As the head of Northern Indiana Public Service Company, Violet G. Sistovaris is responsible for the operations, regulatory policy and compliance functions for the state’s largest natural gas provider and the second largest electric provider. Sistovaris will be the keynote speaker at the 9th Annual Diversity Career Fair and Business Symposium.
“I feel very fortunate to be able to participate in this year’s program,” Sistovaris said. “I think it’s really wonderful that we have a career fair and symposium such as this one to get the word out about what can be done, and what many local companies are doing to promote diversity and inclusion.”
Sistovaris has been with NiSource, NIPSCO’s parent organization, for more than 20 years. Before that, she served as the vice president of training and development for Centier Bank among other roles.
“Both banking and energy are male dominant industries,” she said. “I was drawn to the customer service aspect of both. Along the way, I had many challenges. Some of them centered on being a woman in a male dominant business. But many of those challenges centered on myself.”
Her internal evolution from a timid novice to the senior executive at NIPSCO is one of the main points she makes when she speaks on the topic of diversity and inclusion.
“I remember sitting in a meeting room, feeling overwhelmed by the powerful executives around me,” she said. “I was afraid to say anything. I didn’t realize yet that there was a reason I was present in those meetings.”
Over time, Sistovaris improved her self-confidence. As she advanced the corporate ladder, she realized the need for strong mentoring programs to assist capable employees who were just starting out.
“When I first started, I had some great mentors,” she explained. “I always found leaders that were there to offer support and coaching as I developed in the organization.”
At its conception, she co-sponsored NiSource’s Women in Leadership (WIL) initiatives, which includes a women’s Affinity Group for all women in the company as well as the Women in Leadership Mentoring Program. She is committed to providing women the internal and external leadership skills they need to advance in their careers, and to filling the leadership pipeline at NiSource with talented leaders.
“We try to match officers and senior executives with talented employees to help mentor them and hone their business skills,” Sistovaris said. “This also provides a unique opportunity for female employees to have someone they can talk to one-on-one. We believe that’s a very important piece of the puzzle.”
Recently, NiSource has also launched a new mentoring program focused on diverse talent. Senior executives and officers of the company are connected to employees from under-represented groups. The program allows employees to fully develop their leadership skills while providing a sounding board for approaching real-time challenges encountered in their job.
Sistovaris believes that diversity is more than just race, gender and ethnicity. “We mentor employees to ensure they have the leadership skills today while ensuring we’re filling the pipeline with tomorrow’s leaders,” she said.
In addition to mentoring programs for women and under-represented groups, NIPSCO also has a youth initiative called IN-POWER.
NIPSCO collaborates with local schools to bring hands-on training, job shadowing and scholarships to area high schools. Ninth grade students from Northwest Indiana schools are invited to participate in IN-POWER Youth Mentoring, a four-year program that pairs the students with NIPSCO employees.
“This program provides us an opportunity to impress upon students the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in school,” Sistovaris said. “We established the youth program in 2010. We take a holistic approach so we can get to know the kids personally.”
Throughout their four years, IN-POWER mentees gather experiences that will help prepare them for college, careers and community citizenship. This includes job shadowing across several departments, earning college credits in general core classes from local universities, and receiving college and career coaching. The IN-POWER Youth Mentoring Program is conducted in partnership with Calumet College of St. Joseph, Urban League of Northwest Indiana, Center for Mentors, Gary Life Education Initiative, Inc., Merrillville High School and Lew Wallace High School.
The program has been so successful that NIPSCO has added a branch aimed at middle school students in 7th and 8th grades.
Sistovaris believes in giving back to the community that reached out and helped her. She serves on the board of directors for the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, the Indiana Energy Association, Northwest Indiana’s One Region initiative and the Indiana Chamber.
“I can empathize with people who are looking for ways to get ahead, both in business and in life,” she said. “I believe it’s important to pay it forward and give back to those who need it.”
While the various mentoring programs help employees and students learn how to deal with new situations, Sistovaris always takes the time to remind them that they are ultimately responsible for their own career.
“I always tell employees to stay in the driver’s seat of your own career,” she said. “Don’t wait for the organization to make the move. Be confident. There’s a reason that you’re in that meeting. Watch for your opportunity to show everyone why you are a rising star. Then make good on it.”