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Women in Renewables: Emily Driscoll

Emily is a founding member of Off-Grid Energy Australia. She is proof that you don’t have to have a technical background to forge a successful career in renewable energy.

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Tell us a bit about yourself personally and professionally?

I live in the Adelaide Hills (Peramangk Country) with my husband, our toddler, and a blue heeler. I love to create and grow things, I am fascinated by the natural world, and interested in all-things science, art and sustainability. I have a Diploma of Sustainability and an Advanced Diploma of Arts (Acting).

Where do you work and what do you do?

We founded Off-Grid Energy Australia in 2011 so we could continue our work in the niche area of remote area power systems (RAPS). My job has always changed according to what task needed doing, but I’m currently managing Off-Grid Energy’s business development and marketing.

How did you get into the renewable energy industry?

Completely by chance. I finished a performing arts degree at the end of 2007 and needed part-time work. A friend recommended me for a sales support role at a solar company.

What do you like most about working in the renewable energy industry?

I love the mix of technology, environmentalism, creativity, and community empowerment that renewable energy encompasses. I also met my husband in the industry so that’s a pretty big highlight as well.

Building and running our business is a fabulously difficult challenge and I consider myself extremely lucky to be working with such exceptional people – who are my friends as much as they are my colleagues.

What have been the biggest challenges for you as a woman working in a male-dominated industry?

The biggest challenge for me is seemingly small. Despite being in the industry for over 13 years, I’m still forced to validate my knowledge and experience to new acquaintances and justify why my input is as valid as that of my male colleagues.

I know that all the women in our office have their stories about 'that guy' who phoned our office and flat-out dismissed their expertise or advice, asking to speak to one of the 'technical guys' instead. I remember one particular guy who gave a tirade of abuse and then hung up on me because I told him (very politely and calmly) that we unfortunately couldn't help with the project he was working on, and no I wouldn't put his call through to a man in the technical department because they would just tell him the same thing. He was so angry about my refusal that he got onto our Google business listing and left a 1 star review (saying that it was MY attitude that was inappropriate).

It's not always so overt and it’s such an ingrained bias (especially common in male-dominated industries) that often people don’t know it’s happening, or that they might be contributing. Calling it out with patience and empathy is important – even if sometimes that’s not how you want to respond.

What do you think would encourage more women to enter the clean energy sector?

Women want secure employment, career progression, a sense of place and purpose, and the chance to make a difference – the same as men. To be honest we don’t really need encouragement; we just need a level playing field. We need our pathway into this industry to be as smooth and unquestioned as a mans would be.

If you make women visibly and audibly front-and-centre on every level of business, and more women will see this industry as the place to be for a meaningful career.

I also think having a space that women can comfortably own is so important. When I'm in a Women in Renewables event room I am totally comfortable asking a question or contributing to a discussion. I wouldn’t feel confident doing this in a general industry forum, for fear of asking a 'dumb question' or being judged for any gap in my knowledge. So, making industry events, forums, and other space for women to come together and support each other would be beneficial.

What advice do you have for women looking to enter the clean energy sector?

Do it! It’s such a positive sector. And the range of businesses and roles within them are vast and varied – there’s something for everyone. If you are worried about the lack of ladies – trust me, there are plenty of women already here who will most certainly have your back. We are an industry of the future, and there are real opportunities to make a big difference.

What do you wish you were told when you first started out in your career?

You may not have the technical knowledge of an engineer, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have an extremely valuable and valued place in this industry.