Statement from Equity in Energy Ambassador Katie Mehnert following Trump order

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Katie Mehnert

In August, the Energy Department named me among 20 people who will serve as ambassadors for Equity in Energy, an initiative focused on building diversity. James Campos, Director of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, said,

“A diverse approach is critical to success, and the demand for energy workers will be challenging to meet if the workforce does not reflect the diversity of the population.”

James Campos, Direct of Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, Department of Energy

He discussed this further in an interview.

In recent days, I’ve been inundated with questions from ALLY members and other energy leaders about actions taken by the federal government. In September, the Trump administration announced that federal agencies must halt diversity training that includes, for example, talk of white privilege. This move had a rapid impact. For example, Marketwatch reported that the Department of Justice canceled a program on unconscious bias.

Then Trump issued an executive order banning federal contractors from such training. The National Law Review reports, “It is anticipated that the constitutionality and validity of the Executive Order will be challenged in litigation.”

Just what all this means remains unclear. But here are some fundamentals we know from years focused on issues of diversity, equality and inclusiveness in the energy sector.

Diversity and inclusion aren’t just right, they’re a business imperative.

The research behind this is clear and “overwhelming,” the World Economic Forum points out. 

In a speech to the International Petroleum Technology Conference (IPTC) in Saudi Arabia earlier this year, I noted that, “Research shows when people with different experiences come together and are given a chance to share perspectives, they develop new strategies. Positive change follows. Businesses innovate at a faster rate.”

These kinds of innovations are also necessary to bridge the world into an energy future.

We have big work to do.

Any suggestions that workplaces have achieved “meritocracy” ignore the myriad factors holding back minorities and women. To give everyone an equal shot, we must change the structures that are blocking opportunities for many -- and keeping the energy sector disproportionately white and male (including in renewable energy).

This means creating workplace cultures built around inclusion and psychological safety. As I’ve written, energy should tackle diversity and inclusion as we did safety -- treating it as a core value, not just a “priority.”

Doing this means inviting dialogue about race, gender, and other topics that are too often considered taboo. As Paula Glover, President of the American Association of Blacks in Energy, and I wrote together,

“Rather than making talk of race, religion, and other differences forbidden at work, either through written or unwritten rules, we need to instead turn our workplaces into communities for open dialogue.”

Paula Glover, President of the American Association of Blacks in Energy and Katie Mehnert, CEO ALLY by Pink Petro

Wall Street is on board.

Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs announced that it will carry out IPOs in the United States and Europe only for companies that have” at least one diverse board candidate.” After I wrote in the Harvard Business Review that this move was unlikely to spark real change, CEO David Solomon reached out to me to discuss. We’ve had great dialogue about what else the company can do and is doing to drive change.

We need to have these crucial conversations and listening sessions.

Rodney Williams, an energy diversity leader with National Grid based in London, put it this way in a conversation: “Privilege exists when you don’t have to think about anything.” By being conscious of the kinds of things people of color have to face, we can all do a better job of noticing and speaking up about problems to help fix them.

I faced backlash and support, when I posted about the need to end “white silence”. In a follow-up column for the Houston Business Journal, I explained my decision. “When people ask why I haven’t fought more prominently against silence on racial justice issues in the past, I don’t have a good answer. I do have an answer though: fear. The fear of saying the wrong thing, of not offering anything new or constructive, or even of offending people. It’s time for many to set aside those fears.”

Our door is open.

Our door is open for dialogue. It is only through conversations and listening sessions, we will understand each other more. We know that a diverse and inclusive workforce is important to a new future in energy. I would advocate the energy transition is the best opportunity to apply diversity and inclusion at scale.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Here at ALLY, we are here to support you and your journey.

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