Breaking barriers: Women in energy efficiency tell their stories

(ACEEE blog, 31 Jul 2019) Of the 14 people who have led the US Department of Energy since its founding in 1977, only one is a woman: Hazel O’Leary, who served in the early 1990s. At the US Environmental Protection Agency, one-third of confirmed secretaries have been women.

These numbers are hardly surprising. The energy and environmental fields, especially the former, have traditionally been dominated by men. In fact, women account for only one-fourth of energy efficiency workers, according to the 2019 U.S. Energy and Employment report.

To explore the experiences of women in this field, ACEEE is hosting its first Women in Energy Efficiency event at our Summer Study Industry next month in Portland, Oregon, with support from the Karen and Neal Elliott Fund. Two speakers will share their stories: Susan Stratton, executive director of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, and Christine Ervin, former president/CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council and former US Assistant Secretary of Energy.

We asked three other women to tell their stories as well, including the leader of an environmental organization and two Summer Study panel co-chairs. They spoke candidly, sharing both their inspiration and advice.

When Kathleen Rogers became president of the year-round Earth Day Network nearly two decades ago, she says the CEOs of all the major environmental groups were men. (Most of these groups are still led by men.) “It’s not as if they’re not awesome, committed men, it’s just that … sometimes, conversations [with them] can feel foreign,” she says. “Once you reorient them, I’ve found that they’re very responsive.”

“We just have to have the courage to speak up,” Rogers adds. “We do! Because I don’t find [men] resistant, I don’t find them rolling their eyes the way they used to—and trust me, they used to. But I think the barriers remain in the sense that you’ve got to be willing to stick your neck out even if you feel stupid—and I often do, because I’m bringing up a different way of looking at things. [Men and women] can go about things differently, so having that balance is really key.”

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ACEEE blog, 31 Jul 2019: Breaking barriers: Women in energy efficiency tell their stories