Thursday, 20 May 2010

Women & Careers In Cleantech (EcoConnect)

I had an inspiring evening at the inaugural Women In Cleantech (WIC) meeting held at Smith & Williams offices in London and brilliantly hosted by the folks at EcoConnect.

A select gathering of around 60 women (and 2 token male minders!) of immense talents sharing experiences, ambitions and aspirations around working in Cleantech. A real warmth of connections on the night, sense of togetherness and shared outlooks. I’m always really humbled at these events – I look at the learning curve and investment in EcoSearch and its nothing compared to the blood, sweat and tears investment I’ve seen these women invest in companies they will never get to own. But that’s the thing about working in this sector – once you are bitten going back to the corporate day job just feels completely pointless. Corporate disengagement is rife out there at the moment – and I’m often on my soapbox about those organisations who choose to ignore the sustainability agenda who will in the long term die out having suffered attrition and competitive advantage losses as a result.

But some interesting and amazing observations emerged ...
The absence of any real visible, recognisable and instantly recall-able women role models from the sector. Why? Is it too soon? Is the market still below radar with immature businesses that have yet to be scaled up and find fame? Do women not court and massage the limelight like the Richard Bransons of the world perhaps? Hopefully this will change in the future.
Science and Engineering – probably half the audience were Science or Engineer based women – doing amazing work – and at all levels! But getting women into science/engineering is difficult – mixed sex classes, misperceptions, confidence, fear of failure – all possible reasons as to why we see less and less females in science and engineering.
Female run VC backed businesses – a real minority – but statistically no different in risk or return fronts for investors – why are there not more?
Level Playing field – general acceptance that yes we do have a level playing field – acceptance that yes babies do pull us back down the salary levels – but actually we have to choose to play hard – and we fail to have the guts to play that hard sometime. But having lower salaries are a advantages for women in this space – men find it difficult to drop the shackles of the big paycheques. For women it’s less of a drop and we don’t always have “breadwinner” nooses to bear.
Corporate downshifters – there’s a real opportunity for emerging businesses to harness brilliantly experienced corporate downshifters at a price they can afford IF they can open their minds.

So many other thoughts to share - but for me the moment of the night was seeing my highly talented male VC colleague blush - I finally got to turn the tables on a VC chap – a priceless moment ladies – one I will savour and worth waiting 8 years for! His comment at the end of the night “I had no idea it was so complex for women!” I think he felt like Mel Gibson in the film What Women Want!

By Debby Lloyd
Managing Director, EcoSearch