Female leadership is a hot topic in today’s workplace, especially in the energy and engineering sectors. Fields typically dominated by males are seeing a shift, with more women entering the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) industry and assuming leadership roles.

So, what does it take for a woman to get a seat at the table with industry playmakers?

Heather Rivard, senior vice president of Distribution Operations –  DTE Energy’s largest operational group – credits her success to diverse teams and mentors, supportive and constructive leaders, and above all, confidence. Steadily moving her way up the career ladder, she is known for sharing her success with others, helping both men and women overcome obstacles and move forward in their careers.

Rivard will receive national recognition for her mentorship by becoming one of 11 people across the nation ever to accept the Midwest Energy Association Energetic Woman Maverick Award. The Maverick Award recognizes senior leaders who advocate for the professional advancement of women, understand the value of diverse leadership teams and believe in the empowerment of women. Rivard will officially accept the award at the National Energetic Women’s Conference on June 22 in Orlando, Florida.   

“Heather has and continues to mentor women at all levels in the organization,” said Dave Meador, DTE Energy Vice Chairman and Chief Administration Officer. “Taking the time to provide observation, feedback and coaching has been invaluable to other women at the company.  We are fortunate to have Heather as a senior female leader, not only in moving the company towards excellence, but also in developing talented, engaged and energetic women of DTE Energy.”

Rivard believes the most important thing women can do to move ahead is to trust in their ability to do the job.

“The thing that often holds us back is confidence,” said Rivard. “If we could remove the lack of confidence, and if women believed they could do whatever they want to do, then they will.”

Rivard believes her courage, character and confidence stems from the many years she spent as a Girl Scout, which would make sense considering 64 percent of today’s female leaders in the United States were once Girl Scouts. She continues to be involved in the organization, only recently handing her Girl Scout board position over to Morgan Elliott Andahazy, director of Service Operations, DTE Electric.

Rivard also learned a lot from her mother, a woman who obtained both a bachelor’s and master’s degree while working full-time and raising three daughters on her own. Watching her mother juggle three full-time schedules taught Rivard the value of pushing forward when things get hard.

“We had nothing growing up,” she reflected. “We were on the free government lunch program, living paycheck to paycheck, yet she never gave up. It probably would’ve been easier for her in the short run to not get a degree and just focus on working as much as possible. Yet, she went to work full time and school full time because she saw the potential of what she could accomplish even though it was really hard in the beginning.”

Her mother’s determination to see her education through (and a nudge from a high school guidance counselor) inspired Rivard to go after a degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan College of Engineering. She later went on to work for NASA and ANSER before joining DTE, where she has held many different positions over the last 25 years. Rivard also completed her MBA at U-M while an employee at DTE.

Throughout school and work, Rivard has always been sure of her ability to achieve success and has never felt she had to factor in her gender.

“I’ve never been in a meeting and thought to myself, ‘I’m a female and how should I behave,’” explained Rivard. “I just do what I think is right, and I don’t overthink it.”