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Pickaxe in hand, B.C. woman carves out career in science

BC Hydro employee Molly Brewis stands on the Halfway River bridge
Molly Brewis stands on the bridge deck of the new Halfway River Bridge, a key component of the Highway 29 realignment that’s part of the Site C Clean Energy project near Hudson’s Hope.

Molly Brewis has battled stereotypes en route to a career at BC Hydro

Latest in a series of stories about our team members who power our workplace, and help create a cleaner, more sustainable future for all British Columbians.

The pedigree was there. Her granddad worked for BC Hydro, and so did her dad. But Molly Brewis didn't grow up thinking she'd actually work for B.C.'s electrical utility.

Strong and outdoorsy with a can-do attitude, Brewis grew up in towns full of people employed by BC Hydro. Places like Hudson's Hope and Bridge River that many British Columbians would struggle to find on a map.

"I was driven by what I was fairly good at, and for me that was sciences," says Brewis, who now leads our electric vehicle infrastructure and planning team. "But growing up in small-town B.C., I didn't have a lot of female scientist role models to look up to. Thankfully I had some good teachers who encouraged me to continue on that path."

That path has taken her to a job helping us deliver on the BC Government's CleanBC climate action goals by adding 3,000 electric vehicle fast-charging stations across B.C. by 2030. Her team works on everything from securing site hosts, to constructing, and maintaining charging stations.

The fact that she does this from our head office on Dunsmuir Street in Vancouver has led to a little good-natured ribbing from her dad, who worked as a technologist at remote power stations across B.C. "He asks what it's like to work in the 'ivory tower'," she says with a laugh.

But Brewis has done her time in remote locations in Canada. Plenty of it, in fact.

BC Hydro employee Molly Brewis rides an ATV on Baffin Island
Molly Brewis pilots an ATV during her straight-out-of-school stint as an environmental chemist on a Department of National Defense crew cleaning up a military site on Baffin Island.

Working in a male-dominated field in Canada's north

Brewis talks a lot about how men, from teachers to fellow workers, have stood up to help her defeat the preconceptions of what she could and couldn't do. And in her work with our Women's Network, she often emphasizes the value of finding allies to help you through the rough patches.

It doesn't get much rougher than a spot as the lone woman – a newbie environmental chemist with a freshly-minted honours degree from Queen's University – at a Department of National Defence military site cleanup on Baffin Island. She embraced the opportunity to experience Canada's north, but had to figure out how to fit in.

"They just didn't feel like a woman should be on a construction site in the far north, in a remote, harsh environment," she recalls. "We were doing physical things like loading equipment in and out of helicopters. And one guy called me out for using a pickaxe to gather soil samples. To me it was, 'why shouldn't I be able to use a pickaxe like everyone else?'"

There were other jobs in similar situations in the north, including a stint ensuring environmental regulations were being followed on an oil-drilling barge off the coast of Prince Rupert.

One day she had to stop the crew – "a bunch of guys from the UK who wanted nothing to do with me" – from drilling for a half hour while she measured a screen on a water intake. "But there was one individual on their crew who said to me, 'I will help you do that'... and from then on, I was like, 'That's my guy'. If I'm having a hurdle with anyone else here, I know that he's going to be on my side."

That sort of advocacy has helped her in her career, along with a piece of advice she has adopted as her mantra.

"Strive for progress, not perfection," she says. "There's rarely enough time, enough data, or enough people for any given task. So we're challenged to make the best decisions with the resources available, despite some uncertainty. I'm continually learning to be comfortable with this."

One in three employees at BC Hydro are women

We were recently recognized as one of Canada's Top 100 best places to work and also cracked the top 100 for diversity. Just under one in three (32.6%) of our team members are women, and as a member of our Women's Network, Brewis is intent on building on those numbers and improving, among other things, pay equity.

"It's great to see such strong female representation on our board of directors and in our senior management, and I feel more at home here because of those things," says Brewis, noting that our executive leadership team is comprised of five women and four men. "I think things have changed overall in society. I think just the fact that the government has mandated a Pay Transparency Act for us is a sign of that change. That was not something that anyone was even talking about back when I first came out of university."

Brewis applauds BC Hydro for its policy of promoting from within. It's not unusual for recent graduates on our community team to advance to key management positions, and Brewis has worked in an assortment of rewarding jobs – from strategic business advisor to senior environmental coordinator on the Site C Clean Energy Project. And while she's no longer wielding a pickaxe to collect soil samples, her new position aligns nicely with her environmental leanings.

"I think that I'm contributing towards a bigger societal goal, a bit of an altruistic thing," she says. "Helping B.C. lower our carbon emissions is exciting. People are talking about EVs a lot in the news – there's an article every day when I open up my CBC app – and it's nice to be able to work on something that people can relate to when you meet them at a party, or go skiing."