WATCH: Women in Energy 2021

Posted On:

Friday, Mar 19, 2021 - 3:31 pm

Across the energy sector, women make up less than 30% of the workforce, but that is changing as more young women enter the sector and as the industry makes a concentrated effort to increase gender diversity.

At Duke University’s annual Women in Energy event in March 2021, four alumnae in energy discussed their professional journeys, the skills that help them succeed in their current roles, gender diversity in the energy workplace, and advice for students interested in energy careers.

The 2021 panelists represented diverse positions within the industry:

  • Sara Bogdan (MEM '15) - Head of Sustainability and ESG, JetBlue Airways
  • Manisha Shah (MPP '95) - Founder, EmStar Consulting
  • Elizabeth Liedel Turnbull (MEM/MBA '11) - Senior Product Developer, Transportation Electrification, Portland General Electric
  • Tiffany Wilson (Ph.D. '17) - Data Scientist, CleanChoice Energy

The conversation was moderated by Stacy Peterson, Assistant Director for Student and Alumni Engagement at the Duke University Energy Initiative, which organized the event in partnership with the Center for Energy, Development, and the Global Environment (EDGE) at Duke's Fuqua School of Business. 

Here are a few gems of advice that panelists shared with students and early-career professionals:  

Be open to new possibilities. While the panelists explained they could see “common threads” as they reflected on their career trajectories, all emphasized that it’s okay (even wise!) to meander. Manisha Shah exhorted, “There’s a value to being open to the opportunities as they present themselves. The industry is changing, and the definition of energy is broadening. You can see that by the variety of roles that are represented on this panel.”

Be bold. Elizabeth Liedel Turnbull summarized her two main pieces of advice for young women: “Be bold. You know more than you think. You are a better leader than you think. You are a better public speaker than you think. Don’t undervalue yourself. You deserve more than you think.”

...and stay curious. Turnbull continued, “But the flip side of that is to stay curious, keep asking questions, keep learning, and that’s how you’ll continue to prove your value over time. Don’t just let something slide in a meeting. Pull that person aside afterwards and say, ‘What did you mean by that? I didn’t understand that analysis.’ Because you’ll go into the next meeting and you’ll know more, you’ll be connecting more things to it, and then in the third meeting, you’ll be explaining it to someone else.”

The right boss can make a big difference. “There is value in finding the right boss as much as [in] finding the right work,” pointed out Shah. She explained that supervisors can play critical roles in supporting women in energy, like identifying opportunities for women to rotate positions and learn different skills that help them advance. Turnbull shared an example of a male boss who understood the challenges of work-life balance for her as a parent—in large part, she noted, because he shared parenting responsibilities with his own working wife. 

Get creative in your work—and be demanding of leaders’ time when necessary. Sara Bogdan described how she would ask her previous boss about the origins of different projects. “She’d go, ‘I don’t know, I thought of it.’...And that was really helpful, because I was able to feel the confidence of, ‘Oh, I see an inefficiency. I see something that some other company is doing in a totally different sector that could apply here.’ And that guides me today.” Bogdan also described how, after her boss left, the company’s CEO encouraged her to be proactive in her communication with senior leadership. She had to learn to “reach out to them or put things on their calendar or send them things until they feel like I’m spamming them,” but the strategy has led to more consistent communication with senior management.

Look for opportunities to learn from energy professionals while you’re in school, and tap into the Duke network. “Continue doing things like you’re already doing right now, hearing about different perspectives and different roles within the industry,” advised Tiffany Wilson. “The Duke network is phenomenal…. So don’t be afraid to reach out to alumni, to ask questions, to really flex the network to help you figure out your path and look for opportunities.” Bogdan encouraged students to master the art of using LinkedIn, noting that professionals may be more responsive if students take the time to make a meaningful comment or share an idea about something the professional or their company recently did. 

Enjoy this event/video?

  • GET MORE INSIGHTS: Women In Energy 2020 featured the perspectives of three recent alumnae: Arsheen Allam MBA '17 (Founder and CEO, GOLeafe), Olivia Eskew MEM '18 (Policy and Strategy Analyst, Cypress Creek Renewables), and Lauren Shum E'17 (VP of Engineering, Sunforge).
  • STAY CONNECTED: Subscribe to the email newsletters for the Energy Initiative and the EDGE Center to learn more about energy and sustainability events at Duke. Follow the Energy Initiative’s public LinkedIn page. (If you are a Duke student, employee, or alumnus/alumna, you can also join a private LinkedIn group.)  
  • GET ADVICE ON ENERGY CAREERS: Duke students, in addition to exploring your Career Center’s resources, you can request a virtual advising appointment with Stacy Peterson, assistant director for student and alumni engagement at the Energy Initiative.
  • NETWORK WITH WOMEN IN ENERGY: Check out WRISE (Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy), which has chapters across the United States (including a new one in NC!).