Jennifer Rice does not come from a traditional human resources (HR) background. Her background is in the field of Industrial-Organizational Psychology, which is using behavioral research and science to solve organizational problems. She also recently completed her thesis for her master’s program.
What many may not know is that Rice manages a team with a similar background also in industrial-organizational psychology. A typical day for Rice and her team looks like that of a small boutique consultancy, learning about SFPUC team processes, obtaining feedback from staff on what works and what could be better and looking for data-driven solutions to help SFPUC teams improve and be more efficient.
But more importantly, Rice sees her team as a resource to help support the SFPUC’s most valuable asset: its employees who continue to ensure operations continue to support the Bay Area everyday, 24/7.
“A typical day includes a lot of communication with clients to understand and address their needs when it comes to improving talent management or organizational effectiveness,” shared Rice. :This could be about how to develop employees, manage performance or hire using competencies, or how to improve employee engagement and experience.”
Rice’s team looks at long-term challenges such as creating a workforce plan aligned with business strategy or establishing metrics to track effectiveness of people processes. As a manager, she also spends a lot of time helping her team strategize on how to address their own clients’ needs.
For Rice, representation means having as many voices and perspectives in the room to advocate for diverse viewpoints and experiences.
“When you’re responsible for designing systems, processes, tools, or policies that affect other people, you have to be able to empathize with your clients – their needs, their struggles, and their strengths,” she said. “It’s especially important in HR because our policies touch employees’ lives very directly both during and outside of work, and from a user-centered design standpoint, we have to be very conscious of this impact and understanding of all experiences and perspectives to have a positive impact in people’s lives.”
One of the reasons Rice believe it is important to recognize the contributions of women in the utilities industry is to attract more women to the industry and provide excellent careers. “Utilities jobs are varied and interesting, as well as highly compensated and stable. Water is never going out of style,” she said. “Being in the public sector and unionized as well, we have a lot of employee protections which can make all the difference in things like pay equity or family-friendly policies that don’t punish women (or men!) for starting a family.”
Rice says that she sees women who are also very successful in the industry. She shared that besides the admirable gender makeup of the SFPUC’s executive team, she is one of the six lead strategists for the SFPUC’s strategic plan. “It’s one of the high points of my work that all the Lead Strategists right now are women!” she shared excitedly. “That definitely feels like being able to make an impact as woman at the SFPUC or in the utilities industry.”