Op-ed: Capitol Hill Hearing Shows Why Energy Sector Needs Diversity

Written by:

Katie Mehnert

This originally appeared in the Houston Business Journal's OP-ED column on March 1, 2019

When I was asked to testify on Capitol Hill this week, I knew it would be a crucial opportunity. I could present the importance of diversity and gender equality in the energy sector — something my organization, Pink Petro, stands for. But I didn’t realize what a powerful job the experience itself would do of making that point.

The message

The hearing on clean energy infrastructure and the workforce to build it took place before the Energy Subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. I explained how critical it is to bring all forms of energy and talent together to create the workforce of the future. These are the necessary investments we must take to position America in a leading role in the global energy transition.

I discussed the call to action to end the gender gap in oil and gas, published by the World Economic Forum and 22 energy companies. And, I explained that Pink Petro gathered stakeholders to come up with recommendations for how to achieve gender equality.

After all, gender equality makes a company stronger and can boost the fight against climate change. That’s why the site I launched, Experience Energy, focuses on attracting diverse candidates to our sector.

The hearing was arranged to help inform discussion on the Blue Collar to Green Collar Jobs Development Act of 2019. My fellow speakers came from diverse backgrounds and focus on different parts of the energy sector. Gilbert G. Campbell III is co-founder of a renewable energy development firm. Leticia Colon de Mejias runs an energy conservation company. Vien Truong is president of the organization Dream Corps, which has a #GreenForAll initiative focused on building a green economy “strong enough to lift people out of poverty”. James Simpson manages efforts by an electrical contractor to hire veterans. And Anne Pramaggiore is CEO of a utilities company.

These are all people who need to be heard. I learned from them.

What's in store for the future

While each presented different challenges, we also shared concerns that we can all work on together. We need to dramatically improve talent pipelines, break down obstacles making it tougher for women and minorities to enter and rise up the ranks, and transform STEM education. As I noted in response to a question, the Departments of Education and Energy should work together on elementary school STEM courses.

I brought along my 8-year-old daughter. As I held back tears describing what an honor it was to have her present to see what’s possible for women in America, she was fast asleep for all to see right behind me. But afterward, she posed for a photo up where the lawmakers sat. To me, that said everything. This is what we’re working so hard for.

The future.

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