Empowering women one conference at a time

Conference participants pose for a commemorative picture. Photo courtesy of Addison Grigsby.

Tori Miller | News Editor

According to The Center for American Progress, Women make up 25% of workers in the energy sector, 32% of workers in the renewable energy sector and epresent 16% percent of board members for the world’s two hundred largest utility companies. 

A group of five female students passionate about the clean energy industry banded together to co-plan UD’s 2022 Women in Clean Energy Conference– designed to help women network and change the low female statistics in a male-dominated field. Two virtual conferences were held on Oct. 5 and 6 while the first in-person energy conference since the Covid-19 pandemic took place at KU Ballroom on Oct. 8.

The goal of the conference is to provide students and recent graduates from all fields the resources they need to begin a meaningful career in clean energy and sustainability. We believe that by providing education, networking, and recruitment opportunities, we can close the gender gap in the energy industry in an empowering and productive way, according to the conference’s website. 

Senior mechanical engineering student Addison Grigsby and her conference co-planners wanted to help educate and empower women while bringing more representation to the field. 

“I feel that women have naturally been made to feel inferior,” Grigsby said. “They’re scared to go out and chase their goals. They’re scared to just put themselves out there. Women should have a place at the table just as much as anyone else.”

The team started planning the conference this past summer and were greatly inspired by their advisor Dr. Kevin Hallinan– founder of UD’s master’s program in Renewable and Clean Energy Engineering– to share this experience with women in all sectors of the energy field.

Female speakers of all different energy backgrounds were invited to share their experiences, encouraging a growing community for women in all STEM-related fields. Some were more focused on the business side of energy, others focused on logistics and one speaker didn’t have a college degree alongside her successful career. 

Lauren Bower, co-planner and junior mechanical engineering student, felt compelled by the different paths to clean energy and shared the ‘why’ behind holding the conference. 

“The main point of the conference is to help women network in the industry where it might be more difficult to find mentors. Just seeing positions that we can apply to and seeing women already in positions in the field is the type of thing we are going for.” Bower said. 

Bower said that the conference was not only for building connections, but that it provided a way to let women know they are supported when pursuing their passions and goals. She emphasized the importance of not only catering to women in clean and renewable fields but to all women in STEM-focused fields. 

“Women in the field bring a new, different perspective that is crucial for coming up with solutions to the problems we [society] have created, ” Bower said. 

When creating the structure for the conference, the planning committee feared that the in-person event would have a lower turnout than the years prior to Covid-19. Elise Clement, senior mechanical engineering major with a concentration in energy systems and fellow co-planner, stated that the event had a lot more exposure with the in-person option. 

The team advocated for the conference through table hours in KU and through reaching out to institutions other than the school of engineering on campus, such as the school of business administration. 

“It was a good turnout and hopefully, like every year, it’s going to grow more and more,” Clement said. “We want to expand from just the engineering students too, that’s the goal.”

Clement said that conferences and events like this show that there’s not one correct route to go. She said it’s crucial for passionate students– whichever grade level they are–  to see what options are out there and to not narrow their career without exploring all the possibilities. 

Allison Lenhardt, a grad student studying renewable and clean energy, recognized her passion later on in her college career. After attending the conference, Lenhardt felt empowered as a woman in a male dominated field. 

“I feel that even today we are working really hard to get the notice and recognition we deserve. Lenhardt said. “While it may be surprising since we grew up in a very accepting environment, not all experiences are like this. Events like this are a powerful thing for a woman.”

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