Geisha Williams: Holding the Light for Latinas
In a record-breaking year, 32 females appear on the Fortune 500. Geisha Williams is the first and only Latina on the list.
Geisha Williams just recently became the first Latina woman to make the Fortune 500. Williams, an immigrant from Cuba, took the helm of PG&E earlier this year after being on top of its electric operations for the past ten years.
In the six months that Williams has been heading the company, PG&E has started setting benchmarks. PG&E succeeded this year at generating a third of its energy from renewable sources, a change that was reached way ahead of schedule!
Geisha Williams, born Geisha Jimenez, came to the U.S. when she was five years old with parents who were political refugees. Accustomed to life’s travails, Geisha’s parents knew they had to flee Cuba. Her father had been a Freedom Fighter and the family would surely have been persecuted. Abandoning tropical Cuba for chilly Minnesota was change enough in and of its own, but abandoning their homeland had other implications for family life as well. After Minnesota, the Jimenez moved to Union City, New Jersey, where they found a thriving Latino community. While her father worked three jobs, the family saved to buy and manage La Guajira and La Milagrosa, small grocery stores where Geisha first fell in love with math while working as the cash register.
The Jimenez later moved south to Miami in the 1980s where they found sunnier weather and a vibrant Cuban community in exile. The love of math that Geisha had discovered at the core of her family’s business became the passion that fueled her interest for Engineering, a program she later enrolled in at University of Miami. Geisha became the first person in her family to go to college. As fate would have it, while looking for a summer job her junior year, Geisha found a position at Florida Power & Light Company where she worked for over twenty years. She later graduated on to PG&E in 2007, the company she’s leading today.
Through the years, people have asked Williams what it means to be a leader, a question she thinks is best answered with one word: authenticity. “People need to believe in you. You have to know your business and be able to communicate and inspire.” And Geisha has these qualities to boot, remaining true to her roots, Williams has passed on her native Spanish to her daughters. She believes that her career should serve as inspiration for women in the utilities business to head front-line positions. Geisha knows full well PG&E’s role as “invisible enablers” knowing full well that “without electricity nothing works, (PG&E) is the energy that allows all business to operate” as she told Hispanic Executive a few weeks ago.
Her parent’s bravery is an example she follows in her daily tasks and decisions. It’s what propelled her to take the leap from Florida to California. Geisha Williams has truly broken through the glass ceiling, and she’s all about it. Williams believes in merit; moreover, Williams believes women should go out there and vie for the tough jobs with boldness. As she explained when honored with the Trailblazer Award in 2014 at Leadership California’s Legacy of leadership Celebration, “…companies can support women leaders by stretching them, by providing them opportunities to grow in jobs where they’re maybe not 100%. Once you’ve done it a couple of times, you realize you can do it again. But if you’ve never done that, if you’ve never gone into a job without having had a little discomfort going in, you might never do it, for fear of failure.” We couldn’t have said it better.