How Inspirational Women Kept me in Energy

Posted February 20, 2019

A reflection on what women in energy have meant to me and my careervalue that I hope to pass on in my upcoming Midwest Energy Solutions Conference Workshop “How to Create an Industry that Reflects & Serves Diverse Communities. 

Kelly Mulder, Managing Director, ILLUME Advising

As a woman in energy in 2019, I am painfully aware that our sector is one of the least gender-diverse.1Lindy Miller, “Have a Seat: Welcoming Women to the Energy Sector,” Power Mag, May 18, 2018, Accessed February 8, 2019,  But when I entered the industry in 2006, I was welcomed by a team full of women leaders in Madison, Wisconsin. Those first years were foundational for me and helped me confidently grow into a leader. I had an amazing executive director who sat down with every new hire to listen to our aspirations and share her experiences. Multiple women directors and managers mentored me, and I saw my female colleagues quickly promoted. I rose from a coordinator to manager in the first year and took on new responsibilities each year thereafter. Many of the relationships I formed in the beginning are still with me today. More than a decade later, the goodwill and relationships developed then helped me with the job I have now. As my work took me inside the utility world, to Chicago, and across the country, I quickly realized that women role models outside our small Madison bubble were few and far between. Because of this, I have been purposeful about stepping up and being visible in my ambitions. If women in our industry don’t see other women achieving, it is difficult for them to imagine themselves in a leadership role.

Photo: Lisa Obear, ILLUME Senior Managing Consultant, emceeing AESP WI Chapter ~switch event.

I know how proactive I had to be to find my role models. Leaders around me often didn’t share my values, look like me, or sound like me. I found my personal board of directors at work, through connections, and by pure determination.

After what felt like the pinnacle of my energy efficiency marketing career—building and leading a program and corporate marketing team at a leading consultancy—I felt that I needed a new challenge. With some careful consideration, I knew I had a choice to make: stay in energy and try something new or stay in marketing and move to another industry. The choice for me became clear when I reflected on the relationships I had formed in my career in energy paired with my belief that the people in energy—those we work with and those we serve—make the work worth doing.

I decided to take a leap and explore a new space in the energy industry—cutting-edge social and data-science research at ILLUME. I am still a translator of energy complexities (check out my Twitter handle), but now I’m developing new tools for my toolbox. Learn more about what I’m doing with ILLUME here. The professional development, relationships, goodwill, and support I have felt from my industry experiences have brought me here.

What I want for future energy leaders is for the diversity and inclusion conversation to be top of mind, and organizations like the Association of Energy Service Professional (AESP) and the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA) are stepping up.  Below I’ve outlined some initiatives they have and are doing with Diversity and Inclusion.

MEEA: Diversity & Inclusion Workshops 

Last year, MEEA conducted its first Diversity and Inclusion Workshop at their annual Midwest Energy Solutions Conference. This year, I’m taking all the inspiration from my experiences in the industry and applying it in the follow up workshop “How to Create an Industry that Reflects & Serves Diverse Communities.” In it, I’ll be sharing my work with a Midwestern utility client’s Emerging Technologies supplier diversity effort. In our small group, interactive workshop, we’ll focus on sharing best practices and tips to increase diversity that participants can bring back to their organizations. I hope that my message will resonate and connect with other women in energy so that, if they find themselves at a crossroads like I did, they will also choose to stay and continue to make our industry better. View this flyer to learn more about the workshop.

Join me at this 2019 Midwest Energy Solutions Conference Workshop

How to Create an Industry that Reflects & Serves Diverse Communities
When: Thursday February 21, 2019, 3:30 PM  5:00 PM
Where: MES 2019 Conference, Chicago Hilton Towers, Continental B
Visit for more conference details.

AESP Leadership Roundtable: Diversity and Women in the Energy Industry

In 2018, I had the chance to attend the first AESP Conference Leadership Roundtable focusing on Diversity and Women in the Energy Industry. I was surrounded by people I knew and respected, as well as new faces I was eager to hear from. I was thrilled when AESP asked to publish my thoughts on the Roundtable on Energy Central in Diversity and Women in the Energy Industry.

AESP 2018 Leadership Roundtable Panel

This year’s follow-up Roundtable provided a wonderful segue from last year’s discussion into what needed to be covered this year. The content was just as on point and relevant. I again feel fortunate to have participated and wanted to broadcast the advice from the panelists. I’ve bolded the advice that resonated with me from personal experience: 

  • In your professional life, give them the essence of who you are. We cannot all be our true, authentic self in every setting because the further each of us are from the “norm” at work, the more likely our authentic self will be perceived negatively. However, keep in mind and persevere through the fact that, based on our gender, race, or other unconscious or conscious bias, there are some people who will never see us for who we are. 
  • Your work does not speak for itself. You speak for yourself. This is not bragging, it is something our counterparts do with ease, and we need to do it too.
  • Exude confidence—let others know what you know. 
  • Build your toolbox and get outside of your comfort zone—take the next leap (e.g., toastmasters if you’re not into public speaking). 
  • Relationships and goodwill are cumulative—sometimes it takes years or decades to see the value. 
  • The natural tendency of many women is to check off every box before taking the leap (on applying for a job, promotion, etc.). Ask about the opportunity. Apply. 
  • Don’t be patient. Advocate for yourself. The context here is that we sometimes hear, “Yes, I have you flagged for that promotion but just be patient, and we’ll get you there soon.”
  • Be daring. Ask. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. 
Photo: 2019 AESP National Conference—Leadership Roundtable and Marketing Topic Committee

At the end of the Roundtable, AESP gave away several books that the panelists recommended, including:  

Our Separate Ways by Ella LJ Edmondson Bell and Stella Nkomo
In  Our Separate Ways, authors Ella Bell and Stella Nkomo take an unflinching look at the differences between black and white women’s trials and triumphs on their way up the corporate ladder.

Mentoring Dilemmas by Audrey Murrell, Robin Ely, and Faye Crosby
The world is continually changing. As organizations become more diverse, the need to recognize and develop talent within others becomes more critical and more complex.

America’s Competitive Secret: Women Managers by Judy B. Rosener
The United States has a large number of well educated, experienced professional women ready, willing, and able to move into the boardrooms and executive suites of corporate America.

Good is Not Enough by Keith Wyche
In recent decades, corporate America has gotten better at recruiting minority talent. But despite their education and hard work, too many African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans still find unique obstacles on the path to senior management.

Step into Your Moxie: Amplify Your Voice, Visibility, and Influence in the World by Alexia Vernon
Step into Your Moxie  is a soul-stirring call to action to speak up for yourself and the ideas and issues that matter most to you.