Both a board member here at the Clean Energy Council (CEC), and Infrastructure Development Manager at AusNet, Lillian Patterson is a true expert and leader in the clean energy sector. Here, Lillian tells us more about her journey, roles and experiences in the industry so far along with key advice and encouragement to help balance the gender gap.
Tell us a bit about yourself personally and professionally?
I have worked in the energy industry for most of my career after falling into it by chance a number of years ago. I have worked across different parts of the energy supply chain – generation/wholesale markets, networks and retail – as well as in government and industry. While I may have come into the industry by chance, I am a proud energy nerd and love working in the industry now.
Outside of work, most of my time is spent chasing/taxiing my 6-year old son around. We are a bilingual household and while my Italian is passable, my Italian cooking is better (my partner says my risotto and tiramisu are as good as back home in Italy). When I get time to myself, I like nothing more than a cup of tea and a good book. I always have a fiction book and non-fiction book on the go.
Where do you work and what do you do?
I work at AusNet, which owns and operates Victoria’s largest network of electricity and gas infrastructure. As Infrastructure Development Manager in AusNet’s commercial transmission business, I work to identify investment opportunities for renewable energy infrastructure that will underpin the rapid transition of Australia’s energy system. Enormous amounts of capital are being deployed to fund the greatest energy transition in a generation. Part of my job is to identify and work with companies directly involved in the development of new renewable energy and storage projects to see how AusNet can deploy our own capital in assisting them with grid connections, other large transmission projects such as renewable energy zones and our own large-scale batteries.
I am also a Clean Energy Council (CEC) board member. I was elected by CEC members as the first network representative to the board, which is recognition of the critical role that networks have in the continued roll out of renewable energy. I am also honoured to be the only person of colour currently on the CEC board. Alongside the 10 other fabulous board members, we are responsible for oversighting the CEC’s governance and strategy to ensure that the CEC is a strong and sustainable industry body.
How did you get into the renewable energy industry/what attracted you to the industry?
I spent a number of years working for a large vertically integrated energy business, primarily focused on gas market policy. While on maternity leave, I realised I wanted to move into renewable energy as it aligned more with my own values about protecting our planet from climate change. So I moved with my partner, 1-year old son and 2 cats to Milan where I did a Master of Green Management, Energy and Corporate Social Responsibility at Bocconi University (which is the top ranked sustainable development Masters program in the world and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the field). After studying and a few months at the International Energy Agency in Paris, we all moved back to Australia and I came across an ad for the Policy Director Energy Transformation role at the CEC. This was exactly what I was looking for – it allowed me to draw on my policy expertise and government and industry experiences and apply these to leading policy development and advocacy for the renewable industry. I worked at the CEC for 3 years before moving to my current role at AusNet.
What do you like most about your job/the renewable energy industry?
When I started in the energy sector and even when I moved to focus on renewable energy specifically, I could not have anticipated that I would end up at a transmission business but here I am now. We need more transmission if we want more renewable energy. I love being part of something that is key to the energy transition. I like that working in transmission allows me to work across a range of different renewable energy and storage projects. I spend my days engaging with different developers and different internal AusNet teams across commercial, engineering, project management, land/planning and stakeholder areas. I like that I bring all these different people together to develop solutions that meet a developer’s technical and commercial requirements and assist them to reach financial close on their project.
What have been the biggest challenges for you as a women working in a male dominated industry?
One of my biggest challenges has not being my authentic self. I have often been the only woman in the room, as well as the only person of colour and not so much recently, but previously one of the youngest. That has led to self-doubt and as a result, trying to blend in or make myself completely invisible. This isn’t fair to myself or those around me. I’ll admit that I’m still not great at it but I am making an effort to let my authentic self shine. Amongst other things, authenticity can lead to diversity of views and I don’t need to tell anyone reading this about the benefits of diversity.
Another of my challenges has been calling it out. Poor behaviour happens in our industry. Unfortunately, some of it is intentional but it can also be unintentional relating to social norms and unconscious bias. It’s not going to change unless people are made aware of it. Earlier in my career, I didn’t feel comfortable to call it out, which was compounded by the fact that I didn’t see male and female leaders do it either. We should all feel empowered to challenge and bring attention to poor behaviour irrespective of our seniority. Leaders should make an extra effort to lead by example. It can be as small as adding in “and ladies too” when someone refers to gents or lads in a meeting, but it brings attention to it and it make a difference to how you or another woman in the meeting might feel.
What do you think would encourage more women to enter the clean energy sector?
Women want to see what a job and career progression in the industry look like in the early years and further along as they gain experience, get promoted, move around, have children, pursue further study etc. They also want to know that they will be treated equitably, they will be safe and supported, and that their work will give them a sense of purpose and is valued.
I think it comes down to visibility. Women want to see women from all levels and from all parts of the industry so they can see what their future in the clean energy sector might be like. They want to see women that are thriving in the industry. The CEC’s Women in Renewables program is a great first step of showcasing women in the industry and encouraging gender diversity across the industry. But we can’t leave it solely to the industry body. Individual organisations need to take responsibility for this too.
The above is important not just to encourage more women to enter the sector but also to retain women in the sector. I hear too often about the poor experiences of women, especially those early in their career. We need to continue to support those new to the sector and ensure they continue to get the opportunity to see and connect with other women.
What advice do you have for women looking to enter the clean energy sector?
Do it! I am lucky to work in an industry that I am passionate about and alongside many others that share that passion. This industry is full of so many people who want to make a positive change, are constantly innovating and are willing to share their knowledge and experience. I am constantly learning and in awe of the many smart people that I work with.
Once you’re in the industry, build up your sisterhood. There will be days where you find yourself in a toilet cubicle crying (which may be related to being female in a male-dominated industry or a number of other reasons). I have several women I have met throughout my career that I can call at those times that I know will pick me up, give me a pep talk and make me feel like I can achieve anything.
Finally, reach out to other women for a chat about their experiences and journeys in the industry. It could be someone you already know or even someone you’ve never met in another part of the industry. Many women want to see greater diversity so are willing to share with and support other women. That’s an open invitation to reach out to me as well!
What do you wish you were told when you first started out in our career?
Be open to taking risks and doing something new when the opportunity arises. I was in a comfortable place when I uprooted my family and moved to the other side of the world but it was such an amazing experience from which I gained invaluable knowledge, developed a great network of international peers that share a passion for a sustainable future, and put me on the path to a career in the renewable energy sector. Likewise, I had worked in policy my entire career when I was approached to move into my current commercially focused role, but it’s been such a great change and I’m grateful to my team for their support and belief in me.