This post is part of the Black History Month series.
Tanya Hernandez is Vice President of Government & Industry Relations at Acuity Brands. She evaluates and influences legislation and regulatory activities related to energy and environmental issues and works as a liaison to standards development organizations. She holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from North Carolina State University, is a registered professional engineer (PE) and is lighting certified (LC) with more than 20 years of experience in the lighting industry.
Tanya has worked in diverse areas of lighting, including serving as technical lead on specification development for the EPA ENERGY STAR Lighting Program. She has also designed architectural and public art lighting design projects utilizing energy-efficient sources and lighting control technologies in her role as an electrical engineer and lighting designer. In addition, she has certified countless lighting products and authored construction and performance specifications for LED luminaires in her role as a certification engineer at UL. Tanya’s passion for lighting is demonstrated in her presentations at various venues including the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) Annual Conference, Lightfair, and the World Energy Engineering Congress. Tanya is an active member of the IES, has served three terms as President of the Raleigh Section, and several years as a member of the Testing Procedures Committee.
Inspiration and influence
There are many people and incidents that have influenced my life. One thing that sticks out at this moment is a quote my yearbook advisor wrote in my senior yearbook (I was the editor-in-chief). It was Henry David Thoreau’s “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” As an 18-year-old graduating high school, I had big dreams and had imagined an amazing life. Reading these words solidified my resolve to pursue electrical engineering and student leadership at North Carolina State University. Advancing confidently has served me well.
One significant professional and/or personal lesson I would pass along
As a young engineer I always thought I had to know everything or be one of the smartest people in the room in order to be taken seriously or even speak up in a meeting. I’ve learned that it is important to speak up and be bold even if you don’t have all the facts. Sometimes action now is better than a more informed decision later. This advice doesn’t mean you can be reckless; it is permission to do what other successful people do every day, like volunteering for assignments they lack experience in.
Be bold in your decision making and don’t change who you are. I firmly believe there is not only room at the table for your authentic self, but a need for it.
You will make mistakes, so try to recover from them quickly.
My experience and perspective as a black professional in the lighting industry
First, let me say, I have had an amazing career in lighting. Every year it gets brighter and brighter (pun intended), however, there have been significant challenges along the way. Similar to my experience with pursing electrical engineering, I didn’t see many faces that looked like mine in the lighting industry.
The sense of belonging was often missing in my early work environments, so I evolved by adopting a posture of not just belonging, but of ownership. This mindset has given me the freedom to keep trying and to pursue opportunities I once thought were closed to me.
One thing I would change about representation in the lighting industry
I would change the acceptability of the creation, encouragement, and sponsorship of an affinity group for Black lighting professionals. Over the last several years, we have been finding one another and seeking opportunities to encourage one another. We use these encounters to support one another by sharing our experiences, celebrating achievements, spotlighting professional development opportunities, and identifying allies and sponsors. A natural progression of the group would be to create pipeline initiatives like career days, internships and scholarships to expose African Americans to the lighting industry.
A positive change around representation I have observed in the lighting industry
I applaud the IES embracing diversity by launching its Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Respect (DEIR) Initiative. I am also encouraged by the efforts of LFI, IALD, WILD, etc. for having uncomfortable conversations around DEIR issues.
The role LightFair and other events can play in encouraging diversity and inclusion
These industry events and conferences can encourage and perhaps sponsor the gathering of people of color. Organizations like the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) now exist and thrive alongside the American Institute of Architects (AIA) because of encouragement and sponsorship. In addition, LightFair and others can seek out notable African Americans for keynote and other featured speaker opportunities. There are several qualified individuals in this space.