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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Canary thanks GAF Energy for its support of this column.
Lauren Densham: A career arc from auditor to impact investment
Lauren Densham is head of impact and environmental, social and governance (ESG) at Energize Ventures, an early- and growth-stage venture fund that invests in software-based solutions in renewable energy, critical infrastructure, climate resilience, cybersecurity and mobility. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.
How did you end up on this career path?
I started my career at KPMG — I was there for 13 years, first as an auditor, and then in corporate strategy and mergers and acquisitions. I got interested in sustainable development about eight years ago when I was working with the global chairman’s office and had the opportunity to work with some of the global collaborations that KPMG is a part of, like the U.N. Global Compact and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
I realized I wanted to move from being an adviser to working within an organization, and I was really excited by the idea of impact investing broadly, particularly venture capital. The role at Energize was the perfect way to package up the different skills that I had built up. As head of impact and ESG, I integrate impact into our investment processes and our operations, but I also act as a resource for all of our portfolio companies to help them build their practices.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
It’s cliché, but a piece of advice I draw on a lot is, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” The person who gave this to me was trying to tamp down my perfectionist tendencies, but I think it was the right advice in relation to that project and also more broadly. It’s particularly applicable to ESG work because often the hardest and most important part is just starting somewhere and recognizing that it’s not going to be 100% right the first time. It is important to be humble and to continue to evolve as you go. That also applies to parenting my kids — as a working parent, sometimes you just have to do your best.
What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it?
Leaving consulting was an unexpected challenge for me. Consulting is a really strong way to get a foundational skill set and have exposure to a number of different areas. In my time at KPMG, I worked in three different countries and four different service lines — it was an amazing experience. But once you get to a certain point of seniority, you’re asking somebody to take a leap of faith that you can go from being an adviser to being an operator and someone who’s going to lead a team, having not actually done that. I was lucky that Energize was willing to take that leap. In that career transition, I leaned on the network I had built and on women I had met who work in this space, so I ended up with this opportunity through someone I had done pro-bono consulting work for.
What do you think are the most exciting new career opportunities in climatetech?
There are tons of opportunities in this space, and hopefully, the legislation that just passed will be a further boon. Energize invests in software companies that are looking to use their technology to accelerate the clean energy transition, and our companies are hiring across the board, so I direct people to our Energize ventures job board, where we have around 250 active opportunities.
Companies are hiring engineers and salespeople, and they’re particularly looking for diverse talent. One of the aspects of my role is to support our portfolio companies as they embed diversity, equity and inclusion in their practice and find people of color and women who want to move into these roles. There’s a huge need for diverse talent.
What is your superpower?
It’s either my superpower or my fatal flaw: I have no poker face, so you can tell exactly what I’m thinking all the time. It has served me well because I prefer to interact with people in a way that’s open and transparent and honest. And being that way invites other people to be the same, so it’s been really constructive in terms of building relationships.
Peggy Flannery has been promoted to managing director of investments at Generate Capital, a firm that builds, owns, operates and finances solutions for clean energy, transportation, water, waste and digital infrastructure. Flannery joined Generate in 2017.
Anne Slaughter Andrew has joined Clean Energy Venture Group as a partner. Andrew served as U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica under President Obama from 2010 through 2013. Before her stint in public service, she worked for more than 20 years as an energy and environmental attorney leading national initiatives addressing brownfields and clean air programs. Andrew now serves on the board of several clean-energy startups and of solar company Sunnova Energy, advising on the launch of its ESG initiative. She also serves on the board and executive committee of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
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