December 8, 2020

Speaking the Language of Diversity

Speaking the Language of Diversity

Entering the electric utility industry can often feel like learning a new language due to the jargon and technical aspects of the work. With a background in sociolinguistics, Joe Malda was up for the challenge when he started his career at FirstEnergy more than 10 years ago.

Since then, he has relied on his linguistics background to research the ins and outs of the industry, which has helped shape the way he communicates with his peers and customers of all backgrounds within the communities served by the company. In his current role as an economic development consultant based at Met-Ed’s York service center, Joe works closely with business owners and developers to encourage them to establish or expand operations within FirstEnergy’s service territory. 

Whether an organization requires a qualified workforce or project funding, Joe said he and his team can help fulfill those needs through their relationships with state and local economic development groups.

“In my sociolinguistic field work, I learned that the best teams are diverse because everybody brings a different perspective as well as different strengths, needs and expectations,” said Joe. “Attracting new business and putting together the pieces that make that business successful really is a team effort, so understanding what makes a team strong has been valuable to me.” 

The son of two Cuban immigrants, Joe not only speaks English and Spanish, but also French. This skillset has come in handy on numerous occasions in both his current job and previous customer-facing roles as a meter reader, Customer Support specialist and External Affairs consultant.

“Language is closely tied to identity and is a great way to connect with people and put others at ease,” Joe said. “Spanish really came in handy as a meter reader, and it was always fun to see how quickly other Spanish-speaking customers warmed up to me when they realized we shared a common language and background.” 

He also recalled working closely with leaders from Latino churches to help them better understand aspects of their electric service and billing that was not making sense to them in English. Today, Joe frequently scans French business news and podcasts to get a sense of what is trending in Europe and what could be coming down the pipeline in the United States.

“Especially now, our communities need gainful and equitable employment,” Joe said. “There are large employers looking for locations that would be a good fit, and I feel blessed to be part of the team that is working to attract businesses and new jobs to the communities in which our customers live and work.”