The stakes have never been higher. The world needs to undergo an energy transformation. With climate change already here, the future of society depends on it. And, as the film Hot Money from General Wesley K. Clark and Wesley Clark, Jr. (featuring actor/activist Jeff Bridges) makes clear, our economies depend on it, too.
Building Energy 2.0 – a new era of energy – means embracing the opportunities that come from innovation. It means honoring those who have delivered the energy that powers the world, and helping them build careers as things change. And it means facing the future with an open mind.
Most importantly, it means dropping the divisions that block action. Political and ideological battles should have no place as we move forward. Similarly, diversity, equity and inclusion are much more than buzzwords; they’re imperatives. Only by bringing together people of different backgrounds and experiences will we invent and create new pathways.
We need all stakeholders and all forms of energy – renewables, hydro, nuclear, fossil fuels and more – to work as one team. Does this sound pie-in-the-sky? Here’s why, from my unique vantage point, I know it can be done.
The Energy Industry Knows How to Change
I’m the daughter of an oil engineer. I’ll never have anything but respect for the hard work my dad, and so many other people, did and continue to do in delivering oil and gas to humanity.
He and my mom, a nurse anesthetist, also taught me the crucial lesson that women can pursue any career we wish, and are just as capable as men.
I did not go into energy at first. After college I became a management consultant. Then, a chance meeting altered my path. Shell hired me as a contractor to manage a process and systems project. Through this work, I met Peggy Montana, then a VP at the company. I was so impressed by her. We developed a friendship, and it was she who convinced me to take a full-time job there.
She helped me believe that there were opportunities for women to develop careers and grow in oil and gas. That times were changing. That while it took thick skin, hard work and grit, there were ways to succeed. And, perhaps most importantly, that energy can be the most exciting field to join.
She was right. I went on to become a global program and change leader in safety and environment. I then jumped over to bp to serve as global director of safety culture and operational risk to help address the Deepwater Horizon incident.
You can see a recurring theme. I’ve always been about pushing for change, with very little interest in keeping the status quo. And I witnessed dramatic change from the inside. Just look at what happened when oil and gas made safety a central value – tremendous, life-saving improvements followed.
Soon, another chance meeting led me on a new path.
“Lady Like You”
I was flying home from London in 2013 when the man sitting next to me struck up a conversation. Learning that I was on a work trip, he was perplexed, and asked where my husband was and who was taking care of our daughter. I explained that Mark was at home in Houston. That’s when this man, whom I refer to as “Bubba,” went into the next line of sexist questioning: “What’s a pretty, young lady like you doing in a dark, dangerous business like oil?”
I checked my calendar to make sure it was, indeed, the 21st century. I knew in that moment that I had to launch a new effort to change this paradigm. It was time to show the world that women can and should be an equal part of the energy industry. It was also time to dispel the myths about “dark and dangerous,” and change the way the world sees and uses energy.
So, I did what so many other entrepreneurs have done: Scribbled the idea on a cocktail napkin. I wanted to launch a global community that would usher in a new era for energy, based on diversity, equity, inclusion and advancing the transition to other forms of energy.
Pink Petro Was Born
That idea would become Pink Petro. I left my secure, salaried job to become an entrepreneur, with the early help of some friends and volunteers who believed in the cause.
In the manifesto for Pink Petro, we wrote, “We believe that by delivering high quality resources, learning and development tools, we can create an engaged, empowered and inspired energy workforce. We aspire to put a human face on an industry that has quietly powered some of the most amazing technologies and innovations of our lifetime. We unite, connect, develop and grow women in energy.”
Over the next few years, we grew into a business that held large global events, worked with companies across the energy sector, spotlighted the stories of diverse leaders and ushered new people into the industry, showing them job opportunities and career pathways. I discovered that my voice and messages resonated across the globe, leading to columns in major news outlets, speeches at industry conferences and testimony at a congressional hearing.
But there was another big pivot in store.
Welcome to ALLY
What began with a focus on gender equality had become so much more: The professional community for the energy sector. The place that brings everyone together on one team. So, in 2020, when the pandemic changed everything, our company changed as well. We became ALLY Energy.
As I explained, “ALLY is about the future we are building together. We need ALL forms of energy, ALL people working together for a more diverse, reliable, clean energy ecosystem. We need all intersections of society to make this happen… ALLY is about jobs, learning, connections and education. It’s where we will advocate, listen and learn.”
Already, the growth of ALLY has shown me that people are ready to roll up their sleeves and work together. As an ambassador to the Department of Energy (under two administrations) and representative to the National Petroleum Council, I regularly see people from different walks of life come together, listen and take action.
So, I know that real cooperation can happen. That we can be true allies, and that there is a rational middle where solutions flourish.
There’s also another meaning behind our name. My daughter’s name is Ally. She was strapped to my back clinging to me as we were rescued by strangers during Hurricane Harvey. She knows the ongoing dangers of extreme weather. Ally is a huge source of inspiration to me. I’m committed to building a better world for her and her generation, as well as an industry that empowers them with the skills to succeed and welcomes them into its fold.
None of us knows exactly what’s in store. But no matter what comes, we are all in this together. And if any industry can show the world how to come together and achieve big results, it’s energy.
Katie Mehnert is founder and CEO of ALLY Energy, an ambassador for the Energy Department’s Equity in Energy initiative, and a member of the National Petroleum Council. She is featured in the documentary Hot Money.