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On March 8, 2021, in honor of International Women’s Month, the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center hosted a special edition of EnergySource Innovation Stream focused on progress made as well as remaining challenges for women working in the clean energy and cleantech industries.
In kicking off the event, Olga Khakova, associate director for European Energy Security of the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center, delivered opening remarks recognizing International Women’s Day and highlighting the opportunity for industry leaders and innovators to bridge the gender gap in the clean energy innovation ecosystem. Following her remarks, the event moved into a virtual panel discussion featuring Caroline Cochran, chief operating officer and co-founder of Oklo, Dr. Jennifer Holmgren, chief executive officer of LanzaTech, Dana Clare Redden, founder of Solar Stewards, and Dr. Emily Reichert, chief executive officer of Greentown Labs. Khakova moderated the conversation.
Khakova kicked off the discussion by citing recent positive developments for gender equity in the clean energy space: effective programs and policies and corporate commitments to achieve gender parity in leadership. She then asked the panel to speak to the progress they have personally witnessed at their respective organizations. Dr. Holmgren stated that LanzaTech achieved gender parity in their major science teams and launched many employee-led initiatives aimed at creating a more inclusive environment this past year. Building on that point, Dr. Reichert remarked that employees at Greentown Labs also have led many grassroots initiatives to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion that complement many existing initiatives the incubator maintains to support underrepresented demographics.
Pivoting to the challenges in bridging the gender gap in the clean energy innovation ecosystem, Khakova asked the panel to identify some of the biggest hurdles women face in the space today. Redden began by underscoring the importance of organizations holding themselves accountable around diversity, equity and inclusion, and a heightened focus on retention once diverse employees walk through the door. Cochran agreed, asserting that employees from marginalized communities should be made to feel welcome in their workplace.
Many of the panelists remarked on the importance of prioritizing an intersectional approach to inclusion that aims to give women of color and LBTQ+ women a seat at the table from the outset. Dr. Reichert noted she has seen that more diverse founding startup teams “go farther faster.” Redden added that opportunity exists for everyone, regardless of their background, to learn how to become an ally for their colleagues in the workplace.
A critical component of fostering workplace diversity and inclusion is access to accurate tracking data to monitor progress on these efforts. Dr. Reichert affirmed that this data collection must start with meaningful and long-horizon discussions on what goals a company wants to achieve in terms of diveristy and inclusion outcomes. Dr. Holmgren added that these goals must take stock of how long it takes to transform company culture and the value of promoting allyship.
COVID-19 has greatly impacted gender equity at cleantech organizations as a significant percentage of women left the workforce to care for their families during the pandemic, disproportionately impacted by the socio-economic and psychological consequences of the ongoing crises. Khakova asked the panel to discuss ways leadership can support women coming out of the crisis. Cochran cited the need to insulate women from job losses during economic recessions and support them during downturns when they are expected to take time off to support family members, such as by implementing comprehensive child care policies. Redder observed that COVID-19 and national calls for racial justice have demonstrated the urgent need to address inequalities in our society, such as the gender wage gap.
Panelists highlighted the importance of conveying the value women bring to the table. Cochran articulated that these trends seem to be moving in a forward direction, citing initiatives aimed at recruiting women and minorities launched by organizations such as Goldman Sachs. Dr. Holmgren reaffirmed Cochran’s point on the barriers women face when dealing with startup funders, such as when lenders ask them downside scenarios related to their work.
In discussing how to extend more venture capital funding to women-led startups, Redden commented on the vital importance of recognizing and dismantling biases baked into the funding process. Dr. Reichert relayed that Greentown Labs has started working more closely with investors who have announced intentions to fund women-led startups, and highlighted the need for investors to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the funding process. With regard to increasing the number of women-held patents, Redden remarked that women-driven innovation begins with building a professional team that is motivated to achieve equity and uplift the women in the organization.
Moving to the Q&A portion of the panel discussion, session participants inquired about strategies to increase male allyship in the workplace. Dr. Reichert began by outlining the role of educating and exposing the public to the issues facing women today, especially to individuals who have been in the workforce for several decades. Cochran added that mentorship programs for young professionals are also essential to employee success, particularly for women. Redden then indicated that having an inclusive mindset should be seen as an integral, non-negotiable part of any employee’s skillset.
Audience questions also touched upon need to create greater transparency surrounding gender wage disparities. Dr. Holmgren opined that the human resources division at companies bears the responsibility for delivering on that transparency. Dr. Reichert maintained that research is an essential part of this process and that it is critical to ascertain what individuals in similar positions are being compensated at all stages of someone’s career. Dr. Reichert stated that the onus should be on the employer to regularly ensure that they are not underpaying their employees and that they are offering competitive compensation for their staff.
To conclude, Khakova asked each panelist to provide closing insights for individuals who are looking to bridge the gender gap at their respective organizations. Redder spoke directly to the women audience members, asserting that they should be their own advocates and not to shy away from having tough conversations around their professional development and growth. Dr. Reichert appeared hopeful, restating how encouraged she is by the progress she has witnessed on gender-equity issues over the past few years. Cochran added to the conversation, affirming that support for women must translate into improved statistics on the number of women in leadership positions and the amount of funding they receive for their professional endeavors. Dr. Holmgren ended the session by reiterating the importance of mentorship at organizations for fostering an inclusive and diverse workplace.
Maria Castillo is a Spring 2021 Intern at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center.
A conversation with
Chief Operating Officer and Co-founder
Dr. Jennifer Holmgren
Chief Executive Officer
Dana Clare Redden
Dr. Emily Reichert
Chief Executive Officer
Associate Director for European Energy Security, Global Energy Center