Interview with Janani Ramkumar, VP of Operations at CS Energy
How can solar engineering, procurement & construction companies increase gender diversity & inclusiveness in a short amount of time? In this Green Light episode, Catherine spoke with Jan Ramkumar, Vice President of Operations at CS Energy, about how CS Energy was able to increase female employees by 70% & achieve 40% women in its C suite in about a year’s time. It all started when Jan, Dawn & Diana founded CS Energy Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE) during the pandemic. From providing mentorship to facilitating robust recruiting events & partnerships with organizations like WRISE & National Girls Collaborative Project, CS Energy WiRE has been able to create many more opportunities for women, both at CS Energy as well as within the broader clean energy industry.
Catherine also spoke with Jan about her upbringing in India, how she decided to work in a STEM field within clean energy, & her significant efforts to provide informal mentorship & coaching in order to give back. They also spoke about her recent promotion at CS Energy as well as her new leadership role with the WRISE New York Chapter.
Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have with me Jan Ramkumar. She’s joining us from New Jersey. Welcome, Jan.
Jan: Very nice to be here and thank you for having me.
Catherine: I’m very excited to have you come talk to us because I think there’s been a lot of people that I speak with who say you should talk to more engineers more like construction like women in construction. So I’m glad that you joined us. So thank you for that. I want to say congratulations on joining WRISE, New York. I know you’ve joined their leadership team recently, and you’ve also had a recent promotion. So for those of you so for those who don’t know, can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about your current role?
Jan: Sure. Thank you for that. It’s funny to say that because I did start my career in construction ago with CS Energy. After that, for those of you who don’t know CS Energy, we are a renewable energy company, based out of New Jersey. We redesign and build solar energy storage and emerging technology projects. So I started my career in the construction operations side of the business, moved on, rotated to the estimating team and started leading that team, took on the engineering team. In the last few years, I have been expanding the engineering and estimating capabilities for the company as we do pre construction. Currently, I’m actually transitioning back to the operation side of the business as VP of Operations needing one of our key regions. And regarding the WRISE,. I’m extremely honored to be part of the leadership team for the New York capital chapter leadership. I’ve been an admirer of WRISE’s work in education and professional development. In all these years, I’m hoping to contribute to their great work in the coming years.
Catherine: We just interviewed Doseke last week. She’s really great. I think she’s gonna make a huge impact on the organization. You have a background in Environmental Science and Environmental Engineering. Did you have any mentors that encouraged you to pursue a STEM career or did you always know that you wanted to work in STEM?
Jan: So I always knew I wanted to work in STEM. I actually grew up with a lot of STEM professionals around me when I was a child and a lot of my family, my grandparents, my parents and extended family have had science and engineering for years. So I grew up thinking that was normal and I got into it myself. But one thing that I was never sure of was which field of STEM do I want to pursue? I completed my high school education in India, before I moved to the United States. And at that time in the early 2000s, environmental activism was huge and India was gaining momentum. And when I eventually moved to the United States and went to college, I picked up environmental science and engineering as a result of that. I used to follow 350.org pretty religiously and also with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
Catherine: What advice do you have for other women looking to pursue a career in STEM clean energy specifically?
Jan: STEM has always been a field that is underrepresented by women and also the clean energy field. I think typically STEM fields do pay 30% more than other fields. And there’s a shortage of high skilled workers and women in the clean energy industry right now. And with more companies being focused on DEI, I think the opportunity has never been better for women. I would say for women who want to pursue a career in clean energy I would suggest becoming part of organizations like WRISE, where you can meet other women who can inspire and motivate you to join the industry and see what opportunities there are. And for girls that want to pursue an education in STEM. My suggestion would be to look into organizations like National Girls Collaborative Project, or other associations that are actively working on improving diversity in STEM fields. And having a mentor having mentors through these organizations not only helps with staying getting into the field, but also staying in the field.
Catherine: Yeah, exactly. Not just getting in but saying in. What are some of the projects that you’re most proud of having worked at CES energy?
Jan: So there are many, but I’d like to pick three that I want to talk about. So we recently won the Solar Vendor Magazine’s 2022 Project of the Year Award for our 15 megawatt solar project coupled with a 40 megawatt energy storage system in Cicero, New York that we built for Convergent Energy and Power. This is actually the third year in a row that we’re winning this award. One of the other projects that we’re extremely proud of was the agrotech community solar projects and we both in Maine. And it was actually built in an active blueberry farm, great opportunity for research and dual use systems, and this was the project rebuild for Navicen. And the last project I can mention is something we’ve partnered with CEP Renewables as our long term partner by constructing a lot, the largest solar online project in North America, here in Mount Olive, New Jersey. .
Catherine: Oh, great! I saw that you were one of the founders of CES Energy, Women In Renewable Energy. So WIRE. Can you talk about what motivated you to start this and like the impact that it’s had on CS Energy and externally?
Jan: Yeah, good question. So Don, who’s our Vice President of Human Resources, and Diana, who’s our CFO, and me were chatting one day, and this was late 2019. When we realized, how difficult, we were sharing experiences and we just realized how challenging it could be as a woman in a male dominated construction industry to move up the ranks in your career. Being that we were well mentored and supported in our careers to get to where we were and that we are now in the senior management team. We wanted to make sure we were extending the same support to the rest of the women in the company. So in the spring of 2020, despite the pandemic we established WIRE, which is the company’s first mentorship program with the sole focus to network mentor and support women personally and professionally within the company.
Catherine: That’s wonderful. What are you most looking forward to? What are you looking forward to working on and accomplishing through CS Energy and WIRE in the months and years to come?
Jan: So far, in the last couple of years, we’ve had multiple networking events, external speakers, a lot of mentorship opportunities. We also collaborated with the National Girls Collaborative Project in a town hall with the all women panel from CS Energy, where we answered questions for young girls with the intent to inspire them to get into a STEM field in clean energy. So we are looking forward to making sure we’re doing more of these external collaborations, expanding our mentorship program, and just increasing diversity within the company. Since the launch of WIRE we have increased our female employees by 70% and also reached 40% Women in the C suite.
Catherine: Wow, that’s amazing. Just shows you when you’re intentional about something how you can make a change. In addition to your work with CS Energy WIRE, I know that you’re also a big proponent of mentorship more broadly. Can you talk a bit about the type of mentorship you’ve done and why you believe it’s important?
Jan: So one of the things that has helped me in my career I took on your roles was that I had a group of mentors, professionally that I could always go to for advice. And I’ve never really shied away from reaching out for advice even after five years of experience, whether it’s my senior colleagues or junior. I’m a big believer in being forward. So personally, I have mentored more than 40 professionals in the company.
Jan: Who have also moved on to get more than 30 promotions collectively in the process. More than 20 of my mentees have also been selected for their companies third party leadership program to basically further their skills and excel in their careers. I think a prime example I can use is Tina, who’s our Director of Engineering, and she joined me a few years ago as a senior engineer. And all the years I’ve been working with her and us working together she’s now in a leadership role, leading the entire engineering department. And she also believes in the same level of mentorship and paying it forward and together we’re hoping to add a way for women, black, Indigenous, and People of color in clean energy.
Catherine: That’s great. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us and keep up all the great work that you’re doing.
Jan: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me. It was great.