March 21, 2023 / News

Women in Blue Q&A with Sandeep Aujla, SDGE

Shining a Light on Public Safety in the Utility Space

A longstanding initiative of the San Diego Police Foundation, Women in Blue was created to recognize the achievements of female leaders in the public safety sector and to celebrate gender diversity in an occupation traditionally pursued by men. Since SDPD leads the nation in the percentage of female officers in its ranks, it’s strongly believed that this initiative has been and will continue to be critical to creating a more inclusive and diverse workforce within the public safety sector. SDG&E serves as the Leadership Sponsor for our 2023 Women in Blue initiative, which includes funding the Rita Olson Legacy Scholarship. 

In this exclusive Q&A, Sandeep Aujla, SDG&E’s Director of Fire Science & Climate Adaptation, shares her connection to the San Diego Police Foundation’s Women in Blue initiative and public safety, as well as how her roots and passion for data science, sustainability, and the communities she serves are leading the company’s climate resilience strategy.

The theme of this year’s Women in Blue luncheon was “LeadHER. MentHER. SupportHER,” honoring the achievements of female leaders in the public safety sector and celebrating gender diversity in occupations traditionally pursued by men. What is your personal connection to this and public safety?

It is such an honor to be included in this celebration of female leadership in public safety. My personal connection to this celebration goes back to my roots, my parents, and especially my father. I moved to the United States in 1995, but while growing up in India, my father served in the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), he was the only person in his family to receive an education. From the CRPF, he branched out to study law and then pivoted to entrepreneurship. His early training at the CRPF kept our family grounded in the principles of discipline, serving others, and equality. I also grew up embracing the teachings of Sikhism. Sikhs are known in history for their courage and heroism, many serve proudly in the Indian Army, living in pursuit of justice.

You may also notice that I have a very non-traditional name, mostly used by Indian men! Growing up in India in the 70s and 80s, it was not very typical or accepted for women to be ambitious or view themselves as leaders in all professions. Starting with this non-traditional name, my parents encouraged me to be my own person from birth, fostering a sense of confidence, and allowing me to pursue my dreams and not let stereotypes slow me down. My humble roots, these core values, my faith, and my upbringing have all paved the way for me on this journey and I credit it for who I am today. Despite what society tells us – we only set limits on ourselves, and we can do anything we set our hearts and minds to.

As you know, the Women in Blue luncheon was held on International Women’s Day. Does being part of this Q&A and holding Women in Blue on such a significant day mean anything special to you?

It means so much to me to even be chosen for this open exchange and to have the opportunity to speak from the heart with your readers. The work that I do with my team, and being surrounded by female leaders in this space, brings me such a sense of fulfillment, especially in an area that has been historically male-dominated. I feel like when we celebrate Women’s Day – it gives so much hope to future and current leaders who may not have had opportunities to openly share their ambitions and pursue their destinies. Women’s Day sends the message that we can do and take on any challenge and nothing is out of reach. As a woman, an immigrant pursuing her dreams freely means everything to me. I especially appreciate being part of a company that celebrates that diversity, equity, and inclusive growth – creating opportunities for women to lead in any role at every level.

In celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, what advice would you offer young women who plan to become female leaders who may be reading this?

The greatest advice I have for young women and all young visionaries is to find your passion and courage. Love what you do, work hard, and stay humble and success will follow. Success can be anything you want it to be – it does not have to be money or fame. If you love what you do and follow what inspires you, you will find happiness!

Being the Director of Fire Science & Climate Adaptation is an extremely important position at SDG&E. What is your background and why did you decide to take on the role? When did you start? What is your vision?

I took on this role in October 2022, but I have been with the company for almost 10 years, with roles in corporate strategy, advanced clean technology solutions, and sustainability. One of the career highlights prior to my current role was creating the first sustainability team to lead a cross-company development and external publication of SDG&E’s sustainability strategy. This collaborative piece highlighted how our company values – do the right thing, champion people, and shape the future underpin all our sustainability actions, not just in the last decade, but since the company’s inception – delivering clean, safe, reliable energy in our region. While leading that team, I had a strong desire to dive deeper into the operational side of sustainability – which for our public utility – is very much centered around safety and reliability. The actions we take to enhance our grid, and community resilience in the face of growing climate risks, and decarbonization challenges.

So, for me, it was a natural progression to leverage my background in strategy, sustainability, and analytics connecting it to our operational actions with situational awareness, fire science, and climate adaptation.

The vision I have held deeply and shared with many others is how do we take our current understanding of climate risk, and evolving data science and use it to inform our current and future decision-making, understanding our region’s hazards and the consequences if we do not act. The risk is not just related to our assets and infrastructure, but to the communities we serve. I’m at this point in my life where connecting deeply, and purposefully to climate action is the value I want to bring to the company and the communities in our region. I also view it as a leadership opportunity to drive collective action and climate equity, globally.

What excites you most about the work that you do and your position of leadership?

What excites me most about my role is that it gives me the opportunity to work with three incredible teams tackling some of the greatest challenges facing our company and the region:  Our meteorology team leads the company’s situational awareness, fire conditions monitoring and advanced weather modeling, partnering with academia to really understand how the weather impacts fire risk, how climate change could impact our investments and how we can work together to build resilience; The fire science and coordination team made up of field practitioners, closely examines our ignition risk, trains internal and external resources on fire prevention safety, manages incident response with local public safety and fire agencies; and the climate adaptation team, that assesses system-level vulnerability, designs resilience programs and engages directly with our local communities to discuss wildfire safety.

It is a true privilege to be working with such a devoted and dynamic group of experts, both men and women, specializing in these very technical areas within the company to tackle some of our biggest risks head-on, tapping into resilience as our shared superpower.

What are some of the greatest challenges you face in the fire science, climate adaptation, and public safety space – both personally and professionally?

To put it simply, I think one of the greatest challenges we are facing right now is the predictive uncertainty related to the pace of climate change and the heightened urgency with which we need to act to minimize adverse impacts. It brings both a level of excitement, but also gnawing concern over the unknown unknowns.

On a personal level, I have two young children at home, ages 8 and 12, who I know are experiencing the effects of climate change in California, and family in India who are trying very hard to relocate due to very poor air quality affecting their health in Delhi. My challenge is to stay optimistic and hopeful for my entire family through my pursuits, motivating them to see climate solutions as a lifetime opportunity and not a threat. I think a lot about these burdens our young children are faced with today, and how it is affecting their sense of well-being. I am grateful that it is something we talk about openly and often in our household and that we all care so deeply about the same issue. I want my children to know they can pursue their dreams and that they don’t have to solve the world’s problems alone – addressing climate risk is going to be a collective effort and we all need to put our minds and hearts and work together.

The San Diego Police Foundation thanks SDG&E and Sandeep Aujla, SDG&E’s Director of Fire Science & Climate Adaptation, for their commitment to moving Women in Blue forward.
Senior Detective Tracey Barr awarded Rita Olson Legacy Scholarship by SDPD Assistant Chief Sandra Albrektsen and SDG&E representative Pat Rose, the Director of Corporate Security at Sempra Energy, at the 2023 Women in Blue luncheon. 
Senior Detective Tracey Barr awarded Rita Olson Legacy Scholarship by SDPD Assistant Chief Sandra Albrektsen and SDG&E representative Pat Rose, the Director of Corporate Security at Sempra Energy, at the 2023 Women in Blue luncheon.