Interview with Eric Shangle, a Navy Veteran & Veterans Advanced Energy Project FellowInterview with

Interview with Eric Shangle, a Navy Veteran & Veterans Advanced Energy Project Fellow | How Pine Gate Grew its Team 3x While Ensuring Diversity, & Resources for LGBTQIA+ in Cleantech

How was Pine Gate Renewables able to grow its team by 3x during the pandemic while also ensuring nearly half of its team remained people who identify as women? In this Green Light episode, Catherine spoke with Eric Shangle, a Navy Veteran & Veterans Advanced Energy Project Fellow, about the company’s myriad successful people & culture programs, including its work toward greater pay transparency. Eric also spoke about the company’s PRIDE Resource Group, & clean energy career advice & resources for those who identify as LGBTQIA+. Eric shared about Pine Gate’s involvement with the Renewables Forward DEIJ initiative, as well as its support of the Arbor Foundation & GivePower, a non-profit focused on delivering clean energy & water within developing nations. 


Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have with me, Eric Shangle, Eric is the SVP of people and culture at Pine Gate Renewables down in North Carolina. Welcome, Eric.

Eric: How you doing? Good afternoon.

Catherine: Good afternoon. It’s a beautiful sunny day in Virginia. I see him in North Carolina because you’re right next door.

Eric: It is. Spring is finally starting to rear its head. So I’m happy about that.

Catherine: Yeah, exactly. Well, thank you for joining us. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself in your current role at Pine Gate?

Eric: Absolutely. So as you say, I’m a Senior Vice President of people and culture, which is a little bit more than just human resources. So we have the standard HR function within payroll, employee relations, benefits, etc, but also we have learning and development, talent acquisition, talent management, culture and impact, which is a lot of DEI focused work along with sponsorships of volunteerism and events. And then also we have a project management function also within our group that really tries to help move forward CSR and ESG sustainability work within the company and industry as well.

Catherine: Great. And that’s a graduating college with a degree in ocean engineering. you began your career as a naval officer. How did you eventually transition into human resources but specifically within clean energy?

Eric: That’s the million dollar question. There’s not a lot of people that have the background I have there are a few of us and it’s great connecting with them but specifically, what I realized in the military is that I was more passionate about the people leading leading troops and leading people and sailors but it was about the other work. And so that kind of directly into human resources where I got my first master’s degree in human relations. And it was the first time I’d studied anything that I really enjoyed. Just because you can do math and science doesn’t mean you have to do that in science. But it was great to finally be studying something that I enjoy, but translating now fast forward decades later, how did I get into clean energy?
I would say I’ve always had a true north. I wanted to work for a brand or product or company that I was passionate about. I find it to be really inauthentic for myself in my role to have to sell a company to prospective employees. When I’m not passionate about what we’re doing or the company itself, that lost that pixie dust, if you will, and other companies I realized it was time for me to move on. But coming to the clean, clean energy space it immediately filled two voids. I always wanted an industry that I’m passionate about and I believe in. I believe in energy transformation that we have going on and is needed right now. But also working from Pine Gate it’s just a great company with great leadership and great people. So it was two things I was very passionate about, not just the company but also the mission and the product that we’re putting out there. So it was a win-win and an easy transition for me to come into the industry.

Catherine: And speaking of your military background, congratulations on being selected as Veterans Advanced Energy Project Fellow. And then that’s how we wound up reconnecting which is great. Kevin had reconnected us. In what ways would you say your military experience prepares you to work in the energy industry?

Eric: And I think this is a larger topic also, again, how we first got connected and our second unit came to connect again. There’s so many amazing people out there that could add value to our industry, but there aren’t necessarily ways for them to enter into clean energy right now. And that’s something that you and I are both passionate about and talked about a lot. But I think specifically from my experience, what I recognize is that being a veteran, I’d say I’m not going to put a different rank level on this, but when you’re enlisted or an officer at some point, you’re going to be leading people.
And that experience is something that is so valuable in many industries, especially our industry that’s new and growing. I take us back to my time in Silicon Valley, where every startup is a new venture and people get promoted based on longevity or technical expertise. And a lot of times you have people that are promoted people management positions that don’t necessarily have the breath of experience as a people manager or never lead people afford how to inspire vision so that background in the military that I’m bringing to the table to be so important as a veteran because it’s just the leadership management piece is second nature to what I’ve done in the past. And when I find other veterans in any industry that specifically ours, you kind of have that report and understanding with them. So I would say that the biggest thing that being a veteran really has helped me out is just the idea of coming in and mission accomplished that can do spirit and the both the people leadership and management piece.

Catherine: Yeah, this is an apt transition to discuss Pine Gate Renewables’ ambitious vision to help lead the decarbonisation of the US electricity sector. Can you elaborate more on this vision and how HR solutions, more specifically DEI, play an integral role in this?

Eric: Yeah, absolutely. It’s interesting because when you think about most companies that are trying to make money or for profit companies, there is a widget or there’s something that they’re trying to build a better mousetrap, if you will. You think about this energy transition and the decarbonisation of the energy sector, the electricity sector, all the companies are doing the same thing. A green electron is a green electron. What the difference is, is that 1) how the company works and represents themselves and the people that comprise that company do other companies want to work with your company. So that’s one differentiator. The other one is that we have creative solutions to difficult problems. I promise I’m going to answer your question, but I could go on the block. The answer is that we work in an industry that is not just about hey, let’s put some wind turbines in the ground or some solar panels on the ground. It’s beyond that. It’s working through federal, state and local legislation, neighborhood politics, next door politics and some aspects. On top of that, we also have financial changes that come about through tax law, the IRA that transformed the industry, there’s a lot of change and a lot of things that had never been done before. So having people that really are 1) have the grit and the creative thinking to solve these difficult problems that have never been solved before is important. And I think we’ve all probably read the McKinsey study from 2020 referencing that the more diverse a company is or a team is and actually is better for the business. Now when I was in it when you have a diverse team, you don’t need that devil’s advocate. You don’t need a counterpoint at the table, because you already have a group of people that are bringing diverse thought to a problem. I think that’s something that we really value at Pine Gate is we want their first thought at the table because the problem they are trying to solve has never been solved before. And the more creative the better we can solve those problems is going to help us be better company and create more revenue for us which we can reinvest some people so that we really believe that it’s not just hey, we believe in DEI but we believe in the DEI is the foundation for better decision making and having a better team that companies want to work with that is the best core to who we are and that’s not something that is you can’t teach somebody that thought process and something that we believe in as a core value as a core practice who we are.

Catherine: Right after you joined Pine Gate we experienced the global pandemic. Since then, this is what I find really interesting, is you help the company navigate acquisitions and staffing subsidiary companies and have overseen three times growth in the Pine Gate Renewables team. So nearly half of Pine Gate’s team consists of people who identify as females. I find this very, very interesting. Can you share more about the statistics its lessons learned and how companies can rapidly grow while maintaining a strong focus on Diversity Equity Inclusion?

Eric: Yeah, I would say it’s pretty amazing and I can’t take credit for it. I think that the whole team has to take their credit for this. And it starts with being intentional. But I’m very proud to say these are the statistics as of today. And these are diversity metrics, any type of metrics in the space, it’s not a destination. It’s a journey. Right now 42% of our team identifies as female, which is a good stat and we can do better through. About but there is a 36% of our people on managers identify as female and 29% of our senior leadership identifies as female, and of that of our female senior leaders that age ranges from 30 to 60 plus at each demographic. To me, you put your money where your mouth is, and we’re really trying to show that we are trying to invest in diverse people and specifically women and trying to lift them up and make sure that are advancing in our company but also the industry.
But specifically, you talk about this 3x growth that we’ve had. We couldn’t not have done it if we weren’t intentional about trying to bring in different people at different levels from different backgrounds because there’s this war on labor, you’ve got there’s a shortage of labor out there. So creating unique ways to assess and bring on new talent has been a challenge for us. And so our Director of Recruitment or vice president of talent management are both female, both identified as female, but definitely agree with the statement, but creating programs that allow us to accelerate our growth in terms of bringing on new talent, also promoting people within a company. We don’t want to lose a lot of that talent base. But essentially what we’re doing it’s really easy to bring in a lot of people at a senior level at a journeyman level but that doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. So we’re looking at this as a long term problem to solve a trading infrastructure. And earlier in the career, I feel like how do we identify three majors to look for the right trade schools to look at other ways to bring in talent. But honestly, we had to do it in order to get the job done. We have to bring in the talent and I think it starts with having a great product, which is our people and and I think that was what was easiest to sell to our candidates is hey, come join a team where you’re valued. We’ve had a great leadership team that values you and that we want diverse voices at the table. And but we had to put our money where our mouth is. I think we are doing that. That was the secret sauce. It was just tha. It wasn’t that we were starting from a place of that culture, our place wanted to be better. We were starting from a place that we all believed in what we were doing. And we wanted more people that can believe that. We’re evangelists about it. We really, really want to have the best, the best people to share that vision.

Catherine: Going back to that 3x growth over a short period of time and industry outlier with respect to female representation at nearly all levels of the company. Surely there are some specific recruitment and workforce development strategies at play here. You’re a strong proponent of pay transparency. As am I. Can you share a bit more about why you think this is critical as well as the success pioneers had with patrons fancy pay equity and otherwise?

Eric: Absolutely. I don’t want to sit here and say, Oh, we have solved it. Things are great. Everything is lovely. We’re all singing Kumbaya. There’s always challenges out there but the more data and meaningful data you can provide to your employees, helps them 1) feel more confident in the company and have someone to do their job better. Now I’m not saying that tramp pay transparency means that we publish all of our compensation for everybody in the company. We don’t do that. That would be one way to solve a problem but sometimes pay transparency and full transparency can be counterproductive also, where if somebody is at the upper end of the spectrum or as an outlier, they could get a big target out of that or could feel embarrassed. So what we’ve tried to do is be transparent with the way that we are talking and thinking about compensation, but our compensation program so we don’t want a black box. We want to make sure that people understand how and when what we are doing to evaluate compensation data, whether that means for the type of roles that we’re looking at, where’s the data that we’re getting the data, where are we getting the data from, how we benchmarking the data, and how is that showing up, but from a compensation perspective. I would say that we still have a long way to go, as well as any company but this is a conversation that I really truly feel it’s a journey, not a destination. It’s that this is an ongoing conversation with our employees of creating compensation statements and listening to our employees are what’s important to that. And then trying to find a common ground with that a lot of what we do is listen, and we try to and again, we can’t make everybody happy all the time. But we really are trying to make incremental positive change in our employees’ lives every day. So I think to me, pay transparency is important, but it’s the quality of the communication, the access to data that is most important. Any employee that comes in and ask questions. We do try to answer their questions as soon as possible with the data as opposed to saying, hey, it is what it is. Nobody wants that.
They really want to at least know there’s a method to how we came up with the conversation we’re having.

Catherine: But I think what’s interesting about that approach is like you’re giving that sort of proactively because I think a lot of employees will go to the HR manager and say I want a pay increase. And that hiring manager or HR person will say what is your justification for that? And so then I get a call from someone saying, I need data to justify, you know what I’m asking for or they’ll show their manager. Look, this recruiter contacted me about the roll for x. And I don’t think that has really the healthiest way to go about it.

Eric: So one of the things that within that conversation is when somebody wants a promotion for example, we were big proponents of promotion should include a change in scope of a role. That promotion is not there to reward somebody for great work. That’s what’s in their base increase would be their spotlights is out other things that can be used for that perspective. But I think one thing that I’m trying to combat and you and I’ve talked about this at length also is we’re in a growth industry, and the roles are high demand and sometimes people will shop around offers we know that I’m in a current role I go get an offer from the company down the street for $10,000 more, they will automatically they feel that’s what that job is worth. And so part of the conversations we have is that, hey, it’s great. You have this offer, gee can you learn more from them about that other company? Where’s this in their pay scale? Is the highest end or is this at the low end? Unfortunately, that is beyond what our pay scale is but there may be other things making sure that we’re talking beyond just base compensation, but because our total compensation package education without that because they know it’s because we never know what’s important to that one employee. And so you ask. We have a pretty broad program, but one employee may be more curious about equity as opposed to variable compensation. Somebody else maybe only focused on what their take home is at the end of the day and their base pay. So you kind of have to ask the question. There’s not one program for everybody.

Catherine: So I was talking to this company, yesterday, and they were talking about just being set on this salary and I didn’t think this salary was necessarily high or low. It was fine. But they spent like 15 minutes going over with me their comp, their overall benefit comp package, and the lengths that they had gone to, there was like a wellness budget, cell phone reimbursement, but the most important thing, at least to me, that I found really interesting was health care. So my health care that morning I just found out my husband went up another 12%. So when they said that they provide health care to you and your family, I was like, Oh, well did your salaries are above market rate because it means that I’m spending $10,000 a year on that. And I’m probably getting like, okay, coverage like where you’re probably as a pool getting great. So I think that’s the first thing sometimes as a recruiter, like when you contact someone, they’re like, oh, what’s your comp? And you don’t even get an opportunity to be like, Oh, wait, they have a prominent budget.

Eric: I want people to choose to stand with Pine Gate for the right reasons, whatever that is for them. But it’s my job to have a broad spectrum of defensible employment. We’re talking about employee lifecycle, the employee experience, and we want our lifecycle to be meaningful in terms of that they’re going to be a tip, I’m gonna know what’s expected of them, that they’re gonna be developed for their current role and future role. They’re gonna be evaluated fairly compensated well, but then employee experience of the way that we do our work and our values based competency model that we hold ourselves accountable to. And that’s something that not every company believes in, that the way that you work is also important. And not saying that you should take a huge pay cut to come work for us but at the same time, there is value to working with people that you enjoy and I want our employees to enjoy working at Pine Gate. It’s hard work. We’re all gonna get stressed out at times, but you know we want to continuously be evaluating ourselves to make sure we’re providing that good employee experience for our employees. We want them to choose to work here, but you’re right you never know for you that in that conversation, and if it’s what’s most important for you, it may not be for someone else, but again, you have to be able to look at everything as it’s a system as a whole.

Catherine: Totally, totally. Yeah, it’s clear that you and your HR team are dialed since the pulse of time dates people, programs like the Pine Gate Academy in Empower aren’t just created out of thin air. It sounds like there is a lot of intentionality wrapped around these initiatives. How do you go about establishing these touchpoints and collecting the data on what your teams need?

Eric: Absolutely, I truly believe that you need to have data to back up on the hypotheses that you make. If I’m going to make the hypothesis that these benefits changes are going to add value to our employee experience. We need to have the data to back that up. So you mentioned our Empower Academy which is where we, twice a year, bring our entire company together to set vision to fruit that camaraderie also help develop our team. But the biggest thing is that we’re a hybrid workforce. So we believe that you need to have that rapport with people in order to work in a hybrid workforce. So twice a year we are trying to get the entire company together to get face time. And empower is one of our programs. It’s our national talking program that we have here. We really see that it’s a skill set of managing people that has been lost over time with a lot of corporate America. But the biggest piece that I really believe in our engagement surveys, a couple of great companies out there we use Culture Amp which is one of the better ones I believe, like really listening to your employees and having a trusted third party manage that survey for you is super important to get the pulse of what’s going on in the company. But taking a survey and saying here’s the results is not good enough. We have to have action plans in place on what we need to double down on what’s really working and what do we need to continue doing that says what are the areas of opportunity that we need to work on? Is it the average company level or is it at a division level, a team level etc. So we put a lot of effort into our engagement surveys. I think that over the past four years that we’ve been doing them, I believe we built a trust with our team that they are confidential. We can’t identify who’s saying what. But my belief is that our employees also trust that some level of responses that accompany the survey video and we have definitely use that to to actually make market change in our own infrastructure where we’ve seen that hey, we missed the boat. We did not realize this was as bad as it was. It’s also been validated Hey, this is actually working really well implemented program that is doing well. So to me it is the survey is the follow on meetings is the creating the safe space for employees. And what I said before and I will say it again it’s listening. Right now you have to listen. And the squeaky wheel shall always get the grease we need to listen at the aggregate and the disaggregated level and see if there’s trends out there.

Catherine: Yeah, let’s take a turn to Diversity Equity Inclusion. Implementing DEI strategies and programs may seem daunting for those getting started. Can you share some advice for companies that want to do more of this work?

Eric: So the question, you said can you share advice and what companies want to do to start this work? There’s a difference between a company wanting to do this and an individual or HR person or recruiter or something else? The reason is that I have regular meetings with a lot of HR executives, and it pains me when I hear an HR executive say how do I get my CEO to buy into the value of what we bring to the table? And my gut tells me you have the chance. If someone doesn’t see the value in DEI or doesn’t see the value in culture, or all they see is the value of the bottom line. It’s really hard to convince someone that ain’t having a good coffee culture, which he has a huge piece of that is worth investing in. So I don’t mean to call out there are some great companies out there that jump culture, right. That’s how a company I want to work at. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to choose the companies I’ve worked at. I will say at Pine Gate we have an amazing C suite leadership team. Our CEO Ben Kat is a staunch advocate of DEI and advancing voices that are not the majority within the company. And to me, that was part of the reason why I joined the company. When I sat around the initial table said hey, you know there’s a lot of white men here. I’m probably known as being LGBT, I’m probably the most diverse person here. What are your thoughts on diversity and the initial response was help us be better.
And to hear that not that hey, we want to do this, help us, we recognize this to me that that’s all that’s all you need to hear is that, hey, there’s an appetite there to be better. And so I’m really proud that one of our co-founders and our president is actually the executive sponsor of our women’s Impact network, which is our women’s ERG. Our CEO is the executive sponsor of our pride ERG. Our CFO is leaving a book club with the women’s impact network. So we literally,, you got to walk the walk, to talk to talk to our C suite is intimately involved in the DEI efforts and wants us to continue to improve.

Catherine: Yeah, that’s really great. I love that. You mentioned the pride resource group. Can you tell us a bit more about this group and share any advice you may have for those in the LGBTQ community who are looking to succeed in our industry as you have?

Eric: It’s a very interesting situation. I think that the energy industry as a whole and I’m not talking about renewable energy or clean energy, but the energy industry as a whole is an old guard industry. And I know from being in the military, that when you are actually trying to be somebody that you’re not, I served during don’t ask don’t tell, is very difficult and it takes energy away from who you are and being the best at what you’re doing in your job. So, I would say when somebody’s in the LGBT community, finding ways in your interview process to find out what the company believes it from that perspective is super important because you don’t want to hide who you are. You have every right to share and you know your family and be proud of who you are and what you bring to the table as any other employee. But it’s difficult. I understand that not everybody feels comfortable doing that. And so for me, there are some amazing resources out there like Renewables Forward as some other nonprofits that are doing great work to highlight diversity in the renewable energy clean energy space, but I would say specifically for us at Pine Gate we see our resource group, as an opportunity to not just be there for LGBT employees. But what we found is there’s a lot of parents of LGBT youth out there also. And this is something that, to my mind, is that one when I was younger, there was PFLAG. And other things for parents to support the LGBT community, but it wasn’t so much a more important perspective. And now to create a vehicle where we have parents and LGBT youth coming together and sharing stories in our ERG is amazing because it’s just a whole nother dimension we didn’t think about when we started that. It’s just something that it’s a sign of the times that we have that now I see the parents leveraging the stories of our actual LGBT employees and also leveraging learning from other parents as well. So it’s pretty cool. It completely caught me off guard, but it happened also.

Catherine: I love that Eric, this makes my day I would never have thought that in a million years. Like I think that’s so cool.

Eric: Well you think about it also, and this is not we’re we are the largest company out there. We’re not the smallest company either. Something else that has come out as a a lot of the Pride ERG’s and other companies as you start to have parents now where same sex couples have adopted, and they adopted children from other ethnicities and races, so having them participate in some of the other resource groups also is becoming more of a thing where caregiver caregivers can status parents cleaning up rental status. families are changing and evolve is for people to come together and learn from each other and strengthen that bond of camaraderie for our employees and to me like, the more we can do that creates it just because you want to have a good company, your company could also do good and I think that’s something we really think about on my team is we want to be a good company. But we also want to do that as a company. And those two don’t always mean the same thing. But how do you how you try to be both?

Catherine: This has made my day. Yeah, I just really love that and even like what you were saying about parents adopting you may be adopting different ethnicities or races. Wanting to learn more about that. I just love that. That’s just a wonderful time to be in it, you know?

Eric: And I don’t like the word HR per se. It’s I think it’s very, it’s a weighty word but to work with the people space. It’s a really interesting time now, because we as a society in the United States have come so far in the last 10 years. And let’s look in the next 10 years of what’s going to be different in that it’s an exciting, exciting time.

Catherine: It really is and I hope that we find people that can represent our diversity better.

Eric: We will, we will.

Catherine: You’re mentioned Renewables Forward is interesting in that it highlights how so many in our industry, regardless of competitor organizations, or corporate hierarchy are actually aligned and moving the energy transition forward. What other organizations is Pine Gate working with to accomplish more together?

Eric: So we saw on our sponsorships and partnerships, and donations and in our base of our corporate social responsibility piece, which is part of Pine Gate impact. We’ve really tried to think about what’s our place out there in the world now from a social perspective, and we’ve identified two national partnerships. One is Arbor Day Foundation which lets let’s face it, there’s a lot of deforestation that happens within the clean energy transformation. And user reports and he targeted with that. We found that Arbor Day Foundation has been outstanding and help us reforest in targeted areas that we may be deforesting and so instead of just planting a tree, or two trees for every tree that we cut down, we’re able to actually reforest in more meaningful areas where we actually are making an impact. So that’s been a great partnership that we’ve had that the other ones Give Power. Give Powers an amazing organization that their whole purpose is to go provide solar energy in underdeveloped parts of the world to come one give them power, but also clean water. So we know whether they were actually sending 10 of our employees to Columbia in June, Columbia the country, to help install solar in an underdeveloped town and help bring them power to help educate their youth whatever they need it for. It’s a really cool organization. We’ve been working with them for a couple years now. So really proud to have those partnerships.

Catherine: Thank you so much for talking to us today for everything that you’re doing for our industry.

Eric: Absolutely. It’s a pleasure. I thought we should talk for hours. More on all this too!