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Energy Infrastructure

Zuma Energía: Deliberate Action

Nina Denisse Gutierrez, Leadership Strategy Consultant, Zuma Energia, Mexico

Adrián Katzew, CEO, Zuma Energia, Mexico

Zuma Energia’s integration offsite: discussing human rights, diversity and inclusion and respecting differences

Created in 2014 with investment from Actis and Mesoamerica, Mexican renewable energy platform Zuma Energía (Zuma) has placed attracting and retaining the best talent from a diverse pool of people at the heart of its recruitment and training processes from the outset.

“My purpose and philosophy in building the team for Zuma has always been centred around sustainability and social mobility,” says company CEO Adrián Katzew. “We are a genuinely local company in an environment where most businesses are international and we want to provide a working environment where people from all backgrounds can develop their skills and contribute fully to growing our company.”

In addition to being a focus for Actis, it’s a philosophy drawn from Adrián’s personal experience. Adrian was determined to attend the best private university in Mexico and worked his way through the course. “I worked in the library alongside a colleague who helped me out but couldn’t afford the university fees,” says Adrián. “It was there that I developed a strong desire to contribute to ensure that gaps and inequalities were fixed.”

With a view that creating a diverse organisation required deliberate action on two main fronts – gender and social background (including the dimension of racial income and opportunity inequality), Adrián set about building the team. One of Zuma’s early employees, CFO Hélène Dimitracopoulos, joined after Adrián had spent a year in discussions with her. “We agreed to support Hélène so she could she leave the office and work from home later. That way she could manage her family set up as well as take on responsibilities at Zuma,” says Adrián. “There is an incredible talent pool in women who want to get back to work after having a family, but there is not often enough flexibility to allow them to do so – companies that don’t recognise this are missing out on highly valuable leadership qualities.”

With an ambition to do more to bring outstanding talent to Zuma, Adrián believes there is an arbitrage opportunity. “If you want to bring in the best talent, you have to make an exchange – flexibility,” he says. “Otherwise, you won’t have access to a deep and broad pool.”

Helping women transition to a new way of life after starting a family is another way Zuma seeks to support female staff. The company offers maternity coaching to women through pregnancy and beyond, providing them with the information and skills they need to plan for personal and professional objectives as their circumstances change.

Adrián also believes that the business needs to be proactive when it comes to developing talent across the socio-economic spectrum. As a result, Zuma has worked in partnership since 2015 with Inroads de México, an organisation that helps identify and train young people from public universities. Zuma has so far taken on 8 Inroaders, offering experience, training and work opportunities. Zuma also provides scholarships to promising young students to help them pay their way through their studies. “We have to tackle social discrimination,” says Adrián. “We can help achieve this by giving people from low income backgrounds the confidence and personal skills that a top university education often confers – there is a cultural gap that needs to be bridged here.”

However, efforts to build an inclusive organisation can become more challenging as a business grows, an issue Adrián recognises. From a small team in 2014, Zuma now has 50 employees, plus contractors working on constructing new assets. “We’ve gone from zero assets to 1.2GW of capacity,” he says. “We have to ensure that diversity and inclusion continues to cut through as we grow.”

Having brought in Nina Denisse Gutierrez as a Leadership Strategy Consultant to work on a number of diversity and training projects, Zuma hired her as Head of HR to ensure the company continues to develop inclusion policies and initiatives. Tellingly, Zuma agreed that Nina could undertake the role on a part-time basis. “It’s rare for employers to allow part-time working for senior positions,” she says. “But it was the only way I could keep a work-life balance and join the company.”

For Nina, it’s vital that Zuma builds on its culture of ensuring people feel a sense of belonging in the company. “Everyone wants to feel as though they belong,” she says. “If people feel they don’t belong in a team or culture, that creates barriers and they won’t contribute their best – people need to feel comfortable to perform. And, as an organisation, you want to ensure you are capturing different views and outlooks so you can build better projects; if you just hire clones, you don’t have a full set of skills or opinions.”

Zuma already has an open door policy that enables employees to talk to others, including the management team, to share ideas and air concerns and issues. The company has also carried out assessments on potential and new employees to ensure recruits are suitable or adaptable to team working. “One of the issues we have faced,” says Nina, “is that people are sometimes more used to hierarchical structures and the work I’ve carried out suggests that this can be a block to openness and a culture in which all ideas are valued. Given that there is a scarcity of talent in renewables, we can’t always filter out people that don’t exactly fit our culture; sometimes have to work with people to help change behaviour.”

As Zuma continues to grow, it is also putting in place leadership development programmes and unconscious bias training to create more institutionalised frameworks around which the company culture can develop. “We need to have honest and open conversations about our prejudices,” says Nina. “We all have them, but we need to recognise what they are and learn how to work through them. At Zuma, we want to ensure that communication around this remains open – we want to promote an environment of psychological safety.”

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