Women Energizing an Industry

Zondits Celebrates Women’s History Month

March 20, 2018

For decades the energy industry has been a male-dominated field. The majority of the industry’s workforce continues to be male, but, according to the 2016 Future of Jobs report from the World Economic Forum, women are playing a growing role. Women currently make up about 15% of this workforce.

Industry trends point toward targeting female talent as an important strategy for managing industry change, future workforce planning, and gender diversity as critical to an industry in flux.

The energy industry is continuing to recruit smart, talented women who will stimulate growth in a time of rapid change with the deployment of clean energy and new technologies. In celebration of Women’s History Month, Zondits has chosen to highlight a few of the many remarkable women forging their way.

Carmen BestCarmen Best, Open Energy Efficiency, Director of Policy & Emerging Markets

Give us a brief summary of your experience and why you chose to work in the energy efficiency industry.

I have always been interested in science, the environment, and policy, but my real interest in energy was piqued while living in Niger. Seeing the intimate relationship that people living in a subsistence economy had with energy got me thinking about the many implications of that relationship for natural resource management and development policy, and that led me to a career in energy efficiency.

The support of an incredible community of energy professionals guided me through graduate school and helped me start my early career as an analyst and evaluator. This community taught me the basics while also providing important interactions with leaders in the field. I soon found myself at California Public Utilities Commission, where I led the effort to understand how energy efficiency was meeting key clean energy policy objectives for the state. I am continuing that objective today with OpenEE by supporting practical solutions to make energy efficiency a meaningful actor in distributed energy resource mix.

Energy use is woven into the fabric of our lives. It takes engineering, marketing, economics, geography, community, physics, and politics to make efficiency a meaningful part of our resource solutions. It is both the vexing complexity and the plain common sense of efficiency that keeps me engaged.

What advice would you give to young women just starting in the industry?

Like I tell my two daughters, be yourself and follow your passions. The rest will work itself out. The diversity of the problems we need to tackle in energy efficiency are as diverse as our lives, skills, and interests. So keep an eye out for what you care about; engage, contribute, and the rest will work itself out. 

Whitney BrougherWhitney Brougher, National Grid, Senior Analyst

Give us a brief summary of your experience and why you chose to work in the energy efficiency industry.

I’ve always wanted to build my career in a field that solves interesting and complicated problems while making a material difference in the world. I was fortunate to have two strong female role models in engineering – my mother and my thesis advisor – who encouraged me to look into the energy industry and energy efficiency in particular. I completed my thesis for an MS in Mechanical Engineering in 2010, building a thermodynamic model of a cogeneration power plant in Pennsylvania that used a coal mining waste product as fuel. Through my thesis I certainly learned a lot about thermodynamics, but also about energy markets, externalities related to power generation, and what it means to be a regulated industry. My current work, evaluating energy efficiency programs in Massachusetts on behalf of a utility, puts me at the intersection between engineering, policy, program design, and service to our customers. The intersection is fascinating; energy efficiency is really rooted in technology, but it is largely successful because of the policies and programs that encourage people to make more efficient choices.

What advice would you give to young women just starting in the industry?

There are so many aspects of energy efficiency that you can really branch out into any number of things, technical or otherwise. Understanding the various moving pieces of the industry – how the utilities are regulated, how the technology actually saves energy, how the energy markets work, and so on – can really strengthen the outcome of whatever specific task you’re working on.

Samantha CaputoSamantha Caputo, Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, Policy and Research Analyst

Give us a brief summary of your experience and why you chose to work in the energy efficiency industry.

I have been working in a woman-led organization that has given me confidence in my ability to work with stakeholders and provide technical assistance to states to help them achieve clean energy and carbon reduction goals. Progress in energy efficiency is slow, but I enjoy every small victory that moves a state closer to its goals. I’m still at the beginning of my career, but a highlight for me has been presenting at national and international conferences. Sitting on panels with industry leaders well beyond my years has shown me that my organization has faith in my ability, and this is always an exhilarating feeling.

What advice would you give to young women just starting in the industry?

Having confidence and being self-assured as you enter the industry is really important. I found that taking risks and advocating for my capabilities really showcased my skills and ability to take on projects beyond my experience level. Even though the energy industry is a male-dominated industry, don’t be shy. Give it a go! Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t know or understand something, otherwise people will assume you do. I also think it is important to find a mentor, someone you can connect with and reach out to for advice, whether it is on your career path or someone who can provide guidance in a particular area of work you are trying to advance your knowledge and skills in. Something I tell myself a lot is to not be afraid to bring my voice to the table because it is a fresh perspective – and because I am in this industry trying to make a difference in the world.

Jennifer L. Chiodo, Cx Associates, Managing Principal

Give us a brief summary of your experience and why you chose to work in the energy efficiency industry.

I’m a licensed electrical engineer and my career started in MEP consulting engineering in San Francisco in the 1980s when Title 24 was the only energy code around. When I came to Vermont for better quality of life, better public education for my kids, and room for my horses, I moved into the energy efficiency arena because I’d designed such cool buildings when I was working in California and I wanted new challenges. I worked briefly at the Vermont Public Service Department where my main focus moved from federal grant review to advocating for the PSD and the Public Service Board, as the new building we were in had serious HVAC issues (my introduction to building commissioning). I left the PSD to join VEIC where I did some performance contracting, worked on new HUD regulations to enable deeper ESCO investment in public housing, and became a founding director of Efficiency Vermont where I led the Business Energy Services Division for the first four years.

When I left VEIC, I wrote a yet-to-be-published novel about a super-hotshot woman aerospace engineer/Air Force pilot who helps win World War III for the good side. I joined Tom Anderson, the founder of Cx Associates, as his business partner in late 2004 and have been happily working to expand the work Cx Associates does from commissioning to a suite of energy efficiency and building performance-related offerings.  I’m fortunate to work with a group of people who are dedicated to engineering a better future through buildings at a company that is committed to the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit.

What advice would you give to young women just starting in the industry?

I used to think that if you had the right technical solution, the rest was easy and obvious. It’s only recently that I’ve realized the value of social science in the work we do. People make decisions based on a lot of things, and numbers just don’t have the same weight as emotions, even for business customers.  I was at the Climate Economy Conference in California in 2004 trying to find out how energy efficiency would figure into the carbon market. The response I consistently received was that it is already cost-effective, people are doing it anyway.  But I believe that people are not acting in their best interest, or that of the planet. Our job is to not only find the solutions but to make them the solutions that everyone wants.

Sue Haselhorst ERSSue Haselhorst, ERS, Vice President of Project Analytics

Give us a brief summary of your experience and why you chose to work in the energy efficiency industry.

I have a degree in mechanical engineering and first worked for Polaroid in R&D film production. A friend recruited me to work for Xenergy, an energy efficiency start-up (now DNV GL, through a circuitous path), where I learned the consulting businesses. I next worked as a PA implementer and evaluator at Eversource (previously NSTAR) where I learned about the machinery of program implementation and the IOU mission to provide power. I am now a Vice President at ERS, providing leadership in evaluation and analytics.

I’ve had great joy working in this field. The community is generous, collaborative, intelligent, and creative. I’ve had an opportunity to work on a breadth of projects, from designing Boston Logan Airport’s EMS to providing expert testimony in court to diagnosing a poor realization rate in a low-income weatherization program. Serendipity led me to energy efficiency, but the mission and creative challenges of the work have happily kept me in the field.

What advice would you give to young women just starting in the industry?

Energy efficiency is a terrific space to work – it overlaps behavior and technology, markets and regulations. Be curious about how all the pieces work together. Say yes whenever there is an opportunity to extend yourself into new territory.

Laura OrfanedesLaura Orfanedes, ICF, Principal of Energy Marketing

Give us a brief summary of your experience and why you chose to work in the energy efficiency industry.

I have been in the energy efficiency industry about 20 years. Currently, I’m principal of energy marketing in ICF’s Commercial Energy Division, where I implement marketing and customer engagement initiatives for our clients. Prior to ICF, I helped launch a software start-up (Fiveworx) into the industry, built and ran a strategic marketing practice at a consultancy (Cadmus), and communicated new DSM programs to Southern California (Glendale Water and Power). I also had the privilege of serving as an AESP board member for seven years. I’ve had the honor of working with amazing teams in developing some of our industry’s most well-recognized campaigns and brands, like Mass Save and ENERGY STAR’s Change a Light, Change the World.

I didn’t start out in energy. For the first 10 years of my career, my passion for mission-driven communications led me to develop and produce PBS documentaries, write for newspapers, and teach children to be media literate. Then 20 years ago I was bit by the environmental bug and decided to channel my passion toward promoting energy efficiency. This led me to Glendale Power and Water, and onto what has been an incredibly rewarding career thus far. I count myself lucky to continue to be fascinated by our industry and to be doing my work in an era of enormous change and innovation.

What advice do you have for young women just starting out in the industry?

  • Focus first on doing a great job at the job you’ve been given. While it’s important to have a sense of where you want to be in the future, career success is painstakingly built one task at a time. Whether it’s writing a great piece of copy or winning a new piece of business, focus on knocking that item out of the ballpark. If you’re good, people will notice and you’ll naturally climb in your career.
  • Learn how to spot a mentor. Mentors come in all titles, subject matter domains, and genders. For being a woman in communications, you might be surprised to find that one of my greatest mentors was a male mechanical engineer. The right mentor will challenge you (even if that’s the last thing you want), guide you, be a sounding board, support you, and be your advocate. Often, that relationship will happen naturally, more than being forced through a company program.
  • Have a strong work ethic. While we are all striving for balance (I know I do every day), there will be times that you simply have to do the time. Sometimes it cannot be avoided. That’s why they call it “climbing the ladder.” It takes energy, effort, persistence, and determination to rise against gravity.
  • Having it all can be challenging, but you can do it – at the right company. If a family is in your life or in your future, there will be moments where you are feeling split in half serving both masters. To help guard against this as much as possible, look for companies with empathetic leadership (female and male), flexible schedules, and benefits and company culture that support life outside of work. They should treat you as the professional that you are: If you said you’d get it done, you’ll get it done – even if it means at 2 a.m. after the kids go to bed!

Samantha SojkaSamantha Sojka, Eversource, Community Relations Specialist

Give us a brief summary of your experience and why you chose to work in the energy efficiency industry.

I entered the energy field with little to no knowledge of the industry. After realizing the positive impact that energy efficiency has on the environment, job creation, and improving the economy, I knew I wanted to make my mark. I worked on a program called Clean Energy Communities where I engaged, educated, and empowered Connecticut Municipalities to reduce their energy consumption by 20%. My job was to help change the relationship people were having with energy, which led to 95% statewide participation in the program. Through the success of the program I traveled across the country speaking at national energy efficiency conferences including the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference (BECC), Association of Energy Engineers GlobalCon, Growing Sustainable Communities, and more, as a leading energy expert on community engagement initiatives for utility companies.

From there I worked as the Vice President of Business Development at Greenleaf Energy Solutions, an energy efficiency service company, helping businesses across North America increase profits, reduce operating expenses, increase property asset value, and stretch operating budgets.

My experience has brought me to where I am today: Community Relations Specialist for Eversource working as the liaison for local government officials and community and business leaders within Western Connecticut. Through building and maintaining relationships with the municipalities, I work to expedite resolutions of community priorities, assist in philanthropic and volunteer efforts, and manage communication during declared emergencies.

I look forward to growing with the energy industry but also to see more women leading the field.

What advice would you give to young women just starting in the industry?

  • Surround yourself with good people. When I started off in energy I worked with a woman who taught me just about everything I know about the industry and helped build my confidence to want to be a leading woman in energy. Find your people who uplift, educate, and empower you.
  • Build your network! Relationship building is so important when it comes to success in any industry, whether it is through networking events or LinkedIn (which you should be on just as much as you are on Facebook and Instagram). Get out there and in front of people to get noticed!
  • One of my favorite quotes from Tony Robbins that I repeat to myself almost every day is, “Don’t worry about things you can’t control. Spend your energy focusing on the solutions.”

Wendy ToddWendy K. Todd, DNV GL, Principal Consultant

Give us a brief summary of your experience and why you chose to work in the energy efficiency industry.

I was an environmental studies major in undergrad and went on to earn a master’s of public policy. Early in my career, I worked for several consulting firms that supported the federal government’s efforts to protect the environment and endangered species. I then spent a number of years working for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as an analyst for the Inspector General’s office. It was after a chance encounter with a former colleague that I made the connection between the program evaluation work that I was doing with the IG’s office and the work that his company was doing in energy efficiency program evaluation and market research. Fast forward a decade or so, and I’ve been lucky to work in an industry I love and surround myself with colleagues who I learn from every day.

Since 2010, I’ve been closely involved with process and market research of the Massachusetts Program Administrator’s Commercial and Industrial energy efficiency programs. From 2011–2014, while at National Grid, I was the statewide lead for the evaluation of C&I energy efficiency programs including management of evaluation projects, coordination of evaluation resources within National Grid and across program administrators, and maintenance of the collaborative relationship with the Commonwealth’s evaluation consultants. In my current position at DNV GL, I lead our Massachusetts C&I evaluation team and serve as DNV GL’s key account manager for the Massachusetts Program Administrators. I also lead our district’s business development efforts for the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada.

What advice would you give to young women just starting in the industry?

Never underestimate the value of networking and personal connection. Always maintain positive relationships with your current and former colleagues because you never know when they will cross your path again.

Carol WhiteCarol White, National Grid, Director of Program Operations

Give us a brief summary of your experience and why you chose to work in the energy efficiency industry.

I have been involved in energy efficiency since around 1987. During my career, I’ve been involved in program planning, program management, program evaluation, regulatory issues related to the utility energy efficiency effort, and management of energy efficiency implementation efforts. I chose to work in this industry because it gave me the unique opportunity to do well while doing good.

What advice would you give to young women just starting in the industry?

Ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid to share creative new ideas. Get involved in industry associations and create a network of other professionals in the field.