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Clean energy journalism for a cooler tomorrow

Charging Up: A chat with Doseke Akporiaye, executive director of WRISE

Plus, climatetech career moves at SunPower, Silicon Ranch, Heila, Schletter, Sesame Solar, Mission Control Communications, Amasia and more.
By Eric Wesoff, Maria Virginia Olano

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Canary Media’s Charging Up column chronicles gender diversity in the climatetech sector. Part one is a short Q&A with an industry role model about their career path. Part two features updates on career transitions. Please send feedback and tips to wesoff@​canarymedia.​com. Canary thanks BayWa r.e. for its support of the column.

Doeseke Akporiaye: On resilience and diplomacy

Doseke Akporiaye is the executive director of WRISE (Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy). This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.

A smiling Black woman with medium-length dark hair wearing a dark blouse
Doseke Akporiaye

How did you end up on this career path?

The majority of my career decisions have been driven by my passion to learn, discover new things and create impact. I started as a computer programmer but soon realized I enjoyed interacting and engaging with people. Over time, I became restless about some of the societal challenges and inequalities I saw around me, and I believed business could be used as a force for good to solve some of these challenges. At that time, one of the biggest challenges was access to energy and energy poverty. I joined a company that was at the forefront of bridging the energy gap by providing solar solutions to households and communities that didn’t have access to electricity.

While I am still very excited about the plethora of possibilities and opportunities within the renewable energy industry, working within it made me more aware of the under-representation of women in this space. There is a lack of diversity at all levels — at the board level, as founders, in the C-suite, and in very senior and strategic roles. This also means that women and other systemically excluded communities do not have access to incentives, benefits and opportunities that exist within the industry. It is this need to ensure there is a more level and equitable playing field for all within the clean energy economy that has led me to WRISE. I’m looking forward to being able to support women and all systemically excluded races, genders and communities, and helping them achieve their aspirations within the renewables industry.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I have received some really great advice over the years, so it is difficult to single out one piece. But I will share a couple of them:

1. Be yourself: There is something unique and special you bring that adds value to every table you are at.

2. Be deliberate about the people you surround yourself with: Ensure your network has a good number of people that share similar passions and values, so they can keep you accountable and challenge, support and enhance your visions and aspirations. Be willing to do the same for them.

3. Strive for excellence: Always strive to be better and do better. Always look for ways to improve and enhance outcomes. It’s OK to fail when trying something new. Ensure you fail quickly, learn fast from it and build on it. There is hardly any problem that cannot be solved with the right mindset, information and people around you.

4. Be human: Be kind. Be empathic. Be generous. Seek to understand the other person and their views. 

What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it? 

One of the barriers I have faced is dealing with the stereotypes and biases associated with being a woman. I have gone into meetings where others were expecting a man and assumed I was incapable or unable to make the final decision required. I have dealt with people who think that just because I am a woman I don’t have the physical strength and capacity to withstand the rigors of being in the C-suite. I have met people who have told me if I am not technical enough, then I shouldn’t be running an organization, or that I should be less ambitious and vocal because otherwise it’s not feminine. The list is endless, and I am sure most women have so many similar stories to share.

I try to work through these barriers by identifying and working with mentors who can support, guide and counsel me. This has been extremely helpful in ensuring I remain true to myself while navigating through these challenges. I’ve also learned that, while it is important that I get a seat at the table as a woman, I don’t want to sit at every table. I only want to be at tables where I and my views will be respected and valued, and I have learned to walk away from circumstances and situations that don’t support this. This is why I am passionate about supporting women-led businesses at every level, because you get the unique opportunity to create and influence an environment that addresses the barriers you face as a woman.

What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech? 

There’s such a focus on technical roles, but we need everyone in this work — sales, business operations, etc. I believe there’s an especially important need for HR professionals. In order to grow renewable energy in the way that we want, we need a massive increase in this industry’s workforce, so we need people who can not only recruit those workers but also retain them. Veterans, young people and those who are transitioning from the fossil fuel industry all have very different needs when it comes to what motivates and empowers them, and we need talent management professionals who will see this and create and implement policies that ensure best practices within their respective organizations.

Within technical roles, there are many overlooked opportunities as well, like electricians and installers. There’s a certain perception of who should” be occupying these jobs, but in reality, we need whoever is interested in these roles to have the courage to step into them. And, of course, we need the companies that are hiring for these roles to ensure they’re using best practices in DEIJ [diversity, equity, inclusion and justice] to not only hire but also adequately train and retain individuals.

What is your superpower? 

I’ll pick two: diplomacy and resilience. Diplomacy because I’m able to work with whoever I need to in order to meet a common goal. It’s not important to me that I shine or stand out in the work. I’m very deliberate and intentional in the language I use to engage with others in order to keep the focus on the end goal.

Resilience has also proven to be a superpower for me — I truly believe that there’s no problem without a solution. There is always a way. This mindset has come as a culmination of both my successful experiences and my not-so-successful ones. Learning to overcome and to continue to push forward has allowed me to turn my failures into learning opportunities. Resilience doesn’t always mean you will be successful, but it does mean you’ll always follow things through to their conclusion, whatever that may be. Knowing that I did the best I could at the end of the day allows me to walk out with my head held high, ready to apply what I’ve learned to my next experience.

Career moves

Trudie Wang has been promoted to VP of innovation at Heila Technologies. Heila’s software and hardware integrates solar arrays, EVs, batteries, fuel cells, backup generators and other distributed energy resources using principles of game theory. Kohler Power Group acquired Heila Technologies last year.

Anne Webb, previously with Nelnet Renewable Energy, is now VP of sales at Sesame Solar, a woman-owned manufacturer of mobile, multipurpose nanogrids powered with renewable energy.

Sarah Sinderman, previously with Fronius, is now VP of sales and marketing at Schletter, a manufacturer of solar mounting systems.

Gina Brown has been promoted to senior director of economic development and community engagement at Silicon Ranch, an independent power producer with a portfolio that includes more than 4 gigawatts of solar and battery storage systems that are contracted, under construction or operating across the U.S. and Canada.

Sarah Spitz has been promoted to senior director of public relations and corporate communications at solar and storage provider SunPower.

Molly Wood, founder and CEO of Molly Wood Media, is now a venture partner at Amasia, a firm that invests in software companies aiming to address climate change by altering human behavior. Amasia’s investment thesis is this:

The climate crisis — the defining event of our time — is a crisis of behavior. 72% of all greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to end-consumer behavior, while the world’s richest 10% accounted for over half of GHG emissions between 1990 and 2015. We believe behavior change at scale is the only answer, and that software is the perfect catalyst for this. 

Connie Zhang has been promoted to senior VP at woman-founded climatetech communications agency Mission Control Communications. Kate McIlroy, previously with Finn Partners, joined the agency as VP.

For the record

Analysis of the Environmental Jobs Transparency Survey found that men earn an average of 10% more than women in climate jobs

The Environmental Jobs Transparency Survey was created by Yale School of the Environment graduates and has amassed more than 500 responses from professionals working in the climate space. In February, the group Women+ in Climate Tech released an analysis of the data, which found that respondents reported a 10 percent pay gap on average between men and women across all roles. The analysis also identified variations by industry: In consulting, men earned 26% more than women, in government, 20% more, and in the nonprofit sphere, 12% more. 

Check it out

WRISE is a national nonprofit that works to recruit, retain and advance systematically excluded groups within the clean energy industry. Located throughout the U.S. and Canada, WRISE chapters offer opportunities for networking and community-building. If you are interested in joining, you can learn more and sign up to participate here.

BayWa r.e. is the home for changemakers.With the same passion in heart and ambition in mind, we drive change for our planet — every single day. Our dynamic and proactive work environment empowers our people in their personal and professional growth. As one global team driven by a shared purpose, we continuously r.e.think energy to maximize the impact for our clients, as well as society and the environment. Visit our careers website to find out more.

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Eric Wesoff is editorial director at Canary Media.

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.