Interview with Doseke Akporiaye of WRISE

Interview with Doseke Akporiaye of WRISE

Heading to the WRISE Leadership Forum in D.C. this year? In this Green Light episode, Catherine spoke with Doseke Akporiaye, Executive Director of WRISE, about what will be new at the Forum, including their executive track, which will help empower senior women & non-binary leaders. Doseke & Catherine also discussed the impact that the WRISE Speakers Bureau & no manels pledge are having on women’s careers, including Anne Locke at E3 Consulting & Yejide Olutosin at the Business Climate Finance Initiative, whose career trajectories have been transformed after having been discovered through the Bureau. Doseke also shared about an initiative she is spearheading at WRISE to enable conferences like Solarplaza to publicly share data about representation on their panels. Shoutout to WRISE’s latest additions to its Board, including Constance Thompson at ACORE, Asha Gandhi at energyRe, & Lauren Haller at Pattern Energy Group. This episode was recorded at ACP’s Cleanpower conference in Minnesota.


Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have with me Doseke Akporiaye, who’s the executive director at WRISE. Thank you for joining me.

Doseke: Thank you, Catherine.

Catherine: This is the second time that I interviewed you. I feel like I just interviewed you just the other day, but it was like a year and a half ago, a lot changed. We are in Minneapolis today. We’re attending Clean Power, the American Clean Power Conference, and it’s been really, really great. So for those who may not know, introduce yourself, please.

Doseke: So my name is Doseke Akporiaye. I’m the executive director for WRISE, and for those that don’t know, WRISE, where it’s Women for Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energies, our goal remains, our focus remains, to increase the representation of all women, irrespective of their race, their gender, their affinity to just ensure that they have access they’re aware of the opportunities within the industry, can take advantage of those opportunities and to influence the environment in which they exist within corporate organizations, so that it can build the kind of environment for them to thrive. So that’s what we do at WRISE.

Catherine: And I was very excited to see the WRISE Leadership Forum is in Washington DC this year, it would be nice if it was in Northern Virginia. Reston would be great, next year. I’m very happy it’s in DC this year. Tell us why people should attend the Leadership Forum. What’s it all about?

Doseke: So the Leadership Forum is actually, really an amazing program. Last year was my first experience of the Leadership Forum, and I tried so hard to prepare myself for it, and I did all the research and everything, but the experience is just different. t can’t be captured. It can’t be replicated. And it’s important to be there because it’s unique, it’s thoughtful, it’s deliberate. We have things like nursing rooms for nursing mothers that want to attend. We have safe spaces for different affinity groups. So it’s just something that you come to and it’s just different from all the other conferences, yeah, as the chief host hostess for last year, and after three days, I wasn’t exhausted, I was energized, and a lot of people feel that way, because the focus is not on just professional development, it’s on personal development. So the things that they are concerned about, the issues, the challenges that they have that affect their ability to grow, not just professionally but personally, those are the things that we bring to a conference. It’s curated by the community members, and we just deliver it. So imagine going to a conference that you have designed the things that you want to see, you want to hear, the things that would be the tools and the frameworks that you need to go back to your organization and do work immediately, impact actionable steps. These are just things you don’t experience in most conferences. And I think that’s why it’s important for people to attend. And this year is going to be really amazing. 600 people last year. Yeah, we’re probably going to use like 700-800 this year.

Catherine: But you want to keep it also, we’ve talked about this, so you don’t want it to be kind of too big, because you want to keep that sort of intimacy around there.

Doseke: It’s very important. And I think that’s one other thing that differentiates is an intimate conference, you get the time to actually talk to people, to actually make connections and forge relationships. So we’re constantly looking at, how do we balance it so that we don’t lose that intimacy. But it is growing.

Catherine: Yeah, I just loved it last year. So last year, for those who don’t know Minneapolis, and I think what it is, is these women’s events where they’re so important at these conferences, they’re absolutely vital. I’m not criticizing at all that you do feel rushed. There’s a lot you want to catch up with, and like you’re trying to do it in that sort of period of time. I think what was so great about Leadership Forum is I just felt so much more relaxed, I had plenty of time to catch up with people and chat to people, and I just think it’s such an incredible event. I can’t say enough about it.

Doseke: It is and and I think what makes it really special is you do get the professional side you do. We have tracks on policy, on technology, emerging technologies, but you also have tracks on wellness. You also have tracks on other things that are of interest to you. It’s not about women. It’s not just about women just networking and getting together. It’s really about even some of the topics that you hear in other conferences, hearing it from women leaders it’s just a different perspective, and hearing them, hearing what they’re doing. For some of them, they don’t even get the opportunity to be on a stage, to share their experiences, so giving them that opportunity to be on a stage, to share and to hear exactly the same issues from the perspective of different women from different backgrounds. I think that’s what makes it really extra special. And October 9 to 11th this year, Washington, DC, Omni Shoreham Hotel, that’s the place to be.

Catherine: It’s so exciting. So in addition to supporting early career professionals already working in clean energy and those looking to transition into the industry, WRISE is also strongly focused on supporting senior women leaders in their clean energy careers. Can you talk more about the specific programs and benefits WRISE provides for women executives or those on the executive track in our industry?

Doseke: So that’s a great question. And I think from the inception of WRISE, we focused a lot more on early and mid career women. And that was needed, because at that time, this was a new industry, people needed to just even ask some dumb questions that didn’t make sense, right? Needed a safe space and what we’ve seen now is a lot of this will have grown into senior roles, and you have more executive women in the industry, and we haven’t created that safe space for them. And so what we’re working on now is to create a safe space for executive women and senior women, the issues and the challenges that they face are totally different from early and mid career. So one of the things that we’re doing this year, we’re going to include an executive track in the Leadership Forum, and that gives aspiring executives, emerging executives, to hear from other executives in terms of what it’s like to be an executive, some of the decisions they have to make, the challenges and the perspectives they look at organizations and the work that they do. The second thing we have is a leadership circle of senior women, where we’re building that programming to include speaking engagements for them when they join that membership group, but also we’ve talked about it giving them opportunities to have been on podcasts like yours and talk shows like yours again, to give them a platform and to be able to share their perspectives, their unique perspectives. So that’s the second thing that we’re doing, and there’s a pilot that we’re going to run at this year’s Leadership Forum for just a small group of executives, to test it out. And it’s, it’s driven by the give and get philosophy.
And what I mean by that is a lot of Executive Women are given all the time, speaking engagements, mentorship, people wanting to stand on their shoulders. And a lot of the time they don’t get they don’t get back. They don’t get back in terms of: how am I running my organization? how can I help you? What are my needs? These are some of my aspirational goals how do I achieve them? And just the same way we have mid career and early career they’re dealing with: How do I balance family and work? They have their own unique personal challenges, but there isn’t/ I haven’t seen a forum where they’re getting and so at this leadership forum, we want to pilot something where we get a small group of executive women, and the programming is just going to be about giving back to them.

Catherine: So interesting. So it never actually occurred me until you said it, but it must be such a good point. The more senior you get the more people ask of you.

Doseke: The lonelier it is, but everyone expects you to be able to give. Everybody expects to share your experience, and it’s joyful for most of them, but it just means that a lot of the time your your needs are not being met. You don’t have that safe space. You have to be strong all the time. You have to have all the answers. I was talking to someone yesterday, and they’re talking about getting onto a board. They just took on a role, about being a board chair, and one of their biggest challenges was, how can I be vulnerable that I don’t even I don’t fully comprehend what that role is, and I don’t have all the answers, but they have to be strong all the time. They have to be present and show the confidence that they’re there to lead. And so we want to pilot up this to see how we can create that safe space for C suite and board members.

Catherine: And I know some of the things that we’ve talked about before as well is boards, because this is something I get asked a lot about, that women at that level: what’s next? So I know you’re starting to look as well.

Doseke: Exactly, so that that particular pilot is also going to look at some board development, board development from the perspective of what it takes to be a board. What it takes to join a board where there are opportunities and we match some of those opportunities with people that are there. How do you manage your board? You’re at a C suite, you’re dealing with a board. You’ve just gotten investors into your organization. They’ve put someone there on the board, their focus, their priorities, are different from yours to some extent, how do you manage that? How do you deal with that? And for some women, this is their first foray that they don’t know how to deal with it. So we want to be able to also look at board management, managing your board, joining the board, and just being ready and knowing what those opportunities are.

Catherine: So for those who aren’t familiar with WRISE Speaker Bureau, can you share more about what it is and why WRISE decided to create it? Also, it’d be great if you could share more information about the #NoMoreManelsPledge and the campaign that WRISE has initiated and led. For some reason, that word makes me chuckle. Did Abby come up with that word?

Doseke: No, I think it already existed. But not just Abby, a lot of other industry women and leaders have always been concerned about it, and those people that don’t know Manel just means an all male panel. So I’ll start with that. What drove that, and it was driven by the speaker bureau. We have a speaker bureau. The Speaker Bureau is a publicly accessible database full of accomplished women that can speak on any topics that has to do in the clean energy space. And the reason we set it up was because we got a lot of feedback from people saying, well, we don’t know where to find women. We don’t believe that women can answer or do these kinds of things. So it was set up so that people would be able to access them. And so our role as WRISE is really to drive attention to it, for conference and event organizers to use it, but also for people to join as well, so that they can be approached or they can be used. And some testimony or testimonials from that is the Empower program we had yesterday, the keynote speaker Yejide from the speaker Bureau last year for ref Wall Street conference. We had about five or six women from our speaker Bureau database as well that spoke on panels there. And for one of the ladies she actually sent an email saying her entire career trajectory changed after that. She’s been speaking on panels for banks and different things. She actually sent a message. And I think her name is Locke, she allowed us to use her name. And she just said it’s really changed her trajectory, her career trajectory, after making that talk at the ref Wall Street.

Catherine: It’s interesting that you’ve mentioned that, because I sort of found the same thing. Like, once you do one speaker event, then you can start to have a track record, right? So then people are like: oh, you spoke at that event. Do you want to speak at this event? It’s like you’re bringing awareness to people that would never actually have access.

Doseke: Exactly. And I think you actually mentioned that Solar Plaza had approached you. So, I mean, these are just things that are the benefits of having that just so that people can get that first time opportunity. We actually have a committee of volunteers from the industry specifically for the Speaker Bureau Database. And they also offer training so that people are more comfortable. They’re not nervous. We offer them tips on how to be a good speaker. And just again, part of the campaign that we’re going to do, the #NoMoreManels campaign is essentially because we want to create opportunities for people to have diverse voices in every room, every conversation, to bring that into every perspective that we have. So that’s what we do.

Catherine: It just shows that it works.

Doseke: It works. It works. And I think on our part, what we hadn’t been doing in the past is actually driving attention to it. And so what we want to do now is drive more attention to it. And Solar Plaza we’re talking about, they’re going to run a campaign and to your next question, in terms of, what else are we doing? We want to build on this to now encourage conference organizers to share the diversity data for conferences in terms of panels and speakers. Now, this is data that they already have. We’re not asking them to create anything new, but just the same way you publicize your conferences and say this shows a percentage that this year, we were 40-50% diversity, and it just gives you a figure to work with. There isn’t a magic number, but what is important is that there’s a commitment to actually seek diverse voices and perspectives in all the conversations that we’re having within the industry. And so partnership to your question, strategic partnerships are critical for us going forward at WRISE. Partnering with as many of the conferences and then organizers to push the agenda of diversity and exploring, how can we measure these things? What kind of data do you already have that we can build on? And it may be unique to each organization, but trying to work with what already exists, what they have, because we’re trying to create something, it’s just going to take longer, and we get pushback.
The second thing we want to focus on is, how do we give people the framework and the tools to actually do some of these things within the organizations so they attend some of our functions? They’re excited, but didn’t know where to start. Again, another example of speaking with two founders, he and she and they both said I really came to this: I just don’t know where to start. I just don’t know what to do. And so what we want to do is partner with organizations that are developing frameworks on DEI within, how do corporates roll out their DEI framework? So what organization do we want to work with? Some more is Renewable Forward. We want to also look at what kind of policies are forward looking in terms of DEI and we want to work with people that would not only develop these policies, but ensure that C suites and boards understand the implication of it, because it does cost. Again, another conversation, someone pushing a DEI policy, the implication was that it was very expensive for the organization, because if you give people, for example, extended leave for certain issues, the organization still needs the right to pay you and then pay someone else. So just having those honest conversations of, what would it take to implement this? Because I think some of the time, people are just say Yes, let’s do this and don’t think and plan towards how we make it happen? How do we build that entire system that ensures that this idea, this mission that we have, is implemented and executed? So strategic partnerships. It’s something critical that we want to do as well in frameworks.

Catherine: It’s really interesting, because so much of it is the retention. Isn’t it? Like, even what you were saying about, like the Family Policy, like you made a point actually at empower her yesterday, about if you have a miscarriage and you want to take a few weeks to recover, like that’s not covered in your policy, but yes I can understand, to an extent, that it is an expensive thing to give someone some extra time off, but it’s also an expensive thing to hire.

Doseke: Of course!

Catherine: So you have to decide, do I want to spend my money on retaining my talent or continuing to hire my talent? And I can assure you, I think retention is more cost effective.

Doseke: It is. And you raise up a very, very important issue, which is, we’ve been so focused in the last X years, on where we are going to find the people to meet the demand right, of personnel, the industry. And so you have apprenticeship programs, you have workplace programs, you have one manner of programs of trying to get people into the industry and and we’re seeing some success, right? But we’re getting different types of people, veterans, Gen Z, Gen X, all kinds of people, and they’re coming into organizations and then how they need to be managed, how they perceive motivation and empowerment is totally different But we’re not adjusting the system policies right, and what it takes to retain them is a totally different issue, not yet focused on those and so again, working with partners to see what are those right policies, retention policies so that we can ensure that we’re seeing more women come into the industry. But they’re not staying. They’re not staying because the culture doesn’t suit them. They’re not staying because the performance management system is not aligned with what they’re doing. They’re not staying because when they don’t see enough C suite women and board women within the organization for them to aspire to. And again, I think it’s looking at it from a systemic perspective and saying how do we solve that problem? Because it is a systemic problem that requires systemic solution.

Catherine: So WRISE recently announced that Constance Thompson, one of my favorites, from ACORE, and Asha Gandhi from EnergyRe and Lauren Haller from Pattern, have joined your board of directors. Can you share more about these announcements and the value these ladies are going to bring?

Doseke: I’m so excited about all the board members that are joining them, each of them brings different energy and a different aspect into the organization. And I think it’s also a testament of WRISE growing. So we’re now having some board members that are terming out by virtue of our bylaws. So, but I think there are three things that I think they all bring in, one is that depth and that breadth of experience, from the industry. They know the industry from a policy perspective, from a finance perspective, from a legal perspective, they bring that experience. And what that does is they’re constantly looking at WRISE and say: the programs and the services that we offer, are they market aligned? Are they in line with the different demographics that we want to focus on as an organization? So that’s one big thing that you can’t pay for it, right? If you had to engage in consultants, it would just be tremendously expensive. The second thing that they bring on is just their ability to be ambassadors for us, to take our mission and to make sure that they’re pushing it within their networks, within their various respective roles, to further our goal as an organization. And I think the last thing is just to make sure that the problems that we’re solving are systemic and to make sure that we’re not narrowing our focus in terms of the problems that we’re trying to solve. But that is key into a larger problem that everyone within the industry. And I think, these new ones coming, we do have a new board member coming and I don’t want to mention it because we haven’t announced it. I’m really excited about that! But it’s really just making sure we get all of that within the organization. We keep on reaching out to the different sectors, the different segments, the emerging areas within the organization, within this industry, and have that representation on the board. So I’m very excited about it.

Catherine: It is so exciting. I love it. So switching topics a bit, I believe WRISE offers several different fellowship opportunities. So I’d love to hear about these and how we can spread the word.

Doseke: Yes, oh, that is, that is so great. So we do have two main fellowships that we’re on. One is the wind fellowship, and the other one is the solar fellowship, the wind fellowship, we normally and we normally partner with Clean Power for the wind fellowships, and we partner with RE+, with the solar fellows. So that’s the fellowship programs. And the wind fellowship program, we put it on pause this year because we wanted to enhance the programming a little bit. It culminates in taking eight fellows to the Clean Power conference. The partnership with Clean Power, they provide access to the conference for our fellows, and for this year, they’re very tied to 50% of the proceeds from the Empower program will go towards our fellows for next year, so that’s really good. But we want to build that program to get those and those fellows to begin to understand what it’s like to come into the workforce. We haven’t done that in the past, so job looking at some job shadowing, for example, some internships, short internships, looking at maybe giving them some kind of assignment, case studies, just experience what it’s like, because the school environment is totally different from the workforce. So we want to expand the program for all our fellowship programs, to just build a little bit more meat, a little bit more content into it. There’s some content that we will not do ourselves with partner with people that already have that content, but it’s just really to make sure that, if it’s a, technically a 12 month program, what can we do in 12 months to enrich the lives of those fellows? And we do need sponsorship for those. One other reason why we post this was because we needed funding for the fellowship program, and wanted to be able to get that. So it’s an amazing opportunity. The fellows are always amazing from diverse backgrounds. You know, people who ordinarily would not have the opportunity to attend Clean Power, they would not have the opportunity to attend RE+. For the RE+ fellowship, we do that in leadership and GRID Alternatives, and again, we give them exposure to employers during those conferences as well. So it’s really an amazing program and something that is dear to us, and we really want to build it out. And we invite people that want to see more diverse spaces in the industry to support that program and respond to that program.

Catherine: I’m so glad that you mentioned GRID Alternatives, because I came across them when I first moved back to the US and was learning about the industry here. And I think it’s such an incredible organization and they don’t get enough publicity.

Doseke: I know they’re really an incredible organization, and they’ve grown tremendously. Some amazing people have come out of there and gone into other organizations as well. But their model is just very unique. They go into communities, and they support those communities, sometimes, not just in terms of development and training, but also helping to deploy projects within those communities. It is an amazing organization. It’s always a joy to see an organization that is running without the founders being so intricately involved. And I think GRID Alternatives is a testament there’s no level of interaction of work that you want done, that the founders must be involved in, you actually deal with people that have mastery of their particular function and are able to execute it. It’s really good.

Catherine: Well, thank you so much for talking to me again today.

Doseke: I’ve really enjoyed myself.

Catherine: I appreciate all the work that you’re doing on behalf of us. It’s really much needed, and I just have so much respect for you. Thank you so much.

Doseke: Well, thank you, Katherine. I mean, I think you provide an important platform for women such as myself and other women, and I think it is important for us to continue to highlight and show that sometimes when you’re not seeing people just don’t know you exist. And I think this gives, gives other women. And I’m hoping we can continue to work on this, on our leadership circle to just make sure you showcase these women.