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The "Fierce Urgency" to Increase Women's Leadership in ARPA-E -- Blame All Around

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Women control $12 trillion of the global economy and make about 80% of the purchasing decisions, according to the Boston Consulting Group (not exactly a feminist-leaning company).

The Washington Post says "Fixing the Economy: It's Women's Work" and that the "Fortune 500 firms with the best records of putting women at the top were 18 to 69 percent more profitable than the median companies in their industries."

Yet... If you used the ARPA-E 2012 Summit as a barometer of women's involvement in green business and energy innovation you'd think it was, well, dismal. Of the 105 presenters at the 2012 ARPA- E Summit, only 16 were women -- about 15%. And that includes the breakout sessions that drew only about 100-200 people each. In the main hall, which probably holds close to the whole 2400 people who registered (and was full for President Clinton's speech), only two women took the main stage each day of the three-day event, compared with nine men each day.

I applaud ARPA-E for landing Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox and Susan Hockfield, Ph.D., president of MIT. Bravo! But only 3 of the 23 members of the ARPA-E leadership team are women -- and none are program directors (one is an assistant director), none is on the commercialization side, and none is in budgeting.

Even the examples of the successful entrepreneurships that ARPA-E supports were overwhelming dominated by young males. ARPA-E is a government agency too, running on taxpayer dollars.

"We are living in challenging times, but are surrounded by opportunities... We as a nation need to change course with fierce urgency." These are the opening words in the ARPA-E Director Arun Majumdar's welcome letter in the Summit program and they apply equally for the cause of increasing the participation of women in the green economy.

I asked Dr. Majumdar how he chose which companies to highlight in his high-profile presentation, and he said "the ones that were competitive." They really couldn't find any companies in their portfolio with women in senior management that were "competitive"?

Maybe they should have spoken with clean energy commercialization expert Suzanne Roberts of Technology Ventures Corporation. TVC created over 13,500 jobs, helped found 117 new companies, and raised over $1.19 billion in investments, according to their website. Maybe they should have reached out to these folks, or the many other resources for women in cleantech:

• Society of Women Engineers
• National Center for Women & Information Technology.
• STEMconnector.org for hundreds of women's groups in science, technology, engineering
and mathematics
• Earth Day Network's Women and the Green Economy initiative
• Women's Network for a Sustainable Future
• Top Ten Women in Clean Tech, Forbes magazine, July 2011

But it's not all ARPA-E's fault. Why aren't women showing up for these events?

Of the 2400 registrants, according to ARPA-E, I'd be surprised if there were 20% women. I literally counted the women and asked about 6 people how many women they thought were there. I also asked the ARPA-E Summit folks who said, "clearly it's low," though they didn't splice the data that way.

The average estimate was about 20% women (some thought 10%). As Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network said in her recent op-ed, "We also have to fix how women as leaders of the green economy are perceived." We can't do that if women are absent.

This International Women's Day it's most appropriate to ask: Why were so few women at the ARPA-E Summit?

Why aren't women seizing the enormous opportunities in the green economy and at prestigious Summits such as ARPA-E's -- to network with potential clients, investors or grantors, collaborators and employers, and to learn about the latest technologies and opportunities?

In my experience, women get in their own way. Women think they aren't "ready"; men never think they aren't ready. Women leaders suggest someone else for it; men show up. Women let fear stop them; men don't.

What would have to happen for women to take their rightful place among male leaders at these high-profile events? Event planners need to push for close to an equal number of male and female presenters. Communications people need to make an extra effort to pitch women leaders as speakers. The women leaders need to push their teams to pitch them to industry and high-profile groups, and in the media. And, women need to show up. Women need to attend these conferences and show their talents and accomplishments.

We need everyone's talent and brainpower at the table. We need a diversity of experiences and perspectives in order to find solutions to our national and global energy challenges. We cannot afford to have half the population Missing in Action.

Kathleen Rogers added, "The facts are clear: Bringing women into the design and development of the green economy will result in a better, more sustainable, more just economy."

Ladies: You hold the economy in your hands. There's a "fierce urgency" to hear your voices.

Speak up.

Don't wait to be asked. Show up.