This month we caught up with Alicia Green, who is the Policy Analyst of Planning and Environment at RenewableUK. She has only recently begun her career in the energy industry, but already has a wealth of experience under her belt.
We spoke to Alicia to find out how she has got to where she is now and what advice she would give women who want to pursue a career in renewables…
1. As a change maker within your industry, tell us a little about your background?
I graduated from Durham University just over a year ago with a first-class BA degree in Geography. Despite being at the very start of my career and new to the energy industry, a lot has happened over the past 18 months or so. I started at RenewableUK as the Graduate Intern before taking a role within the Programme Management Office and have now moved into the policy team – focusing on environment, planning and barriers to deployment.
From the library during my final year at university (writing a paper on ‘understanding the social meaning and hypersizability of solar power in Cape Town, using feminist principles’ – which is a story for another day…) to managing future workforce ambitions for the Offshore Wind Sector Deal, leading our sector diversity initiative Switch, and speaking on my first panel – I have really enjoyed working at the centre of the renewables transition and feel incredibly fortunate to have been presented with so many opportunities so early on within my career.
2. What are the challenges you’ve had to overcome to get you where you are today and how did you address them?
During my final year at university, knowing what career to pursue and having a clear idea of how to get there was a challenge for me. I studied the International Baccalaureate at school and took an interest in very contrasting topics and modules at university, so pinpointing a career wasn’t easy. I remember applying for one graduate scheme where I was ‘interviewed’ online by a digital avatar, who nodded attentively whilst I answered questions against the clock – an experience which left me gazing at my laptop screen confused and wondering if I would ever be employed. Without the right careers advice, I know that it can be difficult and sometimes overwhelming to find the answers to all the questions you suddenly have. I therefore always try and help give students guidance when they reach out for advice and connect them with professionals working in the sector, as it was through these sorts of networks that I found my feet.
Once I had found a job, the lack of diversity within the energy sector took me by surprise. Given that I was educated at an all-girls school and there were a higher proportion of female students on my course at university than male, learning that only 35% of the renewable energy sector is made up of women and 93% of its leadership positions are held by men, came as a bit of a shock. It wasn’t until I started attending conferences however that this became visually apparent – time and time again I would listen to panel discussions that didn’t feature a diverse range of voices and in some cases not even a woman.
When I questioned this lack of diversity, our in-house events team noted that the challenge of delivering a conference programme with a diverse range of perspectives, often came down to simply not having access to speakers’ names. Coupled with the time pressure and resource demands of coordinating an event, it was clear that we needed some sort of tool to help solve this problem. I therefore helped coordinate Switch– a project which aims to provide industry with shareable tools to encourage greater diversity in the energy sector.
The first tool we launched was the ‘Switch List’ – a crowd-sourced directory of spokeswomen from the energy sector, to help industry better engage with diverse speakers for events. In a year, the Switch List has grown to over 330 women from over 10 countries and has been invaluable in meeting our 30% female speaker pledge for our own events.
Given my challenge of identifying a career entry point at university, ensuring that diverse voices are visible within a sector is also key to showcasing talented individuals and role models to inspire the younger generation, and present the range of roles and opportunities available to them. For me, it’s not just about gaining sight of senior figures, but also being able to draw inspiration from other young professionals at all stages of their careers – the Switch list features interns through to CEOs, across all energy technologies not just renewables.
From attending conferences and looking at the names on the Switch List, I have learned that more needs to be done to showcase women working in specialist technical roles. There is a link between these women being visible in the sector and the uptake of STEM subjects by girls at school. Despite girls accounting for 50% of STEM students at GCSE level, only 35% of post-16 females study STEM subjects or a technical vocational qualification, compared to 94% of post-16 males. We hope that as the Switch List continues to grow, we can help better showcase these roles at our industry events.
3. What would you do differently if you could?
Switch is a really collaborative project within RenewableUK and is driven by women across the organisation. We have a number of ambitious ideas and plans for developing the project – such as our webinar series and Switch spotlight case studies – but we want to want to hear from industry what tools they would like to see next.
There are a number of great campaigns also working on diversity within energy such as POWERful Women, EWiREand Pride in Energywhich we will continue to support through Switch. It would be great to work collaboratively with other campaigns this year too and I look forward to seeing what we can do to help support Women in Sustainability!
4. What keeps you motivated and positive when things get tough?
To help me focus and to de-stress, I really enjoy being creative in my own time away from the office. I started making my own clothes from recycled and second-hand materials whilst at school and have continued to experiment with textiles since. There’s something really satisfying about taking something old and re-purposing it into a unique garment that not only looks great but is also a sustainable way to refresh your wardrobe!
I also find lists and organisational systems are great for easing pressure – even if that does mean covering every inch of my desk (and my colleagues’ desks) with copious post-it notes.
5. What advice would you give women who wish to pursue a career in renewables?
Don’t restrict yourself. There are so many different career paths and opportunities within the sector, that you don’t have to follow a set route.
I recently met a Partner at a law firm, working in renewables, who only retrained as a lawyer after having her children. Prior to this, she had spent most of her career as a theatre set designer. It’s stories like these that demonstrate how your career path doesn’t need to be conventional.
6. Who inspires you and why?
In pulling together the Switch List, I have been able to meet so many different and talented women working in the energy sector from interns all the way through to CEOs. Their stories are the ones that inspire me because they illustrate what is possible within a career in energy.
I am also inspired by the children who are leading the climate change strikes and climate youth movement – for they will be our leaders of tomorrow.