Thursday, Jan. 28th – Becky Palmer joins the show to talk about diversity, inclusivity and all the exciting initiatives Atmos Energy has going on.
Jim Schauer: [0:23] Good morning, LinkedIn community. Welcome, ladies and gentleman, to another riveting episode of “Coffee with Jim & James.” Today, let me take us a step back. When I think of Atmos and West Texas Division Atmos, I think back to my days. James, do you remember my days when I used to travel out there to see the folks, the buggy, the wheels. I had the horses. All right.
James Cross: [0:48] Even Becky shaking you off. She’s like, “Nope, don’t believe that happened.
Jim: [0:52] Let me bring James in, we’ll get back on track. My brother, my partner, James Cross, sir, how are you this fine and beautiful morning?
James: [1:00] Excellent. Check out the new swag.
Jim: [1:03] I like it.
James: [1:04] It’s a little much. My camera keeps focusing on it, and then my face gets blurry. It may be a perk, a might be a new Zoom feature.
Jim: [1:13] I might need that same hat.
James: [1:15] I’m excited for our guest today. Even in the pre‑show, it was awesome just sharing a laugh. This past year has been weird for all of us. When were able to be around our friends that really we were around probably four times a year at least and then now don’t really get to see, the pre‑show ends up being the best part, and sometimes the post‑show depending on what time it is.
[1:43] Becky, we can’t be any more excited for you to be here. Thank you for joining us. If you wouldn’t mind, just because Jim always does such a terrible job of that, will you give just a little bit of an intro of yourself and why you’re here?
Becky Palmer: [1:58] Sure. I am thrilled to be here with you guys. Like you say I miss getting to visit with everybody. I don’t get to talk to a lot of non‑Atmos folks these days.
James: [2:05] Amen.
Becky: [2:07] It’s fun to be here. Thanks for the invite. And yeah, so I’m Becky Palmer. I’m in Lubbock, Texas, and I lead the West Texas Division of Atmos Energy. Yeah, gotta get your guns up when you come to Lubbock. So I’m thrilled to be here. Yeah, I don’t know if you want to know any more.
Jim: [2:29] You have a very prominent position on the Texas Gas Association, too.
Becky: [2:34] I’m chair of the Texas Gas Association this year and thrilled to be with that group and that’s where I usually see these guys. We’ve gone virtual, the Texas Gas Association has officially gone virtual.
[2:52] We’re doing well and we get to see these folks when we do that, but you don’t really get much chat time in the virtual world. TJ’s doing great and lots of participation and good times.
James: [3:07] [laughs] Is Jim froze up on your side, Becky?
Becky: [3:13] Yes, just for a moment, though.
James: [3:14] Is Jim frozen?
Becky: [3:15] OK, he’s got…
James: [3:16] All right.
Jim: [3:17] You guys OK?
James: [3:18] I thought we lost him.
Becky: [3:20] I lost him for a minute.
Jim: [3:26] You guys continued on, correct?
James: [3:28] Yeah. We just plowed right through like professionals.
Becky: [3:30] That’s right.
James: [3:31] We’re virtual Zoom professionals these days.
Becky: [3:34] Just keep moving.
Jim: [3:36] It’s the world we live in so you know it is what it is. So if I didn’t miss much, I do want to take that last little bit that we talked about. We talked about Atmos and TGA and I want to connect a few dots here.
[3:49] I want to bring it to a subject that’s kind of been near and dear to our heart in the energy industry. And that’s the environment. Becky, the environment and the energy industry had been in the headlines or in the papers, whatever you want to call it, for a long time. It’s really heated up a lot lately. What are your thoughts? What’s been picking at your brain in that regard?
Becky: [4:12] It’s something that we have obviously we’ve talked about for a long time. It has, like you say, heated up a little bit. My thoughts. a couple things. One, I think it’s important to really step back and take a long view. Industry’s been around a long time.
[4:33] In the late ’70s, there were a lot of opinions about our industry that I think we look back on now and are very different from where we are. It’s important to take a long view over industry. We’re still here, we’re stronger than we’ve ever been.
[4:51] That’s one thing, everybody take a deep breath. It’s also really important that we don’t get defensive. It’s important that when somebody starts talking about climate change or greenhouse gases or all those things, we don’t need to get defensive. We’re all here.
[5:13] I’m not a scientist. I said in the intro, I’m an accountant, but I do believe in science. It’s important for us to take care of our planet. We are all here. We’re all here together. I have two little boys. We go camping, we go hiking. I like all the outdoor stuff, outdoors except skiing. I’m not a winter sports kind of girl. Otherwise, I love the outdoors and it’s important.
[5:43] I think we need to protect our world. We don’t have to argue about that. We don’t have to get defensive about that. Conservation is good, this is good. This is isn’t bad. This is good, of all things. There’s no need to be wasteful. Diversification is good and technological advancement is good and innovation, all of these things.
[6:05] There are so many fantastic things going on in the energy space right now. Where does that leave us? Because sometimes you get in conversations with folks and and it’s all bad. It’s not all bad. We, the natural gas industry, Texas Gas, our associates, we know how to innovate and we know energy. I mean we know how to make it work.
[6:36] And so, you know, we also understand the economics of energy. It’s not free, and innovation isn’t free. Not only are our natural resources limited but so are our financial resources, right? So there’s there’s good things that we need to keep in mind and we need a seat at the table because of all of those things.
[7:00] And so I think it’s really important if you get defensive, you don’t get a seat at the table. You make everybody mad and you don’t get a seat at the table. We need a seat at the table because we know what we’re talking about. And so I think you know in the near future, long term, all those things. We need to be part of the solution. We need to keep an open mind.
[7:22] Again, efficiency is good. These are good things. There’s also RNG, renewable natural gas, has been around for a while, but I think we’re really starting to see more and more of that. Those are good things. Those are good projects that we need to be focusing on that are also good for the environment. It’s a place that we can all get on the same page and work together on.
[7:48] Other things any longer term, even you know hydrogen and and how that could be. We are uniquely placed as an industry with our assets with our knowledge and with our ability to innovate and be creative in those things. I think it’s exciting. I mean it is a challenging time, but man that’s exciting.
Jim: [8:15] Becky you turned that subject into what could have been a whatever you want to say into a very positive. I mean after listening to you, I feel better. We’re on the same page. It takes not having blinders on, big picture, diversity, multiple different things. Again, you know, we have a few people in the the world, you know billions of people and that takes energy to run billions of…
Becky: [8:42] It does. Absolutely.
James: [8:44] Becky, we tell people all the time, this is maybe a new conversation for some but this isn’t a new conversation for those of us that have been at the table. This isn’t like we just cracked open the book to figure out the problem.
[9:00] That’s why we beg people to come sit with us at the table is because we need more people thinking about how we get over this gap and there’s other gaps. This isn’t the only one.
Becky: [9:13] This isn’t the only one.
James: [9:16] Becky, that’s a great answer and very passionate. You know, our workplace is more diverse than ever before. I spoke on it at the TGA O&M this past year virtually about managing and leading people not like you. It’s something that we’ve got to get good at.
[9:36] I wanted to talk to you. Number one is you know Atmos and you personally but also as the industry. Talk a little bit about diversity and inclusion and how you’re seeing a positive impact there.
Becky: [9:53] It’s going.
Jim: [9:55] Diversity, inclusion, women in leadership. We actually just got done with a subject on that too. We had some guests. James, we picked up for you, brother. We had a little bit of a glitch with you, but we carried right on with that.
James: [10:08] Such pros.
Jim: [10:09] I tell you, it’s a virtual world.
James: [10:12] Coffee with Jim and Becky.
Becky: [10:14] There you go. We got it.
Jim: [10:16] No, we can’t do that.
Becky: [10:22] You can’t replace James.
Jim: [10:24] No.
James: [10:26] Who would wear the hoodies to the Zoom meetings?
Becky: [10:28] There you go. I think inclusion and diversity, so I put those in a certain order on purpose. I think inclusion and diversity is you know is a topic that I’ve spent quite a bit of time on over the last several years, you know.
[10:44] At Atmos we have a culture Council, that’s what we call it and one of the you know, kind of things that fall under the culture Council is that inclusion and diversity. I’m a sponsor of the culture Council. So that’s something that I’ve spent a lot of time talking about over the last few years.
[11:00] And so, you know, I think that inclusion and belonging is something that’s it’s a real key to that. I think that most have come to recognize that diversity is a good thing, that we want diverse viewpoints and diverse life experiences brought to the table. That can be that could be race, ethnicity, gender. That can be lots of different things.
[11:28] All those things inform those life experiences. Right? And so I think one of the things that I think it’s important for us to all remember is that having a diverse team where that diversity is not respected or appreciated or understood leads to a very ineffective team. It doesn’t help things.
[11:49] And so, you know in an effective team everybody has a voice Right, everybody can raise their hand if they see something wrong if they have a you know, we talk a lot about safety. This is a big part of our safety culture. We need people to be willing to say hey, I saw something I have an idea. This isn’t safe, you know, stop were all the things.
James: [12:10] Bigger.
Becky: [12:10] If we don’t have an inclusive work environment where everybody feels welcome and comfortable. People aren’t comfortable to do that. Right? So, you know, I think I think that that’s a big part of it.
[12:28] I also think, you know, one of the one of the things one of the arguments one of the reasons that diversity is so important is because when you have those diverse viewpoints you get innovation and you get creativity and you get new ideas and you get different ways of looking at things.
[12:43] We just talked about environmental challenges and the innovation that we need right? I mean that’s a perfect example.
Jim: [12:52] It is.
Becky: [12:53] Having diverse is important and so, you know, I think when we talk about from an industry from an Atmos perspective, you know, I think that at least at Atmos I think this is true in a lot of our organizations like ours but you know, we have a very long tenures.
[13:12] Our average tenure is I don’t know over 12 years that is not normal. That’s not normal. But what that also means is change is slow. Right? And so I think we have to be really intentional as we look to build our teams. And when we hire we need to make sure that we have really diverse intentionally diverse candidate pools.
[13:33] You always want to pick the right candidate, but you want to make sure that you’re looking in all the right places to make sure you get the best candidates, you know, when we hire when we promote when we develop looking at the makeup of teams and how they work together. That’s that’s a part of it right is how would that higher effect the overall team?
[13:52] It does it make it better, you know, and so I think that a lot of those are you know are things that as an industry we need to work on and I know as a company and Atmos and we have have really seen progress in that area and it is intentional but it is also not always fast, but but it has been a journey that we have been on for, you know 20 years.
[14:15] I’ve been with the company for 15 years for almost 16 hours but well before that you’re starting to see the fruits of that show up.
Jim: [14:27] That’s a great point. And again, I’ll use a micro example, James and I, we’ve been referred to as yin and yang Abbott and Costello, you know, I mean the whole bit and I’m not going to tell you which one’s Abbott and which one’s Costello but anyway, that’s a whole other story.
[14:43] Beginning on a serious note, When you talk about the ideas, you know, sometimes I’ll bring up ideas and James will look at me, goes, that’s close. But what about if we take it and we do this and this and this to it, you know, so maybe the core idea had some merit maybe some of my fringe ideas weren’t there but then, you know James runs with it or vice versa.
[15:02] He’ll throw something at me and I’m like, well, let’s do this and this and this and together as a team his thought process is very different than mine. But we’re very synergetic, if that makes sense. Again, we mesh. As far as a team were really good. We’re different. We’re unique. We’re diverse, but we still have the same goals and aspirations, you know to succeed. So it’s a very good point.
[15:27] Let me let me hit on something that you hit on. You talked about diversity, inclusion, I’m sorry, inclusion and diversity and you also mentioned safety. We are in the energy business and safety is not a six‑letter word only. I mean it is a way of life for us in the industry. We live eat and breathe it everything from contractors to operators to the whole gambit.
[15:50] Give us some some thoughts about safety. You could take that to the next level or expand on that. And also if you have any thoughts about COVID. I mean COVID has really done some tricky things to us this year and has it impacted safety or brought more heightened safety.
[16:08] With those three or four questions. I’m going to give it to you because I’m sure there’s enough there for you to go with.
Becky: [16:12] Yeah, maybe you know, I think as an industry, safety is our top priority, right and at Atmos Energy. I mean, it’s the same way, right? I mean that that is our top priority. We are a safety company. That’s one of the things that when we bring folks on that’s the first thing we talk about.
[16:32] We’re not you know, we’re not just a gas company. We are a safety company first and you know, we talk about safety and in a few different ways, you know, there’s employee safety their system safety and there’s safety of our communities right? And so I think that those are all interrelated and and that’s really what we focus on.
[16:56] When we talk about COVID, you know, and I mean that really does have an impact on our employee safety, but you know, I mean, it could also have an impact on our system safety and things like that. I think that you know, as far as Atmos goes in March we 95 percent of our Workforce basically went Remote went digital and we’ve stayed that way.
[17:23] Our field our frontline field folks in a lot of ways their jobs have not changed drastically and they’re still going out every day and all those things but you know, they’re not they’re going to the warehouse to get supplies at scheduled times. They’re not all going at the same time.
[17:42] You know, we made sure that everyone had their own individual vehicle to drive whereas in before some of our crews are Construction. Is would maybe pair up in a crew truck and that kind of thing right? As soon as we as soon as this all started we made sure that everyone had their own Vehicles drive because that was not a safe space. Right?
[17:58] I mean who would have ever thought that being in the cab of the truck was somebody was not a safe space, but but it wasn’t right and it’s not and so, you know, that was one of one of the things that we did right away and so, you know masks and we’re is a little unique in this, but we’re not going to a customer’s home. Homes right now.
[18:19] So we are partnering with plumber’s you know, our our guys are folks men and women that go into customer homes are also our First Responders. Mmm. Yep. And so when you talk about system safety and Community safety.
[18:31] We have had to be concerned about making sure that we had enough healthy First Responders in every area that we serve at all times to be able to respond to emergencies. I mean, that’s our highest priority, right? That is our highest calling.
[18:47] And so so we made the decision, you know at the beginning that we we were going to go and customers homes because we felt like we needed to take that extra step to protect those First Responders. So we partnered with plumbers and you know what? It’s actually we’ve developed some really great plumber relationships that I think will continue to lean on to help us in some of those situations.
[19:07] And so we’re still in that mode, you know culture something that’s really important to us. We have a safety culture. I think you know, that is something we Talk about but but but we also our culture is you know, one of respect and togetherness and working together in collaboration and you know eating and we like to eat a lot.
[19:31] That’s always been a big part of what everyone is thought of as our culture is we get together. We have lunch. We like to have parties week, you know, and so that’s part of it, but I think that it’s been interesting. I think we’ve proved it even to ourselves that our culture is really a lot deeper than that. Right because we’re not getting to eat together.
[19:58] You know, I mean I’ve sent snacks to people’s doors and things like that and you know, but but we’re not really eating together and and what you know, we haven’t been able to get together and have a party and but in a lot of ways we’re more connected than we’ve ever been. Again, it goes to our culture it’s deeper than that. It’s more than that, right?
[20:19] It’s not just getting together to eat together. And so I think that that has been has been really good but it’s also easy to look back and kind of think the covid is all we’ve done right and and that we’ve just gotten by and I think that it’s true for the industry’s true for you guys. It’s so much more than that. Right.
[20:41] We’ve in the last year not long before we went went home before we implemented kind of code protocols. We actually implemented a new damage prevention program with that. We call our damage prevention ambassadors, which empowers our field or anybody.
[20:59] It’s mostly our field employees that are out and about to stop if they see an excavator that if you know an excavator is does it have markings out and they see somebody digging, you know, whether it’s a full‑on professional crew or a homeowner with a you know, a little you know, excavator behind a house or whatever to stop and ask some questions.
[21:21] If they see somebody even if they maybe do have markings, but they know they’re close to one of our big me our main main. Lines high pressure stop talk to him safely at a distance with masks on but to stop and you know and kind of say Hey, you know, how’s it going? Do you have your ticket? Let me you know, you know, there’s a gas line here and to stop a do that.
[21:40] Across our Enterprise we had made over 30,000 stops in 2020 and you know handing out literature it some of those and just engaging with excavators and we have seen a decrease in our hit while we’ve seen an increase in our locates.
[21:59] I think that yeah, there’s covid and safety and employ it’s been big it’s been big but we’ve continued to move that ball on safety and other areas through the year too. So it’s yeah, there’s there’s a lot going on. It’s very exciting.
Jim: [22:16] That’s exciting.
James: [22:17] It really is.
Jim: [22:17] I mean, it’s it’s shocking though 30,000 stops if I heard.
Becky: [22:22] That’s a lot.
Jim: [22:23] That’s a lot, but think about how many Positive things happened because of that. See something, say something.
James: [22:35] We’re getting to the end and one of the last things we ask people are a surprise. But if you watched our show it’s not really a surprise anymore.
Becky: [22:44] [laughs]
James: [22:46] Becky, we’re going to ask you one question. Ready?
Becky: [22:51] I’m ready. I don’t know you made me nervous.
James: [22:54] Becky, do you love what you do, number one?
Becky: [22:59] I do. You probably couldn’t tell that but I do I love what I do. And you know, I mean, I think that we work with such great people our employees are second to none and you know, they go out every day and then you work their tail off and they prioritize safety over anything else.
[23:22] They take care of our customers. They take care of our communities and you know that they’re what makes it worth it. Right? I mean, I I’m here to help help folks, you know, I mean, what what can we do to make your job work better? What’s broken?
[23:38] I actually had an employee a conversation with a group of six or eight employees yesterday. OK. What what’s broken? What are we not doing that we need to do, you know and so I think that’s the fun part of my job is really getting to try and figure out how can we make it work better?
[23:57] Because we work with we work with great employees. We work with great folks in the industry. Like you guys are associate TGA members and Associates and that we get to work with and learn from and is just that’s what makes it great. Right?
Jim: [24:11] It does.
James: [24:13] Such a great group. Becky, you have been an amazing guest today. I hope maybe if I’m ever replaced and it may be by you.
Becky: [24:25] Oh, there you go. There you go. I don’t think I could do that though. I don’t think it would work.
James: [24:30] I don’t know.
Becky: [24:31] What is that game? I’m not Ninja Turtles.
James: [24:33] I don’t even play. It’s just a prop. Jimmy, you want to take us home?
Jim: [24:42] Absolutely. Again on behalf of James and I, Becky, thank you so much. It was not just fun. It was ready for this James funner than the last, he hates when I do that.
Becky: [24:54] [laughs]
James: [24:54] He does it all the time.
Jim: [24:56] I do. Seriously, it was great having you on it’s great to see you. We hope we can get back to our new Norm at some point. Until then, you know, this is a great way for us to connect and reach out to the community to say, you know, tell some of the great things at Atmos and you all are doing.
[25:13] I’ve been in the energy industry for 20 years and have known Atmos for 19 years and 364 days. So it’s like day two that I got to know Atmos and have so much respect for the company. Audience, please connect with Becky please connect with James and I please follow us on Coffee with Jim & James without the audience. We are all were canceled. So no we need you guys to follow us.
James: [25:36] Basically just talk to ourself if nobody’s here.
Jim: [25:39] Well, we do that anyway, so, you know, we got to we got to keep this going but being serious also follow the Texas Gas Association follow Atmos Energy follow all the great safety initiatives.
[25:50] Think about that the 30,000 stops were done and those stops aren’t a bad thing. It’s a great thing because somebody could have been helped by not getting hurt. So see something say something Atmos lives it breathes it they walk the talk so much respect for Atmos you Becky the TGA everything that you’re involved in. Thank you so much.
Becky: [26:10] Thank you for having me.
Jim: [26:12] Absolutely. Until next time James and I bid you all a fair adieu. We want everybody to stay safe and we will see you next week on Coffee with Jim & James. Take care.
Becky: [26:25] Bye.
Jim: [26:25] Bye, y’all.