Interview with Doseke Akporiaye, New Executive Director of WRISE
Why are only 1.6% of S&P 100 senior executives Latinas & how can this gap be overcome? In this Green Light episode, Catherine spoke with Marta Ronquillo Newhart, who has worked for companies like Westinghouse Electric Company, Boeing, Medtronic & Johnson Controls, about this as well as how the ‘chingonas’ & male mentors in her life helped propel her career. They also spoke about how Marta’s African American peers blazed trails in corporate settings for her to follow & why you sometimes need to ignore advice others have about what steps to take in your career. Marta is also heavily involved with Latino Corporate Directors Association (LCDA), which helps prepare Latinos for board readiness & she talks about the ways in which companies & individuals can get involved.
Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have with me, Doseke Akporiaye, joining us from Brooklyn, New York. My old stomping grounds. So welcome. Thanks for joining us.
Doseke: Oh, thank you Catherine for having me.
Catherine: Doseke has just joined a WRISE as the new Executive Director. So congratulations!
Doseke: Thank you very much. Thank you very much. So a bit about myself and WRISE. Women in Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energies. I joined as the Executive Director and I was just blown away by the organization, work that has been done by the team that has built it up to this stage. A goal of WRISE is really to increase the participation and representation of women, include agendas and communities within the renewable energy space or the sustainable energy space. And we try programs that support our stakeholders be them individuals or corporates to just ensure that they’re pushing the DEIJ agenda. And that you know, the growth and the opportunities within the space is being accessible by all people and they all benefited from it. And build it a more equitable, clean economy. So that’s WRISE.
Catherine: So what are some of the things that you’re going to be looking forward to over the next few years?
Doseke: That’s another great question. I guess the biggest thing for us is just the IRA and the opportunities that it brings. From what I’ve seen the industry has just expanded is continued to expand. And when we will look at when we first started and the profile of the companies that we interacted with and dealt with and tried to develop programs around that has changed. While the developers, EPCs are the technical aspects of the business, they are still critical. But we find a lot more companies that are coming in legal companies, finance companies, companies that are specialized and evil in niches within the space, and all of them have their different needs, DEIJ means different things to them. So I think our biggest excitement is being able to take a step back and say how can we also evolve and grow within the industry as ensure that the opportunities that the IRA provides is all our stakeholders can benefit, can access, are aware of it. maximize it. So for us in WRISE, one of the things that we want to look at is we’ve done a great job in supporting individuals at entry level and mid career level. These individuals have grown so imagine people that joined WRISE 5-10 years ago, I mean, we’re now senior people, some of the C suites covering multiple countries. So how to build programs that are supportive of these people and support them on their career path and growth within the industry. I think that is one area that we’re going to be looking at and it’s going to be interesting.
The other thing is for corporates that have come in we want to be able to develop SEC more sector specific programming for our state, our corporate stakeholders. So we have some programming that supports the technical side, but what about the other aspects of the other businesses that we’re seeing within the space? They all have DEIJ needs and want to be able to develop programming around it. Now the key thing is sustainability. We there’s so much activity going on in sustainability hydrogen with batteries with just so many different aspects coming up and looking at, at how do we get to net net zero and sustain it. So we want to be able to participate more than that and play a leadership role in that aspect. Also critical is people will say we believe we can get to DEIJ, we just don’t know how to go about it within our organizations. Do you have best practice, how can you support us? So we want to be able to take all the different experiences we’ve had in dealing with these organizations and be able to start looking at best practices, white papers, to support our community so that they can develop more inclusive policies and practices within their respective companies. So those are the things that we’re looking at right now. And we’re excited about that at WRISE.
Catherine: What do you think are some of the greatest benefits that WRISE provides so both for those looking to transition into clean energy and those who are already in clean energy?
Doseke: Well, again, I’ll use myself as an example, even though I was in renewable energy. I was working with a social enterprise that looked at residential solar for low income and middle income households deploying those solar solutions. I transitioned into a nonprofit role from a for profit role. And if my experience within the communities has anything to go by, then this is something that other people can leverage on. What I’ve experienced within the community is a lot of genuine support. A lot of people that are truly interested in your success. They are setting your success they make the time to ensure that you know you get all the support that you need. They open up their network to connect you to people that they don’t judge you when you’re learning. They understand that you need to learn, they’re patient with you as you learn, and they help you, they provide the resources for you to be able to learn and I think this is just from my own perspective, is a reflection of what WRISE does.
So one thing we do is our job boards, our job boards you know, as a corporate, you have the opportunity to post multiple job openings. So for people who are transitioning into the industry, they have access to those job boards. We do virtual career fairs and in person career fairs at the majority of the trade association events each year. In fact we have a Veterinary Health Center next week on the 23rd we have over 400 job seekers already signed up for it. So for people who are looking to transition this provides an opportunity for them to meet potential employers. So having access, knowledge and access, to where the opportunities are is critical. And WRISE provides that platform for that.
The second thing is when you know that these are the opportunities, sometimes you feel you don’t have the skills, sometimes you actually don’t have the skills. So how do you know skill-up to be able to take advantage of it? So our webinars offer that opportunity for you to be able to learn to get skills to be able to develop yourself in whatever area that you’re interested in. And the way we run it also, if we are interested in specific areas that people want to learn, we would organize a webinar around it so that people can learn. But more importantly we have pair and one-on-one mentoring that we offer our members so that you can actually talk to someone with a similar background, a similar journey, a similar experience. Learn about what their journey has been, the challenges, the struggles, the successes in a very non judgmental way and I think that is something critical that WRISE does in terms of transitioning.
One other thing we do is our fellowship program. So our fellowship program such as the wind at our back scholarships, specifically for people who are pursuing wind technician certification. We normally have people that want to pivot from their existing careers into the renewable energy space. So this is an opportunity for them to get a scholarship from WRISE. And when they get that scholarship, there’s a bit of programming that we do, what we now take them to the trade events, the ACP event, the RE Plus events, so that they can actually meet people within this space and be able to learn from those events, see the opportunities and match with people. In fact, we’ve had several success stories of companies that have come up to us to say, Oh, we hired two of your fellows, three of your fellows. So the ownership program is something that is great for transitioning. Like I said, the community in general is authentic, and they’re generally interested in your success.
Catherine: One of the things I like most about WRISE is the locality of it. So I love that there’s like a DMV Mid Atlantic sort of WRISE meetup and I love that there’s a New York one and there’s like Austin one and a Boston one and, and some of them are more active than others, but I just there’s nothing that like, I just feel so good when I talk to a candidate and they’re like, What do I do? Who do I talk to? You’re in Austin. You’re in one of the best WRISE places you’re Becky Delfin in Austin. Call Becky and get involved in WRISE. I think we can encourage other cities and municipalities to really embrace the local piece of it, you know?
Doseke: A great point. You know, WRISE has chapters across the US. We have over 40 plus chapters across the US more active than others but allows you to connect at a local level. It allows you to organize yourself at the local level, it allows you to do programming at a local level that is important to you. And I have to give a shout out to those great chapters that are doing such an awesome job Chicago chapter, Seattle chapter, Colorado chapters and Diego chapter as so many, there’s so many of those chapters that are just doing a great job and I want to thank all our volunteers because without them would not be able to to make this happen at the local chapter level. So yeah, that is another way that you can actually connect.
Catherine: I wonder about your transition into clean energy. You previously worked in areas like computer programming, HR, management consultancy, tell me how you wound up getting into clean energy.
Doseke: Okay, so I think like donkey years ago I was a computer programmer. At that time I didn’t want to be a techie. Maybe now it’ll be different. I kind of like the human interaction. That whole process of listening to people, understanding their pain points, their needs. And then try to meet those needs. So I quickly transitioned into strategy consulting, because that allowed me to do that. Plus with consulting you travel a lot and I like doing traveling. And so I did that for a couple of years. I started my own consulting firm, an entrepreneur consulting firm. I supported startups, C suite founders boards, to essentially either set up their business from ideation to scale up where they were capital could be deployed into the organizations. And that was great. But I got to a stage where I started asking myself that surely why, like there’s more to life than just doing a job and earning an income. I really believed that you could use business as a force of good you could use business to solve some challenges. And I was traveling a lot in West Africa. And when I looked at the major challenge around me at that time, energy access to electricity was a major problem. And so I wanted to be able to work in that space, I wanted to be able to, to just do something that would be impactful that will make me feel I was doing so help. And I was fortunate to come across the founders of Oolu. Who set up in several West African countries, but wanted to come to Nigeria, which is now their biggest market, and they didn’t know how to so I joined them to help I set up the business to scale the business to come over 60% of the country. And that’s how I got into the renewable energy space. You know, it was again, just time and chance, but it was a case of just talking to people and letting them know, I am interested in the social impact. And I remember people would ask me so so what aspect, do you want to go to finance? Do you want to go to manage a portfolio company? And I really didn’t understand the space enough. I just wanted an opportunity in talking to people I got to know about this opportunity and decided to take advantage of it. And from there, WRISE found me.
Catherine: Do you have any advice for women looking to transition into clean energy?
Doseke: Join WRISE.
Catherine: How did WRISE find you? Were they working with a recruitment agency or.
Doseke: They were working with a headhunter. So the headhunter found me. Yes, so my advice is join WRISE. Talk to people in the same space, or with similar career paths, with interests that you have. And you can do that at WRISE. To understand the opportunities, so if you want to transition into clean energy, you need to understand the opportunities within the space. And those opportunities are huge. And I think a lot of the time sometimes people focus only on the opportunity as an employee, but there’s just tremendous opportunity as a founder as well, a woman perspective and an excluded gender community perspective that is significant. We really would like to see a lot more women and explore their gender representation as founders within the renewable energy space. And the only way they’re going to know about it is by finding out what those opportunities are. Those opportunities go beyond technical. Well being a legal person or being a finance person, the opportunities in terms of business operation, the opportunity in terms of facility management, supply chain, insurance, land acquisition, the industry is maturing, and when an industry begins to mature you have specialization of niche markets, so that in itself an opportunity.
And what I would like to say is the IRA gives us a 10 year runway. Anybody I’ve spoken to has probably heard my pitch, right? It gives us a 10 year runway. Now what that means is if I’m in an excluded genders and communities are not keyed into this opportunity now 10 years the gap is gonna be so wide, right? Harder to patch up. So I think for me, it’s important to understand the opportunities not just from an employee perspective, but from a founder perspective. What can you do to set up your own business and take advantage?
Catherine: I love that so much for obvious reasons. Because I’m the founder of two businesses. I guess if you count the babysitting dog walking companies I had as a child then its four businesses. I just love that you’re the first person to actually say that and for some reason it never occurred to me before. You’re totally right! If you’re struggling and maybe not even struggling but if you want to get into the space, build a company and start a company. Why not? Why do you look at it just as an employee, you know?
Doseke: So, I mean, that is something that I think obviously I’m biased because I come from for profit, and I’ve set up my own business. The opportunities are there, so why not take advantage of it and just pick, pick a spot, test an idea so it’s the logical conclusion. If it fails, learn from it and move on. I attended INFOPASS. And the person was saying she had started a business before the IRA, and it failed. But now with the IRA a lot of those ideas that that business idea, people are persuaded now. And she’s learned a lot. So if she decided to go back and be at such an advantage right now, taking advantage of the IRA and the opportunities there. So you know, just test your idea. If you’re gonna fail, fail quickly, everybody fails, learn from it, and just move on. And then connect to different places that can have placement forms that can promote diversity and inclusion, such as WRISE if you want to get into the space, you need to be plugged into platforms and forums that ensure there’s diversity. Get a mentor or coach. I think one thing I also want to add is get a strong support network. You know, on certain tough days you need it.
Catherine: It’s interesting. I was speaking to one of the candidates I placed last year with this lady and she was talking about how he was new to the industry. And she was talking about how she’s really created like this amazing network of women, that she goes to a lot of conferences, so she’s like an origination. So she gets a lot of conferences, and she could have sort of created this network of travel buddies from other women and other companies and stuff so that they feel they have some camaraderie when they go to these conferences together. And I just thought that was such a touching story because it’s just so nice to be able to walk into a room and if you do see all a bunch of blue suits, you have some friends there that you’ve like made over the course of the months at the different on the conference circuit.
Doseke: So, yes, it’s really good and I’m going to refer to it because WRISE right at DNV, EDP Elena Overy hosted a women’s executive women’s session at forecast. It was just the feedback from females that attended. First of all, it was amazing to just see a room full of just women. But it was just a breath of fresh air all of them so I didn’t even realize they were these many women and women at Infocast, and it was just good to connect and just talk to people so you’re right. You build those relationships, you build those connectors, and you know, you stay in touch.
Catherine: Just circling back to your time in Nigeria. Can you tell us a little bit more about your prior work, Oolu, solar and what it was like to launch your solar business in Nigeria.
Doseke: Well, it was back breaking, it was very tough but it was exciting, I think my personality is one that likes a good challenge. I think on tough days when you focus on the impact that you’re making the fact that with the products that you’re putting in households, someone in a low income household would be able to have just electricity for their child to read a book. Yeah, it makes it worth it. Or the fact that you’re employing people within the community to be in a sales agents or as a sales agents, that it means that you’re providing employment there’s some statistic that shows one salary feeds up to 25 people or it’s you know, that it’s impacted by 20. You have people that are impacted by it because you have a friend, you have a relative, you have someone that’s next to you. So just even knowing that it makes it worth it, but the challenges are the same. The challenges of setting up a business, finding talent, dealing with regulation, and showing that DEIJ is enforcement in those organizations, those changes are real and they’re caught across all countries. They manifest in different ways. So, for me, for example I would go to some meetings and someone will say okay, so when is your boss coming even though I was the boss. When is your boss coming? So maybe where the guys come from HQ? So it manifests in different ways. But you just focus on why you’re doing it and just learning from from each of those experiences and focusing on the goal. But it was tough, it was challenging. We had a good team, we had a good crop of people that were passionate about the mission and they really helped build that organization.
Catherine: We talked a little bit about mentorship already. Do you have any mentors or sort of champions that helped you accelerate your career?
Doseke: Yes, I did. I have to say I had a combination of female and male mentors, not just female mentors, so it’s important to have both. In my time, I don’t think it was as structured, which is why what WRISE does is so exciting to be. Because in my time I made the effort to go tell someone I want you to be my mentor. I want to meet you on a monthly or quarterly basis just to bounce ideas off you, you know, talk about strategic issues, talk about some of the decisions that I want to make, talk about some of the challenges and the struggles that I had. So that was really helpful females, mentors, they understood some of the personal challenges that I was having, and it was just to talk to someone that just sort of recognize what you said. But I think working within an organization, or even outside, it’s good to also have a male, a male mentor or sponsor. One you need to educate them about the realities of the DEIJ so that they can also be ambassadors within their own organization or their network or their affairs so that they can understand it as well. And they can also just defend you if you’re working within an organization. And I think one thing that some of us women don’t do very well, sometimes it’s recognizing that and knowing that it’s important to have women mentors, but it’s also important to have male mentors to use that even as a way to educate them of some of the realities and some of the challenges that we have. And some of the goals of DEIJ.
Catherine: I just really feel so strongly about this male mentorship piece because especially working in industries that are male dominated like recruitment or clean energy. I’ve had such incredible male like advocates just like you said, that have defended me like in the boardroom. I say something Oh, there Catherine goes complaining, a gentleman says something, the idea and then one of the other gentlemen in the room will be like Catherine just said that. And I’m like thank you!
Doseke: And I think again, tied to mentorship when, while I was one of my mentors I was talking to her and I was just telling her that I knew the organization she was working with, I knew that her boss supervisor was engaged. And so I was just asking her to say I don’t think of you as engaged, I don’t have anything to say if he asked the question, then if somebody else has answered it, and I’m like, You need to understand how each organization works. You need to understand that you need some advocate within that organization, and be able to function within that organization. Except when you are going to set up your own company and then you can create the kind of environment you want, which I push founders. I think with women founders, a women led organization, the whole issue of DEIJ is not as much of a thing. I think you find better implementation of policies, and stuff like that.
Catherine: So yeah, it just naturally occurs DEIJ. When you’re a woman founder, I mean, I’m generalizing. Sure there’s an exception, but it’s what I’ve noticed working with female founders, is they just naturally wind up being more diverse organizations. The last question I have for you is just circling back to WRISE, tell us how people can get involved.
Doseke: Just show up on any of our events, go to our websites, we have a calendar of events just show up, at the chapter level, we have over 40 something chapters across the country. You know show up at any of the events and reach out to us, we can tell you if there’s a chapter closest to you. And I think once you attend an event, you engage with the people. You will just be amazed you’ll be blown away and you will want to participate and do more. Also having some key events coming up. We have a career fair next week on the 23rd virtual career fair. We’re going to partner with RE Plus on ACP and be at those events in May and I think it’s September. So those are some of the things that we’re working on. And the reality is once you just get involved with WRISE at some level, you will just want more.
Catherine: And in person to the Leadership Forum and October. Which will be the 1st in person one, in like three years, right?
Doseke: Yes. We’re looking forward to that. We have an in person Leadership Forum coming up in October in Minneapolis. And it’s going to be really fun. It’s going to be great. Last time we had it I think we we’re expecting close to 500 people. So that will be great encouragement of wanting to try and join.
Catherine: Thank you so much, and I wish you all the best in your new position. Go get him.
Doseke: Thank you for having me.