Erin M. Smith (Courtesy photo)

After SoCalGas released its 2023 Supplier Diversity Report on March 1, we connected with Erin M. Smith, senior vice president, Chief Talent, Culture, and Operations Support Officer, to learn how SoCalGas champions communities by advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in its business practices.

In 2023, over 44% of SoCalGas’ spending was with businesses owned by minorities, women, disabled veterans, and LGBT individuals, exceeding the California Public Utilities Commission’s diverse supplier spending goal of 22.5% for the 31st year in a row.

Please tell us about yourself and your role at SoCalGas.

I was born and raised in Southern California, went to law school at USC, and enjoyed a 17-year career as a lawyer at firms here in Los Angeles. I joined SoCalGas in 2020 and oversee our talent development and related functions as we advance our mission to be the cleanest, safest, most innovative energy infrastructure company in America. Our Talent and Culture team focuses on building an inclusive, supportive, and positive work environment for all employees. I also oversee our operations support team—a group of dedicated professionals and community champions who make sure we have what we need to operate smoothly, such as managing our supplies, fleet, and real estate. I am a mentor to employees in our Black Employee Resource Group and women’s group.

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Why did you decide to work at SoCalGas?

For me, SoCalGas is a cultural touchstone.  Growing up in Southern California, I vividly remember seeing SoCalGas trucks on the road and employees out and about in our communities.  I always associated this consistent presence with safety and stability, things we all value and hold dear. Although I enjoyed practicing law and felt very privileged to be a partner in a large firm, what attracted me to SoCalGas was the opportunity to have a more profound impact on the community I grew up in. I feel so invested in making a positive, lasting impact for generations of Southern Californians to follow, and this role allows me to do that. Even with its long history, SoCalGas consistently adapts to meet the evolving needs of customers and employees and works with the intention to expand opportunities for all. This is why we are an industry leader in employee engagement and clean energy innovations.

Why is the Supplier Diversity program important?

SoCalGas’ supplier network is vital to our ability to serve approximately 21 million customers. Our relationships with diverse suppliers promote the growth of small and local businesses while also helping to strengthen our supply chain. The suppliers in our report aren’t just in the construction industry—we also contract with businesses that specialize in information technology, project management, engineering, legal services, finance, and more.

It’s been exciting to see a notable increase in procurement from minority, women, and disabled veteran businesses. Last year, SoCalGas spent over $131.3 million with 72 African American-owned businesses.  We also provided technical support and business acumen skill building to dozens more through our Smaller Contractor Opportunity Realization Effort (SCORE) program, which helps prepare suppliers to participate in procurement opportunities. When these businesses flourish, so do families and communities.

Our relationships with African American suppliers in 2023 enabled significant achievements.  As an example, World Wide Technology was an invaluable strategic partner for some of our technology innovations. Another great example is Vobecky Enterprises, the firm that helped us install enhanced safety features in thousands of our fleet vehicles.

My grandfather owned an auto repair shop in South LA at a time when Black-owned businesses were generally confined to Black neighborhoods and faced countless obstacles to growth.  I know he would be proud of the work we do to make sure that today, these businesses have fair opportunities to truly scale and thrive.

Beyond Supplier Diversity, how else is SoCalGas working to advance DEI?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are at the heart of all that we do at SoCalGas and are critical to the overall success of our company. As we work to sustain operational excellence and support California’s climate goals, it’s important that our employees feel that their workplace has a safe and collaborative culture where everyone is respected and feels a genuine sense of belonging and inclusion, so they feel comfortable bringing their best ideas and best efforts every day.

We know that a sustainable future involves the meaningful participation of all. We are committed to advancing DEI in the communities we serve and in the workplace while promoting transparency and trust. It expands opportunity, sparks innovation, and helps achieve meaningful social impact.

What are you looking forward to in the year ahead?

From a SoCalGas perspective, I’m excited to further cultivate exceptionally talented employees and high performing teams, and to champion people and businesses across the communities we serve. I’m proud of what we’ve built as a company and look forward to continuing to build opportunities for people and communities. As a Clippers fan and long-time Angeleno, I’m looking forward to a playoff run that ends better than last season.