Celebrating Women's History Month at Essential Utilities

March is Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate women and the achievements they’ve made and continue to make in American History. The movement to honor women began as a day in 1978, eventually progressing to a week in 1980 and an entire month in 1997. At Essential, we recognize that commemorating our female team members should not be limited to a certain time, and we are proud to honor the women we work with for their expertise, guidance, knowledge and contributions all year long.

For this month’s Careers and Culture installment, we’re highlighting women who make a difference within Essential. We sat down with Michelle Buffenbarger and Lynda Petrichevich to learn more about what inspires them and get their advice for the next generation of female leaders.

Michelle Buffenbarger is a field supervisor with Aqua Indiana, where she runs a team of four, supports the wastewater plant and assists customers. Michelle has been with Aqua for 14 years.

Lynda Petrichevich has been with Peoples Natural Gas for 45 years and is the senior director of process operations. In this role, she oversees processes including damage prevention and leads several initiatives to push the company forward. Lynda has 160 people who report up to her.

What has been your biggest inspiration personally or in your career? What motivates you?

MB: “I get my inspiration from many different outlets – from people to a piece of art – in both my life and in my career. I initially didn’t know the water industry was a career option, and at Aqua, I’m able to constantly move toward goals and create more goals as I progress. This progress is my main motivator.”

LP: “When at Peoples, I draw my inspiration from problem-solving. I like investigating, mentoring, and training others – my goal is to leave my team in a better place to do their jobs than when I started. Problem solving also motivates me. As I’ve grown through my career, I’ve gained a more rounded approach to efficiency, effectiveness and process changes through digging in and figuring out what was working right and what needed enhanced.”

What is Women’s History Month? What does it mean to you? Why is it important to take time to reflect, think back and celebrate Women’s History Month?

MB: “It wasn’t until the last ten years that Women’s History Month really started to resonate with me. It’s a celebration and a way to honor all women who have paved the way for future generations through human rights, civil rights and science. Women’s History Month isn’t only about the famous women who have shaped history; it’s also about our great grandmothers who have sacrificed to create a better world. It’s important to reflect on the sacrifices these women made in the past and the sacrifices women currently make to move toward progress. This way, future generations will have it better than the last – that is the goal.”

LP: “Personally, Women’s History Month means I can be in a job that I am capable of doing and where I can make a positive contribution. When I started my career, women weren’t allowed to progress in the field. Now, because of the women who fought to progress, we can celebrate the opportunities we have today that women didn’t have before.”

Who is your role model, and why do you admire this person? What advice would you give the next generation of female leaders? 

MB: “Instead of having a singular role model, I have observed through the actions of others. This has allowed me to be better and treat people with more kindness, embrace people, and lead a team who sees value in each other. To the next generation of women: be a leader. You don’t have to be a supervisor, manager or president to guide others. Additionally, have empathy toward others, be willing to progress, and have diplomacy and strong ethics. Lastly, take responsibility – own your wins and own up to what didn’t work out. The best way to learn is through failure sometimes.”

LP: “My mother is my role model. She initially was a stay-at-home mom and went back to work night shifts using her nursing degree when her children got school age. It wasn’t as acceptable back then for women to pursue their career objectives while also taking care of their families. She tried to instill her work ethic in her children. My advice to the next generation of women is to not be afraid to learn things out of your area of expertise, and don’t be afraid to take a job in another area. You want to be well-rounded.”

What are the benefits of having women in leadership roles? Why is Essential Utilities a good place to work? 

MB: “When I started in the engineering department, I was the only woman. I was reserved in calls and meetings and didn’t feel comfortable speaking up. Now, the state president is female, and there are other women in the room. When we’re together, our voices are louder and stronger, and it makes meetings more diverse – diversity in all forms make the company stronger. In my service area, a group of women get together to have a platform to talk to each other and learn together. I feel valued at Essential and feel like I have value progressing with my work.”

LP: “There are benefits of having different thought processes and different perspectives rounding out how we think about things in leadership. Women, and especially those with different thought processes and perspectives, create an environment of growth. Through a series of acquisitions and structure changes at Essential, I have been able to grow through the challenge of change. I never get bored here.”

Thank you, Michelle and Lynda, for sharing your wisdom. We know we are a better company because of the varied viewpoints and backgrounds that come from our incredible female team members. Happy Women’s History Month!