Impacting Today and Tomorrow: Working in the Energy Field
by Barbara Kates-Garnick
There is no more satisfying career for a Fletcher graduate who wants to be at the nexus of energy and environment than to work in the energy field that encompasses both the public and private sectors. As with many Fletcher careers, the route can be circuitous but the opportunities are boundless. Who but a Fletcher graduate has analytical skills, problem solving capacities, writing ability, and the broad thinking necessary to approach complexities in a way that breaks down silos?
I began my career in the energy field between the OAPEC (Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) embargo and the Iranian crisis, when energy issues came to the fore of the United States consciousness. As a graduate student at Tufts’ Fletcher School, one of my fields of study had been energy and development, another energy economics, and third was comparative politics. With my Master of Law and Diplomacy (MALD) degree, my first job was in energy consulting with a firm created by Harvard Business School MBAs. I started out as a second class citizen with a MALD, a degree that was difficult to describe. But with hard work, I was put on great projects and my career took off. (At the time, I was also a young mother, one of only three mothers among the working professionals in the office).
As a woman, I decided that I needed the highest credential possible to be successful – so I went back to Fletcher for my Ph.D. During that period, I was a pre-doc at the Center for Science and International Affairs (CSIA) at the Kennedy School, where I made contacts that have lasted my professional life. (At that time I also had my second child and returned to work after only six weeks of unpaid maternity leave.)
If one looks at the arc of my professional career, one would call it “opportunistic,” alternating between the private and public sectors, and gaining professional titles and experiences as I went along. I have worked at two consulting firms, held three very high leadership positions in state government, and worked as a corporate officer at a utility, where I led corporate affairs in New England, communications, and community relations. In each job, I considered leadership, management, and decision-making as the key criteria to measure my job progress.
Critical to any job progression is developing strong skill sets and strong relationships. I gained a very important skill set for an energy professional – in depth knowledge of the electricity and gas industry in the US: how energy markets operate; how energy rates are set; and how stakeholders influence outcomes on very complex and often contentious issues. Since change is the hallmark of the energy industry, I made sure I was not “pigeon holed” into one perspective but rather broadened my knowledge base about renewable energy and climate change.
To be honest, the relationship side was more difficult. There were not many female role models in the energy industry, and it was clearly an “old white boys” club. I never truly had a mentor, and regularly received comments about my hair, my style in meetings, the tone of my voice, how I took direction, and how I responded to clearly sexist criticism. Often I didn’t realize that these critiques were sexist until after I had time to reflect. But I also paid attention to power relationships, worked with key people who had true knowledge of how things worked, and supported the people who worked for me. As I rose through the ranks, I made sure that I had diverse teams – “no male and pale” for me – and when in charge, and I established meeting times, I made sure they were not first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon – a consideration that was never shown to me.
But most important of all was the depth of my commitment to the energy field. When the lights are out, our world as we know it goes on hold—no lights, no computer systems, no way to pump gas or keep food cold. Decisions about power generation and resources will impact our future in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. While these are big problems, the solutions require in depth and detailed knowledge about how energy rates are set, how electricity is dispatched, how the grid works, what kind of energy infrastructure we need for today and tomorrow. Each time I look at energy problems and work toward energy and environmental solutions, my interest never falters and I embrace the challenge and controversy, even after 30 plus years.
We are on the cusp of an energy transition, the subject of the course I am currently teaching at Fletcher. The world will suffer greatly if we do not address climate change with specific measures and clear ways to impact outcomes. We are also in the midst of a societal change, where a diverse workforce is recognized as the best way to solve global problems. It is these problems that make the energy/environmental nexus a critical place for Fletcher students and those committed to innovative problem solving to be. I look forward to finding ways for this generation of Fletcher students to address these challenges.
About the Author
Barbara Kates-Garnick Ph.D. is a leader in the energy and environmental fields in a broad career that has spanned the private and public sectors. Currently Dr. Kates-Garnick is a professor of practice at the Fletcher School of Tufts University and senior research fellow at the school’s Center for International Environment and Resources Policy (CIERP). At Fletcher, Dr. Kates-Garnick teaches courses at on energy policy, energy finance and innovation.