For years, Ruby Woods had her eyes on the prize: a seat at the board of directors table of the Snapping Shoals EMC in Covington, GA.
Woods, 73, a life-long resident of this community located about 35 miles southeast of Atlanta, had been a member of the co-op for decades. As a member, she was pleased with its low rates and its long-standing emphasis on community service.
Woods said she was always attracted by the co-op because she was interested in electricity and how things work. Her natural curiosity, she said, led to a 27-year career at Mobil Chemical where she worked with a mainframe computer at a time when few people had even seen a computer.
Hoping to satisfy her curiosity and contribute to meaningful change in her community, she began a quest for the board about 20 years ago. Already well-known in her church and educated in finance in her second career (ten years at a local bank) she had the right credentials when she was appointed to the Snapping Shoals Electric Trust Board of Directors that administers the co-op’s Operation Round Up program.
In that role, she said, she gained insights into how the co-op could address needs of the community beyond providing power; plus, it allowed her to keep a close eye for an opportunity to get on the EMC board.
After a couple of years, a director position opened. “At first I was thinking, ‘I’m too old. I’m a woman. I’m African-American. They won’t put me on it.’” Despite her doubts, she sent her resume to the board.
Woods wasn’t selected, but another woman — a retired long-time co-op employee who had become eligible – was named by the nominating committee.
“I was glad to see a woman get it because she deserved it. She was very qualified. I just kept serving on the Round Up trust board and waiting,” Woods said.
Two years later, another opportunity. Again, Woods sent her resume to the board.
“I prayed about it and thought that if I was meant to get it, I would. So I just went on with my business.” After nearly a year, her phone rang one evening. It was a Snapping Shoals board member with the news that Woods was their nominee.
That was 14 years ago and Woods, who is now the board secretary-treasurer of the more than 95,000-member co-op, says she remains just as enthusiastic now as she was on her first meeting.
Though Snapping Shoals has two females on its 11-member board , Woods says she would like to see more females in the crowds of attendees of national and regional cooperative events.
“What I think it amounts to is younger working women with families just don’t have enough time for another thing in their lives. I would like to see more women. The other thing is you need to have an interest in the infrastructure. I don’t see that in the Gen-Xers or the Millennials, male or female, period. For them, electricity is common. It’s a given. It’s always been there with the flip of a switch. I don’t blame them. They don’t know the history.”
Woods believes that reaching out to mid-career, retired or “empty-nester” women would be an effective approach to recruit women board members because they have the professional or consumer experience and most importantly – time — to devote to the co-op. The key is for co-ops to seek them out in communication efforts.
“We have got to inspire them and I think our (co-op) story can do that. I never miss a chance to talk about the work our co-op does. So, overall, I am hopeful. Women can bring a lot to the table.”
What surprised you the most in joining the board?
That it would be so time consuming to learn the basics. Acronyms of electric terms. I spend a lot of time verifying the minutes. As secretary-treasurer, I go over each line. Overall, I say I spend seven or eight days a month on co-op business. You need to put in that kind of time. That’s the technical side. On the governing side, I wondered how would I be accepted? The answer is we got along very great from the start.
Was there anything that was really helpful in learning to be a director?
Classes offered by NRECA and other organizations. (Woods recently earned her Director Gold educational credential.) Also, I would say the networking with other directors at conferences and meetings. The board I work with is a great bunch of people. We are like family. They [the directors you meet networking] often give you ideas you can take back to your co-op.
What keeps you awake at night?
Always thinking about reliability and GREAT customer service! You go to bed after a meeting sometimes wondering if you made the right decisions. You know you did your best and got all the information you could. Still, you ask yourself if we are we doing everything we should. It resonates in your mind. For us, the emphasis is on keeping low rates for our members. That is what we always strive for.