to adapt and grow.

    What about NECA as the association of electrical contractors? Well, we are a reflection of our members, and if they adapt, so will we. The association has lots of resources and bright people to draw on. My bet is that we will be here for decades to come. Different. Hopefully better. But here, nonetheless.

  • Q&A With Larry Bradley part 2

    Posted on Mar 13, 2008 by John M Grau

    Larry Bradley’s response that I posted in my last entry raised a couple more questions, so I went back to the source for a little more information.

    JG: Larry, you said that NEBF is in great shape now, what’s to prevent it from entering the “red zone” sometime in the future? Are the Trustees making any plans to prevent this from happening?

    LB: The Trustees are well-aware of the current status of the securities markets as well as the current demographic trend of the Baby Boomers entering retirement age. They are constantly monitoring demographic trends to insure that NEBF pension benefits are available not just for the Baby Boomers but for the generations after them.

    Steps have already been taken to ensure the soundness of the Fund. One of the most important of these steps is that NEBF contains a plan provision prohibiting the Trustees from increasing benefits if doing so creates a withdrawal liability.

    Additionally, there are numerous checks and balances protecting NEBF. Investment advisors provide feedback on investment performance to the Trustees. These same advisors are overseen by a separate investment expert, furthering security. And NEBF is valued annually by independent actuaries based on conservative actuarial assumptions agreed to by the Trustees. This means the actuaries can inform the Trustees of any potential impending problems.

    JG: So, in the end, should the employers contributing to NEBF be worried about unforeseen liabilities that they may have to pay for down the road?

    LB: While all pension plans carry inherent risks, our contributing employers can take comfort in the fact that the Trustees are taking proactive steps to ensure NEBF’s security which is reflected in the fact that the plan is fully funded for vested liabilities. As stated previously, the Trustees goal is to keep NEBF secure not just for the Baby Boomers in our industry but for future generations of electrical workers and their employers.

    If you have a question about NEBF feel free to respond to this blog. I’ll pass your questions or comments on to Larry, and we’ll include more NEBF information in future postings.




  • Q&A With Larry Bradley

    Posted on Mar 07, 2008 by John M Grau

    All the news about troubled financial markets is enough to make anyone nervous about their own investments. So I asked Larry Bradley, Secretary-Treasurer for the National Electrical Benefit Fund, a couple of the questions that had been on my mind recently about the NEBF.

    JG: It seems like every time I read a newspaper or turn on the news there’s another big company, like GM, with a pension plan in trouble. This leaves me concerned for NEBF’s future. Is the Fund in trouble?

    LB: No, NEBF is classified by the government as a “green zone,” plan, meaning it is a healthy, well-funded pension plan.

    JG: But what does the government mean by “green zone” exactly?

    LB: When the Pension Protection Act became effective in 2007, it contained a provision that required all pension plans to carry a rating regarding the plan’s status. A pension plan can be classified as healthy, endangered, or critical. A healthy plan is considered in the “green zone” while an endangered plan is in the “yellow zone.” A critical plan is in the “red zone.”

    A “red zone” plan is only about 60 percent funded and may carry a disproportionate ratio of retirees to active workers. A plan in the “yellow zone” is about 70 percent funded and is expecting a funding deficiency in seven years. A “green zone” plan is more than 80 percent funded and has no expected deficiencies in the near future.

    In NEBF’s case, our funding level is squarely within the “green zone.” In fact, the Fund is fully funded with respect to vested benefits based on our most recent actuarial evaluation, so the NEBF has no withdrawal liability—which is important for our covered employers.



  • Meet David Roberts

    Posted on Jan 24, 2008 by John M Grau

    As Executive Director of NECA’s Southern Region, B. David Roberts is responsible for a territory from Arizona to Virginia that encompasses 15 states and 34 NECA chapters.He interacts regularly with two NECA District Vice Presidents and four IBEW International Vice Presidents.He directs a staff of four NECA field representatives, plus an office assistant.

    Above all, David Roberts is the right man in the right place.His depth of knowledge and personal touch in dealing with complex issues and disputes makes him a highly effective and widely respected NECA representative. David has devoted most of his career to working for NECA, serving as Southern Region Executive Director for over 20 years.He also worked as a NECA field representative for nine years and as manager of the former Ouachita Valley Chapter from 1973-1978. David also had a brief career as a high school football coach and math teacher.

    David holds the distinction of being one of the longest serving appointees to the Council on Industrial Relations.Whenever the Council breaks into two panels to decide cases, David plays the key role of coordinating and presenting NECA’s positions on the second panel.He has earned the admiration and respect of both IBEW and NECA representatives to the CIR.

    David was born in Yazoo City, Miss. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi and during summers, he worked as a carpenter on construction crews.

    While at Ole Miss, David played wide receiver on the same football team as famed quarterback Archie Manning.Apparently David dropped too many of Archie’s passes, or he might have moved on to the pros as well. (Archie Manning is father of current pro quarterbacks Payton and Eli Manning.)

    I appreciate that David has always been willing to provide me with lots of advice and down to earth wisdom, my favorite being “crow isn’t half-bad if you know how to fix it.” Having had to eat my share of crow over the years, I’ve found this bit of advice to be particularly useful.

About NECA Transmissions

NECA Transmissions is a collaborative effort from CEO John Grau and NECA staff to provide insight and feedback on key issues from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry.


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