Sunday, September 30, 2012

Women: Clean Energy's "X" Factor

A few months ago I ran across a tweet quoting Ilene Lang, president & chief executive officer of Catalyst, as saying, “One of the key things for women advancing in business is to make sure that their achievements are visible.” Lang’s comment is particularly important for the traditionally male dominated clean energy industry, and underscores the importance of the U.S. Clean Energy Education & Empowerment Awards (C3E) and Symposium launched by the U.S. Department of Energy with the MIT Energy Initiative on September 28, 2012.

The C3E Awards—each carrying a $10,000 prize—recognize six women’s leadership and accomplishments in clean energy (see below) and are part of the U.S. Clean Energy Education & Empowerment (C3E) Program announced at the third Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM) in London.

One of 13 technology and clean energy initiatives under the auspices of the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM), C3E was launched at the first CEM in 2010 on the underlying motivation that, “…to progress further and faster toward a cleaner energy future, societies must harness the talents of all its members.”

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that women make up substantially less than half the global clean energy workforce—from R&D to entrepreneurship and from policy to finance. The gap is further reflected in annual “Top 10” lists of people to watch in clean energy, as well as at conferences where I’ve often been asked, “Are there women in clean energy?” For those still wondering, take a look at the Symposium's agenda.

While there is a dearth of stories highlighting the pursuits and contributions of women in technology-related careers, including clean energy, the opposite is true for those outlining the barriers and challenges women confront in advancing their careers—from wage disparity and isolation to benevolent discrimination and open hostility. A quick Internet search on women in technology will reveal a number of such articles, blogs, and reports in just the last 24 months. Constantly pointing out the negative, however, might perpetuate the very negative we are trying to change.

Perhaps what we need to do is balance those negative articles and reports by increasing the number of positive stories highlighting the achievements, contributions and perspectives of women—of all ages, in all roles, at all stages in their careers, and in every country—in clean energy.

Women are clean energy’s X factor. And C3E just might be the global initiative that leverages the other half of the population, giving us the scale and effort needed to transition to a clean energy future faster.