Interview with Bee Hui Yeh, Founder of The Power of We
Part 1 Transcript
Catherine: I’m Catherine McLean, founder and CEO of Dylan Green and today I have with me Bee Hui Yeh. She’s the founder of The Power of We, and she’s based in the Bay area. Thanks for joining me, Bee.
Bee: Thanks so much for having me, Catherine.
Catherine: So Bee, tell us a little bit about yourself and The Power of We.
Bee: Sure. So I’m a classic millennial in the sense that I left undergrad with this huge mission to make a positive impact on the world. And I saw energy as foundational to that mission because it’s such a platform that touches so many different social impact topics: right access to health care to education, helping with gender equity issues and, of course, with the big systemic climate crisis. So in a way it allowed me to sort of defer my decision of what I wanted to do with my life, and how I could make that a really meaningful career and journey. And what I realized is that I didn’t just want to start an energy career, I wanted to tackle the climate change crisis in some of the hardest places first because that felt like a way to create the most scalable and meaningful impact.
So that led me to a career in some big energy players like oil and gas, space, in energy service companies and sort of a really institutionalized model where I wanted to see how we could connect that back to social impact. And then most recently at ENGIE, which is a global utility and independent power producer, and figuring out how the centralized utility model could really enable a decarbonized transition to a more sustainable future. And so through all of that I took a step back and saw a huge gap in what the energy industry could and should do to help with not just climate change, but also climate justice and social justice. And that led to the creation of The Power of We, which is a social impact consultancy that brings an intersectional lens to these topics. Meaning how do we first eradicate apathy on these tough topics, but second really turn that care into action around issues that really center people and start to unpack the dimensions of our identities whether they’re marginalized or not. And how we can create social change that’s positive from a very intersectional way.
Catherine: Can you provide an example of an organization within the clean energy that you think truly embodies what you call the three? The triple bottom line. Can you tell us what the triple bottom line is?
Bee: Yeah, absolutely, so a lot of companies a lot of listeners are in the corporate world and we always talk about the bottom line which is shareholder value. Tell me how much money we’re making. What’s the profit? What’s the ROI on this?
That’s the language of business, and the triple bottom line is introducing other dimensions that we should be measuring, whether they’re negative externalities when we produce a product: What is the effect on the environment? Pollution? On the community? And so it boils down into what does this mean for people? What does this mean for the planet? And, of course, what does this mean for profit? And that’s the triple bottom line where you can really get a holistic sense of what is the impact of my company, my organization on these three dimensions rather than only prioritizing profit.
And recently, last year the business roundtable basically said they embraced this idea by shifting from it’s all about shareholder value to it’s all about stakeholder value. Meaning that you know the planet is a stakeholder. The clients that we serve, in the communities that we operate in, are stakeholders. Our suppliers in our supply chain and our partners and different organizations are stakeholders.
So it just becomes a lot more holistic when you’re talking about the triple bottom line. So examples of organizations that do this well and it’s important to really think about not just what companies are saying, right, that’s why greenwashing and rainbow washing with LGBT rights and that community. That’s happened because companies put up logos with the rainbow in the month of May and they post black squares and say, “Black Lives Matter”. But when you dig deeper and you think about what beyond your statement are you doing as a company to support these causes and the employees that care about these causes and that’s where it becomes really apparent: Is this authentic or not?
The way to figure out which companies are doing this well is to analyze their actions and the outcomes and the impact that they’re making around these different causes. So you know Patagonia, Unilever, a lot of these big enterprises in sort of the consumer business-to-consumer space, they’re kind of iconic examples where, for example, Patagonia has programs where you refurbish your work clothes. You can bring them back in, and they’ll pay you for them, or they’ll repair them and give them back to you, or donate them.
And on Black Friday which is a big push for consumerism, they famously donated a hundred percent of their proceeds back to causes around environmental sustainability and conservation. Because they’re recognizing that at the core of their business it goes against sustainability, because you’re buying and consuming more. And I think addressing that in a very real manner that the core business is actually not sustainable is tough to do, but it shows that it’s an authentic investment in the cause around sustainability.
So your original question of which clean energy company is doing this well, I really had to think about that and it sort of validated my viewpoint that our industry is way behind. And unfortunately, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we’re already doing “feel good” work. We’re very mission-oriented. We’re very mission-driven because we’re trying to save the planet. What happens is that, and this was a reflection for me personally in my career, is that you get so tied up in that cause that you forget about the other parts of that triple bottom line. People. Like you’re thinking about planet. You’re necessitated to think about profit, but then people.
Which people are we centering and solving for, and is it sort of this majority of white heteronormative able-bodied middle upper-class people that we create climate solutions for? Or is it black indigenous people of color, frontline communities that live that are dealing with coastal erosion that are dealing with huge climate change effects when they’re when they have the least to do with the reason we are in this place to begin with? So I think lots of clean energy companies get triple bottom line. I think that they are doing good work in terms of the environment. But a lot of them, most of them, are missing this intersectional part of racial and social justice. I think there’s a huge opportunity for people and companies in clean energy to take that cause up now.
Part 2 Transcript
Catherine: I want to talk a little bit about the work that you’ve done with intersectionality. So for every dollar paid to white Non-Hispanic men, Latinas are paid 54 cents, Native American women are paid 57 cents, Black Women 62 cents, white Non-Hispanic women 79 cents, Asian women 90 cents. Why do you think that this is? And how can organizations better account for intersectional such as this?
Bee: I think, to give a brief definition of intersectionality, it’s a framework for understanding how aspects of an individual’s social and political and other dimensions of their identity, race, class, sexuality, ability, physical appearance, they’re combining to create unique modes of discrimination and privilige. So being Asian, female, able-bodied, that is, there’s different parts of my identity that are marginalized and there’s different parts that give me privilege and everybody experiences that in a different way. In the social constructs that we live and move through. That, just to give a definition of it, I think the reason why it’s so important is because, when work isn’t intersectional, when we create climate solutions, for example, and we’re just thinking about one majority that’s where they fail because while the problem is global in nature and systemic everybody is not experiencing it in the same way. Just like not everybody is experiencing Covid in the same way. So the short answer to your question about the wage gap is because systemic sexism exists in our corporate world, and you layer on top of that systemic racism and then all these other marginalized identities of the workforce that people experience as they move through the corporate world, which is built by, and run by, a very entrenched white authority, male dominated landscape. And when you compound that over a career, so someone getting into a first job at a salary that is unconsciously or consciously created based on all of those marginalized identities and then every time that person tries to jump and renegotiate their salary: they’ve started at a different starting point, a lower starting point and every jump that they make they’re working through those lenses that people, you know unconscious bias that people, recruiters or HR department, and honestly it’s not down to individuals all the time, it’s systemic. There’s just so many forces that are feeding into why these wage gaps exist. So there’s lots of different factors as to why this happens, there’s a difference in industries that can break it down a bit, there’s a difference in industries or jobs worked between, let’s just take men and women, for example, when you think about the gender gap between STEM careers and how most Science Technology Engineering Math careers are male dominated, and trades like building and construction, which is also male dominated, versus some of the more traditional “female” dominated industries, like child care, there’s a big wage difference there already. So industry matters. Difference of years of experience: a lot of women are still leaving the workforce when they start a family. And that’s usually because heterosexual couples, where you’re thinking about who makes more and just the economics of it, and so women are disproportionately driven out of the workforce to accommodate caregiving. That has to do with how company’s maternity and paternity policies look like, and how to make that more equitable. There’s also a difference in hours worked as related to health care. And the, of course, the big topic of discrimination and how gener, even with gender-based paid discrimination being illegal, it’s still happens all the time because of unconscious biases, and the systemic nature of what we’re working in. So, what can we do about this? There’s a lot of work and consultants in the gender pay gap disparities space specifically, I think the general recommendation that I would have is: employers absolutely need to start working on this and thinking about it and not thinking that it’s someone else’s problem. Every company can and should be transparent about their own data, like the numbers and statistics that you shared, every company needs to do a deep audit in terms of where they stand against that data and set a benchmark that feels equitable and inclusive for them. And then not hide until they get to a better place, but share it and be transparent and stay accountable to their current workforce and future workforce, in terms of how they’re moving through closing the wage gap. So, if you can’t quantify the problem you can’t solve it. I see so many companies, in the clean energy space in particular, which I know the best, that aren’t even talking about it and don’t even know where they stand in the problem.
Catherine: Sticking on this topic of intersectionality, let’s see how it relates to BLM, the Black Lives Matter movement. So Kimberly Crenshaw, who’s the Executive Director of the African American Policy Forum, she developed the theory of intersectionality. As well as created the hashtag, say her name campaign, in light of the lesser-known African American female victims of police brutality. In fact, she gave a TED talk, in which the majority of the audience admitted knowing far more African American male victims as opposed to African American female victims. Why are police brutality victims that are African American men, much more known on average than African American female victims? And why is it important to recognize distinctions like this?
Bee: That’s a big heavy topic. Yeah, that even within this larger injustice around police brutality, and how the black community has had to work through all of this suppression over centuries in just the United States, it’s global but let’s just focus on the United States, how within that we forget and put more news time, put more effort and energy, and awareness building on African American men or black men versus black women. That’s why intersectionality is so important because all of these different dimensions of our identity are knitted together. And you can’t really peel it apart. I think what’s super important to peel out here is the concept of complicity. That, having some marginalized identities, doesn’t mean you’re absolved from doing any wrong. So as an Asian American immigrant female, I have a lot of anti-racist work I have to actively do, to be a true ally for my black and brown peers. And to really be an advocate for Black Lives Matter, for trans folk, we talked about that community, for the LGBT community, for these different marginalized communities that have been otherized, meaning they have not been put in the center of our conversation. They have not been invited in, they’re not listened to. I think, just in the dichotomy of male versus female, maybe being a black man you might think: there’s no way I could be racist or sexist. That’s absolutely not true, we all have work to do and that’s why I want to focus in on this concept of complicity. We need to look in the mirror and we need to each actively think about what we can do to be anti-racist. What are my privileges and where do I suffer from a lot of the systemic issues that we’ve talked about now? The worst thing that you can do, apart from thinking you have no work to do, is to compare. Like, who has it harder? Is it harder to be an Asian female or is it harder to be a Latino man? I think the point is you need to adopt a view that Diversity Equity and Inclusion is critical. And to understand where you can fall into the path towards achieving those things, in your workplace, in your friend group, in whatever communities that you’re active. So, I think, I want to really reiterate: we all have work to do and that work looks different for each of us but none of us are absolved from it, based on our marginalized identities and comparing really puts you in a place of a zero-sum game rather than thinking about not just widening the pie but reallocating resources and access to power and inclusion in a way that really achieves equity, rather than just saying if one person advances that means that I am falling behind.
Catherine: Yeah, it’s really interesting. It is a heavy topic but it’s a topic that I think we have to talk about.
Part 3 Transcript
Catherine: In a post-Covid19 society, there will inevitably be an urge to return to the status quo. The companies that “waste the crisis” by failing to innovate may fall behind their more creative counterparts in terms of the medium to long-term strategy. If we look at Germany, for example, we already see 60 powerful German business leaders, including Eon and Alliance, have proposed that any government bailouts are directly linked to climate action. Do you think that companies that are not innovating and honing in on the triple bottom line will be left behind?
Bee: Yeah, it’s interesting to see this global pandemic characterizes “the great pause,” I think that, in a lot of ways, we’ve seen what’s possible, to reduce harm, reduce pollution, we saw global carbon emissions fall by 17%, or to 2006 levels, during “the great pause,” because air travel was paused, because a lot of overall movement of people was diminished. But the drop was temporary and as we’ve started to open up and prioritize economic activity over public health concerns and safety, especially in America, I think it’s important to retain that question of: what’s necessary and sustainable and what do we hold on to from this great pause time to recover better and recover in a way that is cognizant of what we’re capable of doing, as a global society. I think, particularly in energy, we’re seeing this shift now, this pandemic has been a catalyst for a faster shift to renewables, away from coal. That’s based on price and total cost of investment, and also political will. It’s getting cheaper but people are demanding it more. I think something that’s really uncomfortable and tough for people to think about is how do we reject or adopt a degrowth mindset? How do we reject the capitalist principles that we are all deep in and think about where 3% GDP growth, consistently, is not something that we strive for, but we start to shift towards a circular economy or regenerative concepts where it is not always about produce more, consume more and then the effects of that which is waste more and pollute more. So, in short, I think that “the great pause” has given us a lot to reflect on, and we should also, in that reflection, consider how pausing is a privilege and that while for many of us, it’s allowed us to work from home, and think about how we maybe adjust our individual lifestyles, for many essential workers, both healthcare but also delivery personal and people bagging groceries, they’ve had to take on the brunt of risk because they have no other choice. I think it’s better to think about it almost as “the great awakener,” like with most crises, it really uncovers the inequities that have always been there. The racial and social inequities that have been there and why black, brown, indiginous communities, people of color are bearing the brunt of covid the most. We’ve seen that in the numbers and in the data of who’s being infected and which communities are carrying the majority of the effects of this so far. And so, I think that some companies are mobilizing to do that, and I think it takes a lot of uncomfortable reflection first, to think about how do you not prioritize capitalism, but thinking about circular economy and a de-growth mindset. And then, really importantly, how do you center these front-line communities in the work that your organization is doing, when you’re probably focused on segments of your customer base that are not reflective of the people who need your help the most.
Catherine: Right. How do we get people to care? How do we get people to join us in this fight?
Bee: Yeah! I’ll give a shout out to Women in Cleantech and Sustainability, it’s a wonderful organization where I talked about this, and I’ve spent a lot of time working with c-suite executives and public sector officials and decision-makers to get them to care. Whether that’s about the climate crisis or sustainability or how to engage their community. It may be surprising to the people in the industries that a lot of people don’t care about climate change. It’s super easy to de-prioritize, the time scales too long, it doesn’t affect me, and the problem is that we’re inundated with headlines, just thinking about 2020. Crazy wildfires in Australia, obviously the global pandemic, killer bees, lots of injustices happening, bubonic plague, repatriation of indiginous lands, police brutality, it’s too much, right? What happens is that it puts us in a cycle, wanting to care and then having to rely on defense mechanisms just to move through our day and those mechanisms often appear in the form of apathy, disconnecting, disillusionment, overwhelm, breaking down, checking out, there’s all these different ways that it manifests so that you can continue to function as a human being. And ultimately what it results in is that people don’t act, and they stop caring because it’s just too much. To boil it down, there’s a lot more that can be done around how to make people care but it’s really down to three steps. The first is that you have to catch people’s attention. There’s lots of different ways to do that but if you’re not hooking someone then you don’t have them. It’s hard to do that in the context that is 2020 but I think we’ve been given a unique opportunity, again as we talked about, to pause, to listen, and to reevaluate our priorities in terms of what we are going to work on, how we will build back better. The second step is to create an experience. That is way more powerful than giving someone a 100 page report, like the IPCC put out on why we need to keep global warming under 2 degrees and proving to people that climate change is real and what we are in store for which is not pretty. Creating an experience makes it personal, but also, because so many of these systemic problems and challenges feel invisible, systemic racism, systemic sexism, the climate crisis, how do you show someone that? If they have not gotten that lived experience themselves, if they haven’t experienced pollution in their own community, if they haven’t felt discriminated against in the workplace. You can talk about it all you want but until someone experiences it in a very tangible wayl, they’re not going to start caring. The third thing is, you have to facilitate a small action. I think why that’s so powerful is because there’s lots of research around behavior psychology and what makes people change, and there’s this concept of the attitude behavior gap, where people act in ways that don’t jive with how they think. We see this in how people vote, we see this in how people shop, we see this in how people treat others, there’s lots of attitude behavior gap examples of how we rationalize different things and we act differently than we think. And so the reason why taking a small action is so powerful is because it’s been proven that it’s more impactful for someone to act and then change their mind rather than changing their mind and then act. Whether it’s “I’m going to recycle this plastic bottle today, even though I don’t believe that recycling makes an impact on environmental conservation or sustainability or that it really has a significant difference,” the act of doing it is sort of a gateway into adopting other sustainable behaviors, on a pathway to having a sustainable lifestyle. Just like the example we talked about earlier, identifying the pronouns that you use at the start of a conversation, is a way to start to include the trans community and create a comfort level just through language. And that’s a step, that’s a small action, even if you might not believe in systemic discrimination or understand what the trans community has gone through, you’re on that path. So you catch people’s attention, you create an experience for them, and then you take that small action, and that’s basically the catalyst to how we can get people to care. I’m working with organizations and companies to get them to not only care but turn that care into really meaningful action.