An Expectation of Excellence

"I just believe that when much is given, much is expected,” says Hilda Pinnix-Ragland, at home with Duke, her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

“I work with women and try to make sure that they don’t just accept the status quo.”
— Hilda Pinnix-Ragland, 2021 Women of Western Wake Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

Hilda Pinnix-Ragland poses with her family, clockwise from left, Al Ragland, Kerwin Tyler, Katherine Ragland and granddaughter Kenley Tyler. Contributed photo.

Hilda Pinnix-Ragland has never forgotten the lessons she learned growing up on a farm in rural Orange County: work hard, seek knowledge, and most of all, make a difference.

“It’s part of my DNA,” she said, describing her lifelong commitment to public service.

Since leaving Duke Energy in 2016, Pinnix-Ragland hasn’t slowed down in what she calls her “rewirement.” She has continued lifting up women in the workforce, supporting a new generation of STEM students, and advocating for diversity and equality on corporate boards.

“As an African American woman, I can provide a lens that most people don’t even think about,” she said.

Among her many career “firsts,” Pinnix-Ragland became the first African American woman to serve as a vice president at Progress Energy, the first African American woman to chair the N.C. Community College Board, and she and her husband, Alvin, became the first Black members of Raleigh’s Carolina Country Club in 2013.

Over the years, the trailblazing energy executive and philanthropist has added another maxim that has guided her life and her dealings with others.

“If excellence is possible, good is never enough,” she said.

As evidence, Pinnix-Ragland has received many accolades, including the 2007 James E. Stewart Award, the highest award given annually by the American Association of Blacks in Energy; induction into the NCA&T State University Business School Hall of Fame in 2020; and in October, Cary Magazine’s 2021 Women of Western Wake Lifetime Achievement Award.

Pinnix-Ragland, right, with mentor Bob McGehee, left in green vest. Contributed photo.

Investing in people

One of Pinnix-Ragland’s biggest priorities these days is to get more women and people of color on corporate boards. Nationally she is working with the Executive Leadership Council and the National Association of Corporate Directors to recruit and train more diverse candidates.

“Diversifying these boards is vital, because it brings in a different perspective, one that aligns more with customers and their needs, she says. If the people running a company are all from similar backgrounds, there are questions that won’t get asked, perspectives that won’t be seen.”

“You must keep up with your customer base, and the world is changing. The browning of America is here,” she said. Pinnix-Ragland also helped launch Wake Invests in Women, an innovative approach to address pay equity between men and women, particularly in technology jobs. The initiative is a collaboration with Wake County, Wake Tech, and corporate partners like CREE/Wolfspeed, the Raleigh Chamber, and RTI International.

With Gov. Jim Hunt, a mentor. Contributed photo.

“There is almost no category where women make the same as a man in that particular job, even in this highly progressive area of the Research Triangle Park,” she said.

Not only is gender pay equity the right thing to do, Pinnix-Ragland says, but it is key to maintaining a strong economy.

“We need women in the workforce,” she said. “We need them trained, and we need them developed, so that we can meet the demands of the future.”

To encourage more girls to pursue STEM fields, Pinnix-Ragland launched her HPR STEM Academy six years ago. The annual summer program is geared toward economically challenged sixth-grade girls, to help them maintain their interest in math and science.

“So we won’t lose them,” she said. “We’re making sure we give them the background, the support, the competence, the courage, making sure that they’re competent, so that they will continue to excel.”

Pinnix-Ragland and Dr. Saundra Williams. Contributed photo.

Mentoring others

But perhaps Pinnix-Ragland’s greatest impact, whether on the local, state or national stage, is as a mentor.

“I have men, women, Black, white, Asian, African. I have people from all over that I’ve mentored, worked with, partnered with over the years,” she said. “I’m constantly mentoring.”

Pinnix-Ragland had wonderful mentors who supported her, she says, and they were nearly all white men, because there were so few Black or female role models at that time. Because of the guidance and support she received, she has always made mentoring a priority.

LaQuisha Parks. Contributed photo.

“I just believe that when much is given, much is expected.”

LaQuisha Parks has been one of Pinnix-Ragland’s mentees since 2002, when the two met in the parking lot of the Customer Service Center at Progress Energy.

“As a young African American leader, coming into the organization, Hilda knew me before I knew her,” Parks said. “She looked at me, and she said, ‘I am going to be your mentor. I will help you navigate. I will help you build relationships. I will make sure that you are in a position to be successful.’”

Parks says that Pinnix-Ragland’s advice has always been appropriate and relevant, but it hasn’t always been pleasant to hear.

Pinnix-Ragland mentors in an algebra class for Communities and Schools. Contributed photo.

“She was the absolute first leader that ever gave me the worst rating that you could have,” said Parks, who was working under Pinnix-Ragland at the time. “I didn’t like her very much for that, but it was the absolute right thing to do.”

After that setback, the two women created a corrective action plan, and when Parks left that post, it was one of Progress Energy’s top performing operations centers.

“She would always say, ‘Mediocrity is not an option.’ She always expects people to perform at their peak, no matter what it is,” said Parks, who is now the vice president of customer experience at CORIX Group of Companies, a provider of utility infrastructure services.

Dr. Saundra Williams is another accomplished leader who has benefited from Pinnix-Ragland’s guidance. Currently a trustee at Wake Tech Community College, the experienced senior executive says her friend helped give her the push she needed to serve on corporate boards and to launch her own company.

“She helped me to understand that when you get to a certain level, it’s your responsibility to be able to go and help others down the same path that you’ve already been,” Williams said.

Along with Pinnix-Ragland, Williams is on the steering committee of Wake Invests in Women, and she has her own mentees, whom she calls “Hilda’s grandchildren.”

“Hilda’s impact reaches so much further than just mentoring me,” Williams said. “It also impacts the people that I will serve, the women that I mentor. If it weren’t for everything that she’s poured into me, I wouldn’t be where I am.”

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