Energy Intelligence: Thoughts on closing the gender gap in tech careers
CEE’s Energy Intelligence for Industry program helps Minnesota’s small business manufacturers understand how and when they consume energy, and offers low to no-cost solutions to energy efficiency challenges. The program provides data about energy consumption by monitoring the customer’s electricity use, displayed in 15-minute intervals on an online dashboard. This data helps manufacturers bring down their operating costs, while reducing harmful emissions.
Nicole Kessler is the program manager for Energy Intelligence, and I asked her to share insights from her experience in the energy efficiency field, including thoughts on the gender gap in science-related fields. Capturing, analyzing, and acting on technical building data is crucial to Nicole’s work.
How do you foresee gender roles evolving in our field?
In general, I’d like to see more women in technical roles in the energy field. As the Energy Intelligence program manager, I work with small manufacturers. Rarely do I interact with women at these sites, as a majority of employees in manufacturing are men. Also, the contractors/vendors my customers work with are typically men. Occasionally when I walk in the door, it’s pretty easy to tell I’m not who the client was expecting to meet when they made an appointment to talk about their energy use.
There is a growing network of women in the energy field in the Twin Cities, and it’s been really nice to be a part of that, as a way to meet other women in the field and to hear about their experiences. I was really lucky in my position working as a NASA contractor. I worked at NASA in my early twenties and about a third of my team were women. I look back on that experience and I’m very thankful that I had several really smart women to look up to, learn from, and collaborate with. I do remember thinking at the time, “A third is not enough! It should be fifty-fifty!” Nowadays I would absolutely love it if I walked into a room full of engineers and a third of them were women.
What can be done to narrow the gap?
The gender gap isn’t going to be addressed by simply getting young women into science-related fields in school and early in their careers; it’s also about keeping women from dropping out of science-related fields. Fatigue is real, and I understand why more women than men drop out of STEM positions mid-career. It’s easy to get burned out when you constantly feel like you have to prove yourself several times over to gain credibility.
For example, I once had a client who, every time he had a question, turned his back to me and asked the man I brought with me — even though I was leading the meeting and introduced the male colleague as there to assist me with collecting data. I repeatedly answered the client’s questions and continued on with the meeting, but the same pattern continued.
While these experiences certainly don’t occur every day, when they do, they build upon a lifetime of similar experiences going all the way back to school: a high school lab partner who refused to let me touch any lab equipment and the teacher who said it didn’t matter, or the man who interviewed me for an engineering position and focused on my marriage as a topic of discussion instead of my degrees and prior experience. Every time these things happen the weight gets heavier and frustration builds. I’m not sure what the answer is to address this issue, but I think that companies need be cognizant of these experiences and provide support as necessary.
There are two books that I recommend reading (and which I really enjoyed) that highlight women in STEM careers:
To learn more about Nicole Kessler’s ongoing work with the Energy Intelligence program, click here.