Women Leading Environmental Change

How do you measure women’s contribution to sustainability? If sustainability lives at the intersection of economy and environment, how are women contributing? The opportunities for energy and environmental leadership for women continue to grow, but at this week’s New England Women in Energy and Environment (NEWIEE) Awards Gala, every stellar speaker reminded us of how bad things used to be, how far we have come, and how much farther we have to go to achieve gender equality in terms of economics in the energy and environmental fields. We have made progress in women leading environmental transformation of energy sector, but what about the economic impact?

The look back is striking. There were five women in engineering when Pat Stanton attended Tufts in 1970. At Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the 1980s, the ratio of women to men was one in 7 – I was the only woman in my calculus class.  And now, only 20% of clean tech jobs in Massachusetts belong to women – so the great economic recovery is only helping one woman in five here. Even more stark, according to Karen Gordon Mills, former SBA administrator, is that while woman-owned businesses in Massachusetts account for 30% of all small business, they only realize 11% of receipts. I’m aiming to make a dent in those statistics by improving the economic and environmental sustainability of novel and nanotechnologies. Let me know if you’d like to help.

The Industrial Research Institute recognizes that women will eventually move into leadership positions, a big piece of the 2038 Grand Challenge. Yet, I’ve been hearing about the glass ceiling since the 1980’s, and it was still discussed at NEWIEE among women working in the energy field who have made great strides, locally here in Boston, and nationally, for example in deregulation, and the formation of RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which a couple of NEWIEE Awardees were instrumental in forming. The RGGI board includes 27% women, better than the national average of 17%, and likely much better than the percentage of women on boards of cleantech companies.  Fortunately, as a small business owner, the only ceiling is the one I put up. Every time we make progress, we contribute to change. But, it is time for us to make a measureable difference.