By KERRY WORTHINGTON
Showcasing four professional women in sustainability careers for the Council on Women in Energy and Environmental Leadership (CWEEL) luncheon panel, participants in the 3rd Annual Energy and Sustainability Extravaganza at The George Washington University (GW) on February 24, 2017 got their burning questions on career perspectives answered. Biographies for the all-women panel are available here.
John Lord, President of the Association of Energy Engineers-National Capital Chapter (AEE NCC), gave opening remarks to the luncheon crowd. Panel moderator, Janine Finnell, Executive Director of Leaders in Energy and Board Member for the AEE NCC, provided the context for the panel discussion. This luncheon is a special event conducted annually by the chapter to recognize CWEEL, which is a part of the Association of Energy Engineers. CWEEL supports the role of women in the energy and environmental industries.
Finding a career path in the energy and environmental Field
When asked about the career outlook in the energy and environmental field both today and in the future, the panelists used their backgrounds as a starting point. Claudia Meer, Managing Director with Clark Energy and Structured Finance, noted that there have been many ways to enter the field besides engineering, such as finance and policy. Meer was not always in the sustainability profession, but gained experience in the financial sector, before realizing the nexus of finance, sustainability, and engineering.
Meer has worked on projects to structure financing arrangements for commercial-scale buildings, such as airports, medical centers, and FedEx Field. For example, for the UMD Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, Clark contributed financing along with applying for tax credits that the hospital wouldn’t have been able to access. Cost savings were realized via a 20 year power purchase agreement with the option to take over the project after 5 to 6 years.
Both Jacqueline “Jacqi” Roueché, a geological scientist and a trained petroleum engineer who has researched the behavior of captured and stored carbon dioxide, and Marilyn Waite, Energy Practice Lead at Village Capital and author of Sustainability at Work, see a growing demand for data scientists in the medium and long-term. With new technologies such as the Internet of Things, companies need people to make sense of big data. Waite added that in the short term, there will be a spike in state advocacy roles.
Dr. Elvin Yüzügüllü, a GW professor and U.S. Department of Energy contractor, focused on big picture systems thinking, adding that there will still be a need for contractors and federal workers as well.
Women’s Experiences in the Field
A January 2017 National Geographic issue cast a spotlight on the persistent gender inequality gap in the world. The Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum provides data on four metrics of gender equality: health, education, economics, and participation in politics. Although no country met 100% on all four criteria, several were at 80%, which gives hope to closing that disparity. The U.S. placed first in educational equality; however, its overall ranking in the world decreased from 28th in 2015 to 45th in 2016.
An audience member asked about the difficulties of being a woman in the industry. Roueché brushed off the idea of wearing a hard hat as a problem; although she did say “women are not heard.” A pattern emerges of offering a thought during a conversation or meeting, only for it to be ignored and then repeated by a man – who then took the credit. Waite agreed, adding that such scenarios cause a retention issue in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) field. Finding a mentor and sponsor can help navigate some of those work culture issues.
Dr. Yüzügüllü suggested that finding your passion, something you can dedicate yourself to, can support you through those bad days as well. Focusing on the knowledge and skills being developed to get ahead may also help to move past those instances.
Roueché had a unique experience growing up in a flyover state – where a quarter of the jobs, high-paying jobs, are in the fossil fuels industry – and later moving to an urban area. Being the youngest of eleven children, with only three of them moving away at all, it was a bit of a stretch of the mind to get used to a different way of thinking, and it can be difficult to avoid being seen as a “traitor.” However, she tries to leverage both worldviews by finding common ground – and that’s helped her in her professional life as well.
An additional question came from the audience about confrontation while remaining poised. The panelists empathized that it can be frustrating to not have your message heard, but sometimes your passion must be tempered with patience. Finding allies, joining forces, and being confident in your messaging is their advice for women in the field.
Confidence in your abilities and attributes can play a role in how other people – employers and hiring managers – see you. Resumes get tossed out all of the time, and if you are worried about something, such as having a disability, then your employer may be too. Having a straightforward attitude of “this is what it is, and I have no concerns about it” will help the manager understand that they should have no concerns about it either. The panelists agreed that “you wouldn’t want to work for a company that doesn’t ‘get it.’”
When asked if certificates and participating in associations really make a difference, especially in engineering, the panelists had some good advice. They warned against jumping into a certification on your own, since some jobs can and do sponsor their employees to obtain those certificates. In Roueché’s experience with volunteering for the International Standards Organization, she found it very meaningful and good for exposing her to a broader group of professionals in her field. Being part of such a community can be helpful, and jobseekers should take advantage of the resources and knowledge that are available.
The luncheon panel concluded with a business card drawing for a copy of Waite’s book Sustainability at Work: Careers that Make a Difference and Dr. Yüzügüllü’s book Synergies for Sustainable Energy.
The Energy and Sustainability Extravaganza featured a series of panels, including a CWEEL luncheon, presentations by university sustainability officers and by vendors with sustainable solutions, town hall discussion with government leaders, and networking reception.
Photos courtesy of Film Bison Media