Interview with Paula Glover, President & CEO of American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE)

Interview with Paula Glover, President & CEO of American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE).

Watch the latest videos from Dylan Green featuring a focus interview with Paula Glover, President & CEO of American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE).

Part 1 Transcript

Catherine: So today I have Paula Glover with me, CEO of the American Association for Blacks and Energy. Welcome Paula.

Paula: Thank you! Thank you for having me.

Catherine: Tell us about AABE and how you partner with other minority organizations within the industry. And what is some of the progress that you have seen as a result of AABE’s work?

Paula: Sure. So the Association, AABE, was founded more than 40 years ago, really looking at the impact of energy policy on communities of color and African-American communities more specifically. And then also working to increase the representation of African-Americans in the energy sector, and that includes everything from African-Americans in leadership roles, African-Americans on corporate boards, African-American businesses having the opportunity to do business with our industry very broadly, whether it has to do with the development solar projects, or being a vendor to an oil and gas firm, we’re really focused on ensuring that we are represented in this industry, across all sectors and all lines of business. We do that for a couple of reasons, first because there is an enormous economic impact that the energy industry has and we believe that this industry has a role that it can play in the economic empowerment of our communities, but also that energy policy is something that’s important for us to pay attention to because our communities pay so much for our energy and it’s services. So we really partner with organizations to do several things, the first is really a lot around education, and really just informing people about how policies impact what they do and informing organizations and companies who may be advocating particular policies on what that impact can be and helping them to sometimes see things a little bit differently in terms of the types of decisions that they like policy makers to make. And why we may feel strongly in support or against a particular policy because of its impact. So we’ve had success in that, in that we have, certainly, all of the trade associations, at my office we work closely with all of them to help provide advice and counsel as they’re looking at different policies, that they are trying to put forward either with members of congress or regulatory agencies or state and local levels. We also work with our industry partners around identifying people who would be great candidates for potential opportunities. We offer a leadership development program that some of our companies have taken part in that allows their employees to get some professional development, and these are particular individuals that these companies have identified as future leaders, and so really giving them some of the skills and the development opportunities so that they can move forward in their own organizations. And then with the U.S. Department of Energy, they have an Equity in Energy program, it was previously called Minorities in Energy, and we’ve worked with them in everything from identifying ambassadors but also just getting the word out about what Equity in Energy means and why is it important? How do you bring in more communities into our discussions around energy?

Catherine: From what I understand, AABE has worked closely with the DOE, the Department of Energy, on its Minorities in Energy initiative as well. You’ve also done some things around business development programming for minority entrepreneurs. What’s been the progress as a result of this partnership?

Paula: I think the biggest progress that I would say we’ve seen, is that, particularly in this day and age, that the issues around minorities, and African-Americans in energy in particular, have now kind of hit the forefront of people’s thinking. I think that, 40 years ago, for a lot of the time when we first started, and we still aren’t really a well known organization, but it’s really hard to get on folk’s radar screen in terms of what your mission is, and making people see how that might be relevant to the work that they are doing. So what we have seen is that, more and more organizations are reaching out to us to say “hey, what do you think about this? what is a good approach for us to take?” Most recently, defined as the last several years, a lot of organizations are really thinking about their diversity and inclusion programs, thinking about their employee resource groups, and how you do that effectively? Asking us questions about effective mentoring programs and if we have best practice. I think, the benefit of association and the membership of the association, is that my members have expertise in all kinds of areas and so I’m able to lean on them, and point to them, and glean from them, best practices in areas where I may not be as familiar, I certainly don’t know everything. But at their level of expertise, and particularly because they all have work in this business, so they  have an additional perspective that’s different from someone who is a consultant coming from the outside in, really does allow us as an organization to have a full view of all kinds of issues but also allows us to really then educate far more broadly than someone else might be able to. 

Part 2 Transcript

Catherine: Countless companies have come out recently, with statements about DEI as a result of the Black Lives Matter protests. So POLITICO, and a number of organizations, have quoted you as saying “If you do nothing to back that up by making change in your organization, then they’re just words on a page.” What specific recommendations do you have for organizations that come out with these statements?

Paula: So, I have several recommendations for organizations that come out with these statements, and actually I have these recommendations for any organization, whether they have a statement or not. The first is really that organizations really need to look internally at how they operate and what their organizational culture is. There’s such a need for folks to feel like they’re doing something and we react to this moment, and so we want to fix the problem. For some organizations, fixing the problem is, we’re going to hire more African-Americans, and for some other organizations, fixing the problem may be we need to expand our supplier diversity program. What I am suggesting is that before you ever get there, you need to understand what the problem is, and the only way that you understand the problem is to understand what is going on in your own company. So this moment, in my mind, starts some reflection and some self-reflection, and some honest self-reflection, as to why these things are not already happening. It could possibly be that, it isn’t already happening because it’s never been a focus, it’s never been a priority, but for some organizations, a lot of organizations, it actually has been a focus and a priority, and the movement is not happening. That suggests to me that there’s some other things going on, within organizations, that leaders really need to take the time and the space to understand and address, before they start with the other steps, and, in my mind, those steps would be, not only of hiring more African-American employees but, really, what are the pipelines that you have developed for those who are already within your organizations to move into other roles? To move into management and leadership roles. That’s something that organizations, I believe, should be doing. I think that organizations should be looking at, if they have supplier diversity programs, looking at those programs really closely and seeing “how is that money being spent?” “Is there equity in the way that money is being spent?” What I mean by that is, are you seeing a shift where your supplier diversity numbers broadly may go from 20% to 30%, for particular businesses, that’s actually not what we’re seeing happen, right? It could be that black-owned businesses are actually seeing less of a spend, while another group is seeing more of a spend. And so, I think companies need to be looking at that and they need to be really making sure, and ensuring, that those businesses really do get an opportunity, not just to do the business that they’re currently doing, but, quite frankly, to increase the spend. There needs to be a focus on developing suppliers. We’re an industry that I think is really interesting in some cases, in that we’re complex and we’re complicated, and as an industry we talk about how complicated everything that we do is, and yet we want people to walk in an know exactly how to do it, to suit you without getting any kind of intel, no feedback, no setup. I believe that that’s wrong. I also think that that is contradictory to what you say you want to happen. There is an opportunity for supplier development and I think that companies can and should invest in supplier development. They can do that themselves, they can partner with organizations like mine and others who have supplier development programs. But there has to be a recognition that people just don’t show up ready, without any kind of help, particularly in a industry that is so complicated, that has so many lines of business, so many touch points for people, high rates of capitalization required, high rates of bonding and insurance required. We’ve got to do more to get folks involved, as companies, if that’s something where we have a priority. I believe companies should be looking at who their leadership teams are and making sure that their pipelines for African-Americans to be in senior leadership positions, that they are looking at board members and making sure that they are also, when they are doing board searches, that there is a diverse candidate pool, and not accept somebody saying that they can’t find someone, send them back because you can look harder. The final thing is we need to do more to invest in our students. Our industry does a tremendous job investing in STEM programs locally. But what we know is that the cost of college education is one of the few things where the cost has had a 1400% increase over a 20 year span. It’s higher and faster than any other sector, period. We also know that a lot of students, and particularly students of color, leave school because they can’t afford it. So if we, as an industry, are interested in getting more of our students into STEM careers, then we need to support that. And we need to support that with our money, right, helping kids with scholarships but also, and even more so in my opinion, making sure that those same students have the same opportunity for internships, externship and co-ops, as everyone else does. That means, in my mind, that if a company has 10 internships a year, they should make sure that they’re diverse candidates in those internships, and they should be deliberate about that and not just – these are the 10 best kids that we found at this one school. Just like you would want a diverse pool for a candidate pool for hire, I think that the same is true for internships and those kind of career development opportunities. In my mind, those are all the kinds of things companies should be focusing on. 

Catherine: I’ve heard you say that equity should come first, inclusion second, and diversity third. Can you please explain your thinking around that?

Paula: Yeah, I think that we get it backwards in some way when we start with hiring. This goes back to my previous comment about “we need to start with what’s going on in our own organizations first.” Part of that is around “do you have an equitable and inclusive culture?” Which means, is it fair, is it really fair? Not, do we just not say it’s fair, but is it really? That means that when we look at how we hire, is a company doing downsizing or layoffs, promotional opportunities, are people judged in the same way? And we have seen enough studies that suggested that that is not actually the truth. If you look at the gender studies, that will tell you how we may characterize a man as being assertive, we may characterize a woman with the same kind of traits as being aggressive. Those kinds of words absolutely impact your opportunity to move forward in an organization. When I say equity, those kinds of things are the first things that we need to be rooting out in our organization. Then we start talking about inclusion, which is when we as leaders say we want our employees to bring their whole selves to work, what exactly does that look like? And do you have a culture that actually supports that idea? That if you have a meeting and everyone’s in the meeting and folks of all levels, are people heard in the same kind of way? Some people’s opinions really are left out or we’re not really interested in what they think. Are we an organization that culturally decides that way we’ve always done it is the only way that we’re going to do it? So, even though we say we want new ideas, actually we reject every new idea. That’s clearly a dynamic that I would think you would hear a lot of young people say happens. So when I talk about these things, I think that this is all under this idea of getting your house in order first. Do you have an equitable workplace? Are your policies and procedures looking for that and measuring for that? Do you see the results of that work? Is your workplace really inclusive and psychologically safe? Do people feel like they can contribute in a way that’s valued and in a way that they are received that’s valued? Do we understand that there are biases and microaggressions and all kinds of things baked into our systems that we need to unpack? I think that stuff has to happen first, and then start hiring. Otherwise what happens is you hire people and it’s exhausting, they don’t want to stay. And then we just have this hampster wheel of people coming in and out and in and out, and leaders trying to understand – “well I don’t understand what the problem is, we just need to get more people in STEM, we need to get more people interested in energy.” We need to do that, but none of that is worth anything if you don’t take care of the other stuff first.

Part 3 Transcript

Catherine: You’ve also been quoted as saying, “we have to speak truth to power,” which I love. What are some examples of when you’ve spoken truth to power when it comes to energy and equality, and where DEI had success?

Paula: I hope I’m always speaking truth to power. I think, for me, what I share in terms of my thoughts and ideas are absolutely what I believe to be true. My biggest challenge is how do I frame things in such a way that people receive it A) in the way that I intend it, because it is never really intended to be pointing a finger at somebody or placing blame, I’m always really very mindful and thoughtful about how we can move forward, but I also think that it’s important to tell people what the truth is. So I’ll give you an example, several years ago I gave a speech and I talked about this dynamic of what happens when you are the ‘only’ and you walk into a room, so if you are the only woman and you walk into a room of all men, if you are a person of color and you walk into a room of people who are not of color, whatever the situation is, there’s this moment in time where you walk into those spaces, where at least one person, if not more, will look at you and you know they’re to figure out what validates your presence in that room. We’ve all experienced it. So I gave a speech in which I shared that that’s what happens, and it was a mixed group of people, mostly men, and my message was “if you were the person who gives that look and you don’t think we don’t know what that look is – we do know what that look is.” We are very aware, hyper aware, particularly when you’re the only person of all those unseen things and all the unsaid things that go on in these spaces. It was interesting because, some people might have been offended, I may offend you but I am going to say this anyway, because I think you need to know that we are fully aware that this dynamic exists, but that there were people who afterward who were like “wow, I never actually knew that people saw that.” 

Catherine: That’s incredible! This was recently? 

Paula: This was in the last year or two. So part of it is, when I say I’m speaking truth to power, understanding that for us the things that were really obvious, for some people, for whatever reason, are completely oblivious to it. I’m lucky that I get to do that all the time. And I get to walk away if people don’t like what I have to say. This is what I think and feel, and this is why I think and feel it, and I’m never really trying to be mean. But I am saying that if we are not able to be honest about what it is today, how exactly do we expect it to be different tomorrow? 

Catherine: You’ve spoken on the topic of energy inequality, many times. You’ve emphasized that one in three U.S. households have trouble paying energy bills. And one in five have to decide between medicine, food, rent or utilities. Noting that these challenges correlate to race not geography. Do you see any signs of positive change when it comes to this issue?

Paula: I do, in that I think people are really starting to think more about what the cost is to consumers. The overall cost as well as the benefit. So it can’t just be: this thing is better for you, say health-wise, but it’s really expensive, and my point is not to just say that one is necessarily better than the other but it is to not give people false choices. It is to say: let’s be realistic, right, we all want cleaner air. I think the country is absolutely moving to more renewable energy. We’ve got to address climate change, we’ve got to address it actually pretty quickly. This is not something that we should all be sitting around and waiting out, none of that is acceptable. But we also have to really be clear with people that there is an economic cost to some of this stuff and we need to just let people know what that is. We try to do the best that we can for everybody. A lot of times, when I cite that statistic, what I am trying to convey to folks is that: I think if you develop policy that benefits the least of us, and the least of us in this example are those people who are spending more, it is not ok for anybody to have to choose between buying medicine and eating, in what world is that ever ok? I want people to feel as passionately as I do, that it’s not ok. That it’s not ok that one-third of American families have to make that decision every single month. We should collectively be appalled by that number. Because that’s insane, because we need both of those things.

Catherine: You were going to say something that was very interesting. You were about to say, and correct me if I am wrong, that if we put policies in place that benefit low income people, that that will benefit all of us more, is that what you were saying?

Paula: Yeah, I do think that. I think that our policy should deal with the least of us. And not just energy, all of our policy, that’s my personal opinion. I think that if we’re going to talk about unemployment, we should be talking about why are there certain groups in this country who seem to be systemically unemployed all the time? They’re the first ones hit, that’s a problem. And I don’t know what the reasons are behind that problem, but I do that if you begin to solve that problem there are a lot of other things that go along with that that also start to fall back and disappear. And I think the same is for energy policy, that if we think about how do we make energy policy that is best for those communities the most, those people who are spending more than anybody else should be spending, those people who have the highest adverse health impacts than anybody else, the rest of us will be ok, but you’ve got to get it right for those who are suffering the most and then move in the opposite direction. As opposed to helping the people who are doing alright, and then saying what are we going to give to everybody else?

Part 4 Transcript

Catherine: Throughout your career you have been a champion of women, including being a strong supporter of the Florida’s Women in Energy leadership forum. Why do you believe associations with similar missions are important to ensuring women are empowered, to rise the ranks of leadership?

Paula: Not to sound too self-serving, because I think women are tremendous leaders. Not that men aren’t tremendous leaders, but I think we all bring different kinds of skills with us in the way that we lead. And that you need the contributions of women. And I mean need the contributions of women to really be successful. I think companies if you really want to be a profitable, socially responsible organization, you need the contribution of women. Maybe not only women, I think you also need the contributions of men, but the problem is that we have not had the level of women that we need, really contributing in the way that they can. We are moving in that direction but I don’t think that we are there yet. I think that there’s a lot more that needs to be done. I also think that if we’re not focused on that as well, it is totally contradictory to the things that we say are important. Even as a country, which is that all men have value, and everybody has something to contribute and all of these great ideas but when you see groups that are left out I think you have to question how serious we are about those kinds of values. If we are not doing the kind of work to make sure that everyone’s there. 

Catherine: We have to make sure, I think going back to your point earlier about being the ‘only,’ it’s not enough to have one woman in the boardroom. It doesn’t feel like they can speak up because they may be mansplained. There has to be at least two women in the boardroom, that feel like they have each other’s backs, to speak up. 

Paula: Absolutely! At least two, and quite frankly I want to see a world where half of the boardroom is female and half of the boardroom is male. I don’t think that that should be so aspirational. And if we look at the number of women who are leading fortune 500 companies, there’s more than black folks leading fortune 500 companies, but it’s still not half. So there’s just a lot more that we have to do. 

Catherine: I want to talk a little bit about mentorship. Have you had any key mentors over the years? If so, what are the most important things you have learned from them? 

Paula: Yeah, I’ve had a lot of really great mentors, I still have great mentors. What I always think about my mentors, and not all of them are super formal relationships that I asked will you please be my mentor, they’re just people that I’m really close to and I trust, they have always told me the truth, particularly when I did not want to hear it, those are always the people who may say, “girl, you’re a little bit to the left, no you’re totally wrong.” And I’ve had mentors who have said, “your reaction is completely out of order and you were wrong,” and I didn’t like it, and honestly when I got the feedback i was pretty aggravated by it and I was like what kind of friend are you to tell me that you’re supposed to have my side. But I certainly can look back and say, “wow, I’m so lucky that that person did tell me the truth.” I could have that moment to reflect back and see it from a different perspective. I have lots of mentors, but I don’t have a lot of mentors in the traditional sense of, “hey, I had this mentor relationship with the person that I asked to be my mentor.” They typically have been people who have been my friends or leaders who I’ve admired and have subtly attached myself to for advice, who have really given me tremendous amounts of guidance. Some of them have been friends and mentors, there’s one person who we have been friends for over 20 years, and I don’t know that I’ve helped him as much as he has helped me but he’s helped me just tremendously as I’ve tried to navigate my own career and my discussions. 

Catherine: You have an impressive background. With 25 years in the energy industry, including 15 years in both electric and natural gas distribution companies. Where you’ve worked in government affairs, regulatory affairs and economic development. Given your vast knowledge and experience in the sector, do you think the oil and gas industry is transitioning enough to address climate change?

Paula: I actually do think that it’s transitioning a lot, to address climate change. I think the oil and gas industry, they are. And I think the industry very broadly understands the direction that we’re going in and I actually think that they want the same things. And folks who work in this industry want the same things that the rest of us want, in terms of addressing climate change. I think where there’s probably a problem is narrative. Narrative building, there’s this quote my husband always uses that says, “Until the lion learns to read or speak, the hunter will always be the hero.” It’s this idea of who do you allow to tell your story? And then how do you allow them to tell it? I think, as an industry, not just oil and gas, we’re terrible at telling our own stories, we really are. We’ve allowed people to tell our story for us for so long, that by the time we got around to telling our own story it was too late. It’s already been built. My colleagues and the companies that support us and we work with in oil and gas are all really focused on climate change. They invest a lot in renewable energy. They invest a lot in understanding what new technologies might be out there and how do you make shifts. Some companies are doing more than others but I think the sector as a whole- people kind of get it. There’s a change happening. Is it going to happen tomorrow? It’s not, so if there is a desire for us that oil and gas companies just stop producing oil and gas tomorrow and then everything will be better; I would subscribe to that that is probably not the right approach either because we, particularly as Americans, have a quality of life that relies on those products. And I don’t know that we even fully recognize how much of those oil and gas products we rely on for everyday life. So until we figure all of that stuff out as well, we need oil and gas, but we need them to do it in an environmentally safe way. 

Catherine: I want to talk to you a bit about something. I am working with professionals at the moment, like incredible women from oil and gas that have been impacted by the job market. The oil and gas job market is not the greatest at the moment, even though some of these companies are investing more than others in renewable energy. They tend to want people from renewable energy to work on their sides of the business. I’m curious to know if you have worked with any people that have moved from oil and gas into solar or into wind and how have you seen them transition into that space?

Paula: I don’t know that I know anyone that’s made that transition the way you’ve described it. I know folks who work in oil and gas companies who are now doing more renewable energy work, within that company, not necessarily having transitioned into another company.

Catherine: Well, you’re going to know some because it’s my mission! 

Paula: That’s good. I actually think that’s fantastic! And I think it would help solar companies a great deal to have folks who have an oil and gas background. I found that the folks who work in oil and gas, and this is a very broad statement, they are so freaking knowledgeable about this business and the power business, and the renewables- like, they know a lot about every single sector. I think that a solar company or a renewable energy company could pick up someone who had an oil and gas background and they would do very well to have someone with that expertise. 

Catherine: Yeah, I feel very strongly about it. These women have extensive construction management experience. And you can see experience working on really complex projects across all different, you know natural gas, shale, you name it. So I would like to get them into the solar industry because that’s then getting women- netting the industry rather than just moving the pieces around, that are already there. 

Paula: If they don’t like solar tell them to think about energy efficiency because energy efficiency needs that same skill set. 

Catherine: Yeah, that’s great. Thanks so much for your time Paula, I really appreciate it.

Paula: Thanks for having me!