Influential Women in Clean Energy

Influential Women in Clean Energy


Sparking conversation, powering the future

The Colorado Clean Energy Education & Empowerment Initiative (C3E) has been dedicated to advancing the role of women and girls in clean energy since 2012. The group recently launched the influential women in clean energy list to help address the underrepresentation of women on conference panels and at the speaker’s podium. Seeded with 100 names, the open Google doc invites clean energy professionals to add names to the list, amplifying the collective voice of women in clean energy.

Dismantling the manel

We’ve all been there. You’re at a conference, ready to watch a panel of experts extoll their wisdom to an attentive crowd. As the all-male panel takes the stage, you can feel the air go out of the room. “What were the conference organizers thinking?” you mutter into your coffee cup.

This scene is all too common. But thanks to a changing collective consciousness and a number of grassroots movements, the all-male panel, or manel, is destined to go the way of the Dodo. Companies and individuals in wide-ranging fields, from precision agriculture to academia to 3D printing, are taking the no-manel pledge, vowing to boycott conferences that don’t address gender equity in their lineup of speakers and panelists.

The all-male panel, or manel, is destined to go the way of the Dodo.

… but we couldn’t find any women

That’s the most common excuse offered by manel organizers. I heard it just last week. The manel is a textbook case of unconscious bias. It’s rarely the result of a deliberate effort to suppress the voice of women within an industry. The inertia of the status quo is hard to break.

Planning a conference is a ton of work with a lot of moving parts. Whether it’s the venue or the catering or the speakers, organizers are hustling to get what they can get. If they reach out to 12 people to fill a six-person panel, and if 10 of those 12 are men, they’re likely to end up with both a manel and the feeling they tried to recruit women. But when it comes to dismantling the manel, it’s do or do not. There is no try.

It’s human nature to form packs of similar people, and we’re most comfortable fishing from our own pond. So the speaker lineup for a conference is likely to look a lot like the conference organizers. But just because an organizer’s Rolodex doesn’t include qualified women doesn’t mean they’re not out there.

When it comes to dismantling the manel, it’s do or do not. There is no try.

Changing the status quo requires a deliberate, conscious effort on the part of event organizers. Expanding networks, tapping into different resources and consulting women leaders in the field are all paths to creating diverse panels.

If organizers won’t push themselves to break out of the familiar cycle, they may start to feel a pushback from external forces. Increasingly, sponsors, participants and attendees are applying pressure on conferences to earnestly address gender equity. Social media is also proving an effective medium for changing social norms. Search #manel on Twitter, and you’ll find hundreds of conferences being called out, along with some lively conversation. You can even create your own manel-shaming meme, thanks to Finnish researcher and artist Saara Sarma.

from the Congratulations, You Have a Manel Tumblr page


Sponsors, participants and attendees are applying pressure on conference organizers to earnestly address gender equity.

Listless no more

C3E is in good company. Several industry-specific, open lists of influential women have been launched in an effort to help conference organizers create inclusive, effective panels.

A list of influential women in AgTech started with 75 and now has over 450 names. When writer Melanie Ehrenkranz asked the Twitterverse for technology speaker recommendations, she got a list of 1,000+ tech speakers who aren’t men in less than 24 hours.

Doing good is good for business

If the U.S. clean energy sector is to stay competitive on the world stage, it can only do so with a diverse group of the best and brightest perspectives at the table. To bring about meaningful change, we must address gender inequity from an educational, institutional and cultural standpoint.

The underrepresentation of women in clean energy, in the broader energy sector and in tech jobs overall is a complex challenge with no single solution. Dismantling the manel is a good start, but it’s far from the whole enchilada.

Tackling this challenge starts as early as grade school. By encouraging girls in math and science classes and supporting their continued exploration of STEM subjects through hands-on, project-based learning, we’re filling the pipeline with the clean energy leaders of the future. This approach doesn’t just help girls; it helps advance global innovation. But it does help girls to more clearly envision a career in technology.

The work to counter gender inequity continues through college, into the workforce and into the boardroom. Mentorship of early- and mid-career women in clean energy — by both women and men — is crucial to flipping the status quo.

Conferences are an opportunity for an industry to put its best face forward. When that face better reflects the future of the industry and the population as a whole, we all win.

About Dawn Putney:

Dawn is Toolbox’s founding president and lead strategist. Dedicated to building a future where women can more easily climb to the top of the business ladder, Dawn knows the future looks brighter and kinder when built by women. Dawn serves on the board of Pretty Brainy, Colorado C3E, the Fort Collins Museum of Art and is a past board member of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce. She’s also a founder and fairy godmother of Art Lab Fort Collins.

About Toolbox Creative:

Toolbox Creative is a B2B Brand Engineering firm, helping the 3D Printing,  AgTech and CleanTech industries change the world. We distill complex technologies into powerful identity systems, websites and marketing tactics that align sales and marketing efforts, create lasting impact and build brand love.