The Common Sense Colloquy: Q&A with Paula Glover of American Association of Blacks in Energy
We have arrived at an unusual and unexpected place in our nation’s history: the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and structural racism have upended society, government and business. As a nation, we are finally starting to have conversations about topics that should have been addressed years and years ago. And as communicators, we’re struggling to understand how best to engage in a world that has changed dramatically in a short time.
When you’re facing new and challenging circumstances, it can be helpful to seek advice and perspective from new sources. That’s what we’re doing this month with this Q&A with Paula Glover, the President and CEO of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE). The AABE is a 2,000-member organization with 40 chapters across the United States. Its focus is to “represent the voice for African Americans and other minorities on energy policy, regulations, and environmental issues.”
Paula has led AABE since 2013. In this role, she represents the organization before energy industry executives and political leaders. She has testified before Congress about the impact of energy policies on underserved communities and developed partnerships with the U.S. Department of Energy and others to boost diversity and inclusion in the industry. She is a leader on diversity and inclusion in the industry and has addressed energy conferences and spoken out in the media on the importance of engaging more people of color in more aspects of the energy business at every level.
Paula is a member of the Board of Directors of the Alliance to Save Energy and of the National Petroleum Council, among other organizations. She has more than two decades of experience in the energy industry including 15 years working with electric and natural gas distribution companies. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing management from the University of Delaware and was a member of the 2013 class of Leadership New Haven.
Our thanks to Paula for sharing her wisdom with us – and you.
Q: The energy industry has not historically been an easy place for a black person to build a career, although it does seem that individual companies and organizations are now realizing that and working to change it. What are the barriers? How does AABE work to address them? What do you think of the efforts you’ve seen from others?
A: The biggest barrier is when industry doesn’t recognize that there are challenges which are unique to us. A colleague of mine once said, “We hire for diversity, but manage for assimilation.” For me, that statement sums it up and in fact is counter to the idea of employees bringing their “whole selves” to work. Organizations that have diversity programs have to take the time to reflect and ask themselves some really hard questions; such as, “Where is the bias in my organization and how does it show itself?”; “Why aren’t there more African Americans in leadership?” and “How are we building a pipeline that is inclusive?”; “Does my employee base reflect my customer base, and if not, why not?” and finally, “How can I do better?” At AABE we want to help organizations think through these issues and help them to come up with solutions.
Many organizations have diversity and inclusion programs, but those programs don’t necessarily deal with bias in the workplace. What we’re seeing today is a recognition that more has to be done and that business is not isolated from the social issues which impact us.
Q: How has addressing the multiple challenges of the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and structural racism affected your work? How are you responding to the situation? What do you need others to understand about this time in our history?
A: What COVID-19 has demonstrated is how much inequity exists and how great the disparity is for African Americans in his country. From health, to education, to employment, etc., we are lagging. This has affected our work in that people are not only ready to listen and learn from their African American friends, neighbors and colleagues, they also want to make change. It feels different. As an organization, we are just one of many voices who can not only share our experiences, but also offer solutions to our industry on how they can lead by doing more. Several weeks ago, we issued a statement which outlined 5 actions that industry should take, and I am so pleased at the response we’ve received. Our industry’s leaders are asking questions, hosting listening sessions and working to drive change in their organizations.
As an organization, we want to support those efforts. Our Center for Economic Opportunity works with entrepreneurs so that they participate in our industry. Our Leadership Professional Development Institute offers a curriculum which can develop the pipeline of leaders and help organizations manage diversity so that we get the best outcomes and strengthen our businesses.
Q: In your career you have worked with electric and natural gas distribution companies and focused on government affairs, regulatory affairs and economic development. For the past seven years, you’ve been leading the nation’s leading membership association for black people in energy. What lessons have you learned in these positions and how are you applying them now at this time of great change and uncertainty?
A: I’ve learned that it’s important to practice what you preach and be the change you want to see. What I mean, is that when I speak with audiences (large or small) I am always authentic to who I am. It’s important to listen and to acknowledge that none of us have all the answers but if we are open to doing the work and bringing others along, we will get there. I have learned that this will all take time, that it’s important to be focused and also patient. Finally, I’ve learned that we all have a place in this work and that it looks and feels different for all of us and that is ok.
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?
A: Not everything translates well over email. There is nothing wrong with a face to face or phone conversation.
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you've given to others?
A: Wait before pushing send, particularly when you’re upset.