Women in Energy: Allison Clements
The Women in Energy series is a joint project between USEA and USAID that was developed out of USEA’s program funded by USAID to improve gender policies and gender outcomes.
Every month we feature a trailblazer woman who has shown exemplary leadership. The women highlighted come from diverse backgrounds and roles, and they bring with them a unique perspective on gender equality, diversity, and inclusion, within the energy sector, climate action, industries, and beyond.
1. Do you feel that your education and career path led you to where you are today? Were there mentors and cheerleaders along the way?
Absolutely, our backgrounds all shape who we are today. In a nutshell, I earned a Bachelor of Science in environmental policy and behavior from the University of Michigan. After college, I spent two years working at a nonprofit in DC before heading to law school at George Washington University. I then spent several years in private legal practice, split between federal energy regulatory law and infrastructure project finance. I left to join Natural Resources Defense Council, where I spent three years as corporate counsel before joining their energy team focused on federal regulatory grid policy. After leaving NRDC, I left to form my own energy policy consulting firm and then joined the team at one of my clients, Energy Foundation.
I have long found the transmission system fascinating as the backbone of all aspects of the U.S. economy as well as the basis for individual Americans’ health, safety, and opportunity. I have worked in several roles, but my focus has largely remained on transmission and energy market policy. Over time, I developed a desire to update grid policy commensurate with changes in the markets, customers’ preferences, and the need to address the threat and impacts of climate change.
I believe the collection of my experience prepared me well to serve as a FERC Commissioner (although I never thought my career choices would lead me to this role). The only path to updating transmission and market rules in the face of change is via the assurance of reliability and affordability. I have spent years studying how our energy system can evolve while maintaining these priorities. Having participated in several U.S. regional transmission organization processes, I also bring what I think is an important perspective on stakeholder processes and governance. These experiences all inform the honor I feel to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
I had several important mentors and cheerleaders. One mentor was dedicated to creating leadership opportunities for female colleagues, and he often passed on growth opportunities (speeches, advisory committee memberships, etc.) in favor of offering them to me. A different mentor suggested me for my role on the Commission when she was approached about the role herself. Cheerleaders emerged along the way – I cannot overstate the importance of the set of people who have taken the time to offer an encouraging word or lend support. For women professionals starting out in their careers, mentors are incredibly important. It can be intimidating to seek to formally establish a mentor relationship. My advice is – just ask! People who love their work tend to value helping others. You can also seek out a women’s network that provides a mentoring matchmaking service. And mentoring can come in many forms. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t!) rely on just one perspective for career guidance and inspiration. You can roll up experiences from many different people into your own bespoke mentorship program.
2. What in your view are some of the unique or complex challenges that women face when vying for a leadership position in the energy sector? Are there any effective strategies to address these?
I can think of several challenges, but two come to mind to highlight. First, one complex problem is the relatively high personal burden that women face raising children, caring for parents, and managing life outside the office. This burden may cause women to defer professional opportunities out of concern about managing competing responsibilities. Also, women professionals may short-change themselves, whether that is not asking for a pay raise or a promotion, or not applying for a job that seems like a reach, out of concern they will be perceived to be asking too much or juggling too much. I believe it is the role of senior women and all leaders to encourage junior women to take career opportunities whenever possible and to clear the way for challenges that they might face, such as a need for flexible work hours to accommodate personal needs.
Second, like in all industries, women leaders are sometimes perceived negatively when they stand strong in their vision, goals, or strategy for a potential leadership role. Colleagues and leaders can support women by validating and amplifying’ women’s perspectives and visions in small and big ways.
3. How is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) attracting, retaining, and promoting a more gender-diverse workforce and more equity in senior management positions through this industry transformation? Is FERC data on this publicly available?
It all comes back to strong leaders at FERC who make diversity a priority. Luckily, FERC is full of people who uplift those around them – as supervisors, as participants in our Employee Resource Groups, and, critically, as Hiring Managers. We also have great Equal Employment Opportunity folks in HR who work hard to hire the best-qualified people and promote inclusion from the bottom up. A lot of thought went into how these things, and much more, fit together to make FERC the best it can be through our Equity Action Plan. And yes, you can find some of our demographic data here at the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission’s website. Finally, each Commissioner brings her unique background to the role, and its incumbent upon all of us to create space for diversity.
4. Embracing what changes in the sector at large do you think launched more women into leadership positions? What according to you are some of the biggest opportunities for women leaders in the sector today?
Women can be powerful disruptors! One change that I think has levelled the playing field somewhat is the increasing transparency in and ability to access data about the broad-ranging transformation of our energy system, including changing resource mixes, changing market rules, increasing challenges of extreme weather on our grid, and more. When women have access to this data, their diversity of perspectives, collaborative nature, and strategic approach form the basis for effective change.
5. What are some untapped actions the energy and electricity sector could focus on to accelerate change, increase diversity, and foster a better gender balance in the boardrooms?
While not necessarily an “untapped” action, because the energy industry is a relatively small world, one important step we could all take is to give women more opportunities to shine in external and public-facing events and to gain recognition among prospective clients and colleagues. That might mean, by way of example, supporting a woman colleague in her election bid to a board of an energy association, nominating a woman as a speaker or panellist for energy conference events, supporting a female podcast host by joining her show, or showcasing the talent of more junior professionals to supervisors and clients through more challenging assignments. All of these actions represent small contributions to equipping more women with the experience necessary to lead.
6. What would be your one practical recommendation to mentor or support women starting a career in energy or climate action?
Embrace your own perspective! In an industry changing as quickly as this one, you have as much to contribute as those of us who have been doing it for a while. One lesson I take from my mentors is that progress doesn’t require us to lack strong perspectives, but it does require a desire to work together to solve problems from different vantage points.