Early Stage Cleantech Women Professionals: Data and Employee Insights

Early Stage Cleantech Women Professionals: Data and Employee Insights

Written by Jennifer Craft and Michael Brownell |  Graphics by Phillip Dziedzic  |  Data by Dayaway Careers

Introduction

 

The clean tech boom has benefitted numerous professionals with varying interests and backgrounds. Both men and women professionals, from entry level to the C-Suite, are excited about clean technology. Dayaway decided to write an article about early stage cleantech women professionals for two reasons.

 

First, Dayaway wanted to gain a fuller picture of the educational and professional backgrounds of young women professionals in cleantech to see if there were specific sectors, majors or job roles that had a greater representation of women than others did.  Second, our data suggests that women are under-represented in cleantech, and so we wanted to hear from some amazing early stage cleantech women on topics like mentoring, diversity, women professional associations and more.

 

Thus, we analyzed the data for 555 women in our database (degrees, majors, schools, job titles, cleantech sectors, etc.) and we interviewed (4) cleantech women professionals.  Nearly all of our profiles graduated with BS/BA or MS/MA degrees on or after 2014. Our quantitative data analysis and our inspiring qualitative interviews follow.

Data Sections

“Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”  Wayne Gretsky

 

Undergraduate Profiles of Early Stage Cleantech Women Professionals 

 

Undergraduate majors are often the start of a career path in renewable energy, so it is notable to see what degrees can lead to opportunities in cleantech. Significantly, 25% of our women young professionals have an undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies/Science/Engineering. About the same percentage (26%) have a BS degree in engineering (mechanical, chemical, electrical, or another type that is not environmental engineering). Other common BA/BS fields of study were biology/chemistry, economics, political science, and liberal arts degrees.

Graduate Profiles of Early Stage Cleantech Women Professionals  

 

Notably, 224 of 555 women young professionals (40.3%) that we analyzed have an MA or MS. MBAs were excluded for the purposes of this article as MBA holders typically have more experience than the early stage women professionals that we were hoping to analyze.

 

Women with MA/MS degrees studied at 99 different universities, primarily in the United States, but also at international schools.

The Cities and Regions Where Young Cleantech Women Professionals Work

 

Consistent with Dayaway’s previous analysis of young professionals of all genders in renewable energy, almost 50% of women in our network work in California, New York, and Massachusetts.

 

And about 25% of young women in our database work in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Illinois, and North Carolina. These regional cleantech clusters are important for professional development and innovation. As cleantech grows, we anticipate that current and new locations across the United States will serve as important places for such growth.

The Sectors Where Young Cleantech Women Professionals Work

 

The sectors in which young women professionals in renewable energy work is also noteworthy. Consulting (e.g., Wood Mackenzie, DNV GL), Energy Efficiency (e.g., CLEAResult, ENGIE) and Solar (e.g., 8minuteEnergy, SunPower) are the most popular sectors.  Bioenergy (e.g., LanzaTech, Novozymes), and Government-NGO (e.g., DOE, Center for Sustainable Energy, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center) were the next most popular sectors.  Further, sectors like Electric Vehicles (e.g., Tesla, Rivian, Joby Aviation) and Energy Storage (Stem, A123) are forecasted to continue to grow as exciting research and developments in these fields continues.

Distribution of Majors Across and Within Industries

The following table (click on table to enlarge image) answers two questions.

  1. Into which cleantech sectors is a specific major most/somewhat/least likely to work.
  2. Which majors are most/somewhat/least likely to work in a specific cleantech sector.

The Job Titles of Early Stage Cleantech Women Professionals

 

Specific degrees and majors undoubtedly correlate with specific job titles. Some roles, especially STEM roles, often require STEM majors. Engineering or finance degrees are common to secure a job such as energy engineer or renewable energy finance associate. That being said, it is nonetheless possible to work in a field not directly tied to your undergraduate major, especially if your desired field is not as STEM oriented. Project management, business development, and analyst roles are common for “non-engineering” majors such as environmental science, business, economics, political science, and other degrees.

 

The most common job titles were: analyst, associate, consultant, coordinator, and engineer. More senior level titles like senior analyst, senior associate, manager, and director were also prevalent.

 

The most popular job titles by sector where young professional women in clean energy work are depicted below.

 

Sector                    Common Job Titles of Young Cleantech Women Professionals

 

Bioenergy                   Analyst/Associate/Director/Manager/Scientist

 

Consulting                 Analyst/Associate/Consultant/Director/Engineer/Manager

 

Electric Vehicle        Associate/Consultant/Director/Engineer/Manager

 

Energy Efficiency    Analyst/Associate/Consultant/Director/Engineer/Manager/Specialist

 

Energy Storage        Analyst/Associate/Coordinator/Engineer/Manager/Scientist/Specialist

  • Product Manager at Stem,
  • Principal Engineer at Enovix,
  • Cell Development Engineer at A123

 

Financial                   Analyst/Associate/Consultant/Manager/Specialist

 

Gov-NGO                   Analyst/Associate/Coordinator/Engineer/Manager/Specialist

 

Smart Grid                Analyst/Engineer/Consultant/Coordinator/Manager

 

Solar                            Analyst/Associate/Coordinator/Developer/Engineer/Manager/Specialist

 

Wind Energy             Analyst/Engineer/Manager/Developer/Specialist

 

The prevalence of early stage titles like analyst and associate is promising and highlights how much interest exists in working in the renewable energy industry. Additionally, this data also underscores how important it will be in the coming years to make sure that these cleantech women are equitably represented in upper level and leadership positions, given that the C-suite is currently overwhelmingly male at this time.

 

Early Stage Cleantech Women Interviews 

Life tends to settle where conditions are best for it.”  Jerry Linenger, Space Station Astronaut

 

 We interviewed four impressive and inspiring young women cleantech professionals and discussed their roles, industries, and experiences working in cleantech.  These women provided insights, best practices, and refreshing honesty about their experiences working in renewable energy. They also talked about gender disparities in clean tech, the importance of creating diverse and inclusive workplaces, unconscious bias, and the benefits of female mentorship and professional communities. Additionally, their interviews below include their thoughts on stellar resources for professional development.

 

 

Regina McCormack

Associate, Government and Regulatory Affairs at Invenergy LLC

Sector: Government Affairs, Renewable Energy

Location: Chicago

 

Background: Regina McCormack is a Government and Regulatory Affairs Associate at Invenergy LLC in Chicago. Invenergy is a privately held developer that builds and operates solar, wind, battery storage, and natural gas plants. In her current role at Invenergy on the Government and Regulatory Affairs team, she provides insight for the development and operations teams on regulatory and legislative issues. Additionally, Regina lobbies for state and federal legislation on behalf of Invenergy, focusing on issues in the Midwest and Southeast. Regina is also involved with WRISE (Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy) as Co-Chair of the Mentoring Committee, working to create an equitable renewables workforce. Regina holds a Masters of Marine Policy from the University of Delaware and a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Notre Dame.

 

What do you feel women see as the biggest issues facing young cleantech women professionals?  What are the best ways to combat those obstacles?

 

In my experience, some people do not trust young women to carry out their duties, even when women are doing their jobs well. Similarly, some people assume that women lack confidence or are not ready to take on tasks. I have seen people question young women about their loyalty to their work or company with the assumption that their personal lives or ambitions are hindering their ability to focus. I have seen this more often happen to women and I have experienced this myself, although I have also seen this happen to male colleagues; so, it is not entirely a sexist issue.

 

I feel like these unfounded assumptions about women’s capabilities are part of the biggest obstacles facing young women professionals in renewables. These biases and assumptions about people’s work and their ethic can affect people’s reputations. And usually in a company, a strong reputation is valuable currency when asking for more responsibility, more experience, raises, and promotions. To combat these assumptions, it is important to remember that most people trust and respect others. Those who do question others unfairly are usually projecting something about themselves rather than those whom they question. I would say when people question or doubt you, you can counter argue by asking for evidence, networking and making allies with people on other teams in the company or networking with other people at other companies who treat you with respect. You can try to modify your situation so that you work with those who support you. In my experience, there are people of all genders who will support you. If you find those people and make them your team, that will help.

 

What do you think are the most effective ways for workplaces to create diverse and inclusive workplaces?

Workplace culture is often created by those who are in positions of leadership and run day-to-day operations. If you are not in leadership yet, and you are an individual with ideas about how to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace, you can create a team of like-minded individuals and present your ideas to members of leadership. Having leadership support can go a long way. You can also reach out to organizations like WRISE or other companies that have formed affinity groups for women and minorities for ideas about strategies to create a diverse and inclusive workplace.

 

Other ways that create a diverse and inclusive workplace include company sponsored affinity groups and bias trainings, clear criteria for promotions, a focus on fostering leadership styles that promote collaboration and learning, an anonymous hotline for ethical issues, and structured mentorship programs with mentors. Over the years, I have heard of more and more companies adopting these initiatives.

 

What topics do you think young cleantech women professionals want to talk more about?

 

Women may be interested in how salaries, promotions, and parental leave compare to those of their male colleagues. Companies often differ in their transparency about these issues. I advise people to ask questions about these topics when networking and looking for jobs. If you know someone at a company, you can ask about these sorts of things. Additionally, organizations like WRISE are working to educate companies and professionals about these issues. I think that there is not a lot of transparency in most companies as far as how much people are being paid, how promotions work, what you can do to get a promotion, and when you should ask for a promotion. There are some companies that have made things very clear. They have rubrics for when you should be promoted, but that is not common of all companies.

 

Parental leave is also a little confusing. Some companies offer 100% paid paternal leave, but that is rare. I would say that right now to get answers, because there is a lack of transparency, you have to talk to people and try to understand what these policies are at different companies. I know that WRISE is trying to educate companies on data about what different companies are doing and what policies companies can try to adopt. WRISE also has a few recorded webinars on negotiating salary and parental leave and asking for promotions that are useful.

 

What advice would you give to young women professionals who are just entering this field?

I would say befriend and network with people who are smart and respectful. Ask many questions and spur conversation. By spurring conversation, you will learn and people will see that you are interested in taking on more responsibility. Speak up in meetings, even when you are not asked to, because you, like all people, deserve to communicate the thoughts that you want to share. Plus, smart workplaces should want to hear multiple, diverse opinions to make sure all options are explored before implementing strategies or making decisions. Building these skills will help build your ability to solve problems and that is valuable in the workplace and essential for your career.

 

I would also learn about salary negotiations as much as you can. Know that it is okay and expected for you to negotiate your very first offer. You can ask others about their experience and consult different areas of research. For example, WRISE has some recorded webinars about salary negotiations that you can access. Additionally, the book Lean In for Graduates by

Nell Scovell and Sheryl Sandberg has some excellent essays on the topic of salary negotiations.

 

What resources have you found most helpful to your professional success?

Being part of communities focused on renewable energy and climate change has been really useful for me. Belonging to WRISE continues to educate me and provide networking opportunities.  My grad school community membership has also enriched my network and continued learning beyond grad school. I think that for people to create their own communities it might be a little hard at first, but you can use LinkedIn and attend local environmental and energy groups to find others interested in learning more about renewable energy. If you find people that are as interested as you are in learning more, you can help each other.

 

Other resources I have found helpful also include two books that talk about energy policy and markets. The first is From Edison to Enron by Robert L. Bradley Jr. and The Grid by Gretchen Bakke. Both books talk about the history of energy markets, energy policies, factors that drove different people to do different things, and why renewables started becoming more popular. Edison to Enron talks about how the energy industry was created. The Grid is especially interesting because Gretchen Bakke is an anthropologist and professor, so she has a more societal take on the grid that I found interesting. Further, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has conferences on many topics and in different regions. When I was a student, I volunteered to help facilitate their conferences in order to attend for free. That is a great opportunity.

 

Alejandra (Ferrara) Springer

Senior Product Manager at Oracle|Opower                                                          

Sector: Energy Efficiency and Product Management

Location: Washington, DC Metro Area

 

Background: Alejandra Springer is a Senior Product Manager at Oracle | Opower, where she works to help provide customers with home energy reports that rank their energy usage with that of their neighbors, thus encouraging them to use less energy. She works with engineers, user experience designers, sales staff, and clients themselves to make sure this energy efficiency product succeeds. She previously worked for IBM where she implemented a variety of products, such as transactional mobile applications. In a volunteer capacity, Alejandra works as the Community Platform Manager at the Clean Energy Leadership Institute, working to stand up their online platform and build a community of clean tech leaders. Alejandra graduated from Duke University with a B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering and a Certificate in Energy and the Environment.

 

The Dayaway data shows that about 1/3 of all young professionals in clean energy are women. Has your experience been that the majority of people you work with are men? Do you have any thoughts on why this is?

 

In my experience, yes, the majority of my teams have been made up of male coworkers. Within my own product team at Opower, the breakdown of men and women is about fifty percent men and about fifty percent women. As a female in an engineering field generally, I have experienced that the percentage of women is even less than fifty percent. And then to add a further filter and consider engineers within cleantech, I have experienced even lower percentages of women. My thoughts on why this gender disparity exists start with recruitment and culture. We must ensure that we recruit a diverse pool of talent and then retain and support those women. Additionally, having the data of gender breakdowns in companies is a crucial piece of analysis to understand and hold themselves accountable to fixing this disparity. Publishing the data of gender (and other demographic) breakdowns at companies is critical to achieving a diverse workplace.

 

What do you feel women see as the biggest issues facing young cleantech women professionals? What are the best ways to combat those obstacles?

 

The biggest issues I am aware of that young women professionals in renewable energy face are unconscious bias; a lack of women in leadership roles; and weaknesses in recruiting, retaining, and promoting women in these fields. In the workplace, unconscious bias often exists in the ways we communicate and with assumptions of what a leader looks like or what value-added looks like. Unconscious bias can hinder women from being heard and moving forward in a company. The actual instance when unconscious bias occurs could be as seemingly mild as a female being interrupted in a meeting, but over time repeated instances of unconscious bias can affect a woman’s ability to excel.

 

Another obstacle that I am aware of can be a lack of women in leadership. Leadership in cleantech is often not diverse and it can be difficult to envision yourself in a leadership position if you do not see many women in leadership. Finally, the clean tech field also struggles with successfully and adequately recruiting, retaining, and promoting women. Recruiting from a diverse field is important and once those women are in the field it is also just as important to make sure they are supported, retained, and promoted.

 

What topics do you think young cleantech women professionals want to talk more about?

I believe having a community of other women in your professional circle are key. That being said, I want to know how we can better connect with each other. Who are women thought leaders and how can I reach out, connect, or learn from them? Are there any lists of these women thought leaders who would be willing to connect or lists of where on LinkedIn I could perhaps follow them? Another great resource that other women have recommended to me is the Grace Hopper Celebration,  the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. Women I have talked to really seem to find it useful and enjoy it, although I have not attended the event myself.

 

What resources have you found most helpful to your professional success?

There are a lot of great educational resources for women in clean energy. For product management, General Assembly offers courses that allow professionals to gain leadership and communication skills in practicing user-centered design and leading teams. Through General Assembly, I gained skills to successfully pitch a new product for Opower that used Alexa as a new communication tool for one of our products. Another resource I like is the Women in Product Slack community. It’s a good resource for women to ask questions about product management and post about upcoming events. Concerning podcasts, I enjoy Greentech Media’s Energy Gang podcast as well as their Interchange podcast.

 

For women in DC, Chicago, or San Francisco, I would also encourage looking into the Clean Energy Leadership Institute. This professional community has been one of the most incredible resources and support systems I’ve ever been a part of. Ultimately, women themselves have been my greatest resource for professional success. On my team, I have many supportive women that I can talk to about what I am experiencing, setbacks I may be facing, and ways to communicate effectively.

 

 

Morgan Zemaitis

Strategic Success Manager at Mercatus, Inc.                                            

Sector: Cleantech Investment Management

Location: San Francisco Bay Area

 

Background: Morgan Zemaitis is a Strategic Success Manager in the San Francisco Bay Area for Mercatus, a data and technology platform for investors in and outside the clean tech space. Mercatus’ platform connects data, workflows, and financial models into a single, integrated system for alternative investments like renewables. Before her role at Mercatus, Morgan worked at a boutique consulting firm, Insight Sourcing Group, as an Analyst advising clients on corporate sustainability strategies, cost savings through energy procurement, and energy efficiency programs. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.S. in Environmental Science and a minor in Statistics.

 

What do you think are the most effective ways that workplaces can create a diverse and inclusive workplace?

There are definitely opportunities for growth within cleantech in terms of expanding diversity and inclusion. Intentionality when considering new employees is one major way to create a diverse and inclusive workplace. Companies often draw from a select pool of talent, but by expanding diversity efforts in recruiting and hiring, we can create a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Even changes like the way job applications are phrased can have a difference in attracting a more diverse workplace, and we should be working to create workplaces that are more diverse and inclusive.

 

Broadly, what developments in renewables and cleantech do you think we will see in the coming years?

Clean tech is such an exciting field to be a part of—there is so much growth in new technologies to better deploy renewables and energy efficiency at a larger scale. I also think emphasis on circular economies, recycling, and waste reduction is a really interesting new trend with corporate entities. We will need all of these tactics and sectors in order to combat climate change.

 

Within cleantech investment management specifically, which trends excite you the most?

The cleantech investment management field is growing and expanding rapidly. Many companies now have an increased interest in their financial and operational data and want to understand how efficiently their organization is functioning. That is really exciting to me.

 

What resources have you found most helpful to your professional success?

Dayaway has truly been incredibly helpful and gives us more ways to connect with other professionals. Additionally, mentorship from individuals of all professional experience levels and ages have been incredibly valuable. Insights and encouragements from mentors have been really helpful for my personal professional development.

 

Lauren Shum

Vice President of Engineering at Sunforge LLC

Sector: Renewable Energy, Solar Power Charge Controllers

Location: Greater Boston Area

 

 

Background: Lauren Shum is the Vice President of Engineering at Sunforge LLC in the Greater Boston Area. Sunforge LLC carries both Blue Sky Energy and Genasun brand charge controllers. These solar charge controllers are optimized for off-grid applications and maximize the operational efficiency of a solar system through Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) technology, allowing controllers to efficiently convert solar energy regardless of conditions. In her role as VP of Engineering, Lauren’s efforts focus on coordinating existing and new project development.

 

Lauren is passionate about mentoring and supporting other women, evident through her efforts through initiatives like DigiGirls and the G(irls)20 Summit. As Founder of DigiGirls, Lauren developed curricula for engaging middle to high school aged girls with computer science and electronics. As the sole delegate for the United States to the G(irls)20 Summit in 2016, she worked with delegates from other countries around the world to discuss pathways toward the economic and educational empowerment of global women. Lauren Shum graduated from Duke University with a B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering and a minor in Energy Engineering.

 

The Dayaway data shows that about 1/3 of all young professionals in clean energy are women. Has your experience been that the majority of people you work with are men? Do you have any thoughts on why this is?

 

I actually just came back to renewable energy after a stint in biotech and I do not think that [this gender disparity] is necessarily specific to renewable energy, but I do think that some of the underlying causes are similar among different fields. In my previous job, I always felt like I was personally supported despite finding myself in meetings where I was the only woman in the room. In this 500-person biotech company, I was the only female electrical engineer there.

 

For various reasons, I think it is quintessentially a pipeline problem of how women start out in their careers and then eventually slowly “leak out” over the years, due to various things that are largely outside of their control. There are also a lot of structural barriers to women’s advancement such as unconscious bias, unfriendly family policies, and other factors. I think the question: “Why are there so few women in this field?” is still an unanswered question. Some of it is due to the factors I described, but I think it is still a hard question to answer.

 

What do you feel women see as the biggest issues facing young cleantech women professionals? What are the best ways to combat those obstacles?

 

Unconscious bias is a big issue. I think that people generally like to hire people that are like themselves. In an industry primarily dominated by men, unconscious biases can exist that make it more likely to focus efforts on hiring more people like themselves (that is, other men). I think these unconscious biases contribute to the issue of there being fewer women in fields like engineering or renewable energy.

 

I think some of the best ways to combat obstacles women that face comes back partly to reimagining the boundaries of what is possible, and also partly to building and maintaining confidence in one’s own abilities. Concerning reimagining the boundaries of what is possible, I think a barrier is a lack of exposure to, and lack of information about, certain careers. Exposure of this type includes not only having role models but also includes what types of activities you are exposed to as a kid, which can impact the career options you consider. I believe that if we can more systematically disseminate information about what specific careers are like and what it is like to be in those careers, such initiatives might help encourage greater diversity—not just in clean energy—but in any career field where there is disproportionate representation of the demographics.

 

What advice would you give to other young cleantech women professionals just entering this field?

 

To young women professionals entering this field, I would encourage them to develop confidence. It is certainly very normal to have setbacks. It is important to remember that failures are not what you are. These failures are temporary moments in your life that are going to make you better and stronger. The trials and missteps that I have incurred in the past several years certainly have made me a better leader and stronger person.

 

The other thing I would tell young women professionals is to always be learning. It is extremely important to always be curious and to always be seeking ways to learn in addition to always be seeking out people to learn from. I think the moment you stop learning is the moment you start stagnating.

 

What resources have you found most helpful to your professional success?

 

For me, conferences have been incredibly helpful to my professional success. Especially as a college student, I would encourage young women to go to conferences. When I went to conferences in college, they helped me learn about what I might consider for my own future and exposed me to a whole range of different industries as well as different aspects of the same industry. As a college student, another reason to attend conferences is that there are lots of scholarships out there that are probably offered by the conference organizers themselves as well as by your own academic institution. And while at those conferences, get out and talk to people. Meet people, talk to them, and ask them for opportunities to follow up with them.

 

Networking at conferences is how I got both of my jobs. As a student, I went to a huge variety of conferences—conferences for renewable energy, computer science, business, and the G(irls)20 Summit which is political in nature. These conferences helped me refine my professional interests and I would encourage students to attend many conferences.

 

 

 

The Path Forward

“We learn by going where we have to go.”   Theodore Roethke

 

We hope you enjoyed the data and interviews.  Our data and relationships are the product of 10+ years of working with young professionals in cleantech.  We acknowledge that the data may reflect statistical bias given the curated nature of the Dayaway network, however we are confident that the data is directionally correct in showing the spectacular present contributions and limitless future career opportunities for young cleantech women professionals.  Cleantech needs to scale and it must foster conditions for meritocracy to do so.  The data and interviews above show that young women professionals have the educational and professional backgrounds, and most importantly, the determination and insight, to be equal partners in the future of cleantech.

 

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in clean energy, the following resources may help:

  • Read our Insights articles (3 minute reads) to learn about the basics—internships, networking, interviewing, etc.
  • Use the Entry Level Renewable Energy Jobs Board to find jobs and internships for your degree and major. The filters also enable you to target specific states, companies, and industries.
  • Subscribe to our Listserv to get a weekly email summarizing the week’s new job posting and newest Insight post
  • See if you qualify to use our Zoom-In networking platform. This resource accelerates your use of LinkedIn to connect with young professionals in renewable energy