IWD: Lean In Energy

Interview with Lamé Verre, Lean In Energy’s Co-Chair Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Lamé balances her role within Lean In Energy alongside being Director of Renewable Energy and the Energy Transition at boutique consultancy Alaric & Associates. There, she supports companies in pivoting to pivoting into battery storage, fuel cells and hydrogen with strategy, finance, commercial and business development services.

Lamé is an alumna of The University of Oxford, Texas A&M University and Imperial College, London.

For the uninitiated, introduce us to Lean In Energy and tell us about the organisation’s core aims.

Lean In Energy is a non-profit organisation and an offshoot of Lean In Org, which has a very simple mission built around the philosophy that behind every woman is a circle of women, and on the back of that mission, Lean In org is designed to help women achieve their ambitions and create an equal world.

At Lean In Energy, our mission is to empower women in energy, and those interested in energy to achieve their ambitions through mentoring, community, public awareness and education. Our goal is to serve anyone who identifies as a woman in the energy industry, and while doing that, we also want to deliver on the following United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals:

Number 5: which is to achieve gender equality, and empowering women and girls

Number 7: which is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable modern energy for all

I currently Co-Chair Lean In Energy’s Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa Region with my colleague Rita Hausken, and as part of our International Women’s Day celebrations, we are launching our Middle East and North Africa region and we will be announcing the members of that team in the next few days – so please watch this space!

At Lean in Energy, we use a variety of vehicles to support our members, the biggest of these being our regional communities – one of which I currently sit in.  These are regional approaches to reach members in specific geographies; now that a lot is being done online we are able to reach a much wider audience.

We also offer what we call Special Interest Groups, for example Women in Clean Energy, which is aimed at supporting women who focus on developing and promoting clean energy and ensuring that their needs are met within that energy space.

Then we have our mentoring programme which is broken down into two structures. We have a “small group mentoring programme” facilitating mentoring relationships between one mentor and four mentees. By having a group mentoring programme we maximize the mentors we have, and are able to create a network and facilitate the building of deep, meaningful relationships. The mentoring programme runs for six months, and within those you will get to know your fellow mentees and support and collaborate throughout the programme. 

Our second programme is called ‘flash mentoring’ which is designed to help women meet a short-term objective. For instance, if you have an interview, need a sounding board for career advice, or need to have a difficult conversation with your boss. This is available on our platform. You can find who is available, sign up and you have a one-hour conversation with the individual. This is very specific and very targeted, as opposed to the long-term relationship building of the small mentoring programme.

Globally, why do so many women still seem to struggle to make it past middle management to reach senior leadership roles – especially in the energy sector?

 According to the 2019 McKinsey and Lean In org report, the biggest obstacle to women progressing at work is not the glass ceiling as is commonly believed , but the very first step of the corporate ladder i.e. the first promotion, which the report has termed the “broken rung”.

The other reason we found why women are not reaching the senior levels is also due to the “leaky pipeline”, where organisations lose talent at their prime. The ‘leaky pipeline’ is the reason why Lean In Energy focuses on women in mid-careers and below, because we believe that if women are mentored and equipped with the tools and strategies to navigate their careers early enough they are more likely to thrive and stay within the industry, and if they stay within the industry, then they can go through the pipeline and make it to the top echelons of the organisation.

How has COVID-19 impacted gender diversity in the energy sector? Is there more opportunity for women in this moment of diversity?

Women have been disproportionately impacted by both the global pandemic and the energy crisis. In December 2020, 140,000 women in the US lost their jobs. Platforms like Lean In Energy and other energy sector women’s networks create a safety net for our members and ensure that we provide them with a well-equipped toolkit to navigate these challenges, redefine themselves, pivot their careers or breakout and start their own ventures.

In terms of opportunities coming out of the crisis, there are a whole load available and we are trying to signpost our members into these. One of the biggest opportunities now is around clean technology and clean energy, so we are developing content and collaborations to ensure our members can hear about opportunities, whether within existing firms, within start-ups or their own entrepreneurial ventures. At the end of the day, every big business started as a small business, so giving our members the tools and empowering them to get into the driver’s seat of their careers and of their personal and professional ambitions is at the core of what we stand for.

We know that mentoring is one of your passions. Can you explain to the naysayers the value of formal mentorship schemes?

When it comes to mentoring, personally I believe it’s important. During my own career, mentoring has been a big part of my journey, both as a mentor and as a mentee developing relationships with more senior colleagues.  In my undergraduate days, studying for my economics degree I had the opportunity to intern as a high school teacher. I had to do this twice for my degree and through this process I mentored some of the students and formed great relationships with them. Over the course of the years I’ve created really great relationships and it’s been interesting to see how they have progressed both personally and professionally within their spheres.

We know that mentoring relationships should be organic, but we also know not everyone is comfortable asking someone to be their mentor, so at platforms like Lean In Energy we do the pairing based on the criteria stated in applications and try to match people as best as we can.

Apart from the work I’m doing now with Lean in Energy, I was an e-mentor for the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE). This was really fulfilling as you can share your career journey with young professionals fresh out of school, as well as learning what’s going on in their world and new levels of thinking.

I also currently mentor – as part of my business school alumni mentoring  scheme – masters students at Imperial College who are doing MBAs and Masters in Finance and Engineering. They haven’t yet come into the workforce so it’s a very different dynamic. Lean In Energy allows me to mentor on a bigger scale and reach a wider audience.

Can you share any closing advice?

My message is for everyone who identifies as a woman in energy – whether you’re in Europe to SSA, Middle East to North Africa – there is a network of women and allies out there ready to support you.
Whether it’s with Lean In, SPE or Powerful Women, it doesn’t really matter, you need to find your tribe and find your way to ask for help and support in whatever you want to do.

I wish everyone the very best navigating these very trying, but exciting times for the industry.  The industry is at a very interesting inflection point and out of every challenge comes a whole lot of opportunities. Therefore, we need to equip ourselves to take on those opportunities when they present themselves and be ready to take on new challenges.

If you can, work on self-development, self-awareness and soft-skills that you can focus on now we are not travelling and commuting; use this time to really work on yourself and find out what gaps you need to fill to get these stretch assignments.

My call to action is that every female – whether you are in energy, financial services, telecoms, etc – get a mentor, a sponsor, and pay it forward. I also encourage male colleagues and allies to mentor and sponsor female members of their teams.

Are you interested in getting involved in the D&I conversation in the oil and gas sector? Join AOW Accelerates: Diversity & Inclusion at AOW 2021. Register here. To learn more about Lean In Energy, visit their website or download these introductory slides

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