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Women in Wind 2021 Q&A: Amisha Patel

 

The Women in Wind Global Leadership Program sat down with Amisha Patel, Head of Public Affairs and Communications at Principle Power and one of the Mentors of the Women in Wind Global Leadership Program 2021, to chat about her career in the renewable energy industry and key challenges and opportunities to enhance gender diversity across the wind power sector.
 
Amisha heads public affairs, stakeholder engagement and communications for Principle Power. She is also a board member of Offshore Wind California. Amisha has worked in the energy sector for over 15 years having built and led the global power and renewables team at the Energy Industries Council where she directed government relations, global supply chain engagement, and energy export campaigns for offshore wind, energy from waste, energy storage and nuclear new build and decommissioning. Having started her career with the UK’s civil service Amisha has extensive experience in shaping renewable energy policy and has served previous roles with developers Statkraft and ESB as well trade bodies EnergyUK and MakeUK.
 
 
How did you first become interested in renewable energy and joining the clean energy transition?

I was exposed to our natural environment and the importance of conservation from a young age – with trips back and forth to my ancestral home in a small village in Gujarat, India. There I saw the plight of many communities struggling to get access to clean water and electricity. Being born to immigrant parents in the UK and growing up both in the UK and with relatives in the US, there were times when we had very little compared to our surroundings. Even then my mother always reminded me of our roots in India and to consider what we had as a privilege, and to use this privilege to help others where and whenever possible.

If I am honest, I was not aware when making choices in my education that a career in environmentalism, let alone renewable energy, was possible or a viable choice. After graduating I was fortunate to join the civil service through a fast-tracked scheme designed to increase participant from minorities groups. I ended up with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and was posted to the policy and public affairs department at the High Commission in New Delhi India. Thereafter, I joined the Environmental team at what is now MakeUK (formerly EEF) and studied my master’s in Environmental Policy and Regulation. I initially worked on carbon reduction and energy efficiency policy with intensive user sectors such as steel. 

This sparked an interest in climate change policy and took me over to the UK Business Council for Sustainable Energy (now EnergyUK) where I led work on the industry’s positioning on the UK’s Electricity Market Reform. I have not looked back since. Once I was exposed to it, I knew that working in the renewable energy sector was where I wanted to be, and as I become immersed, I became increasingly drawn to offshore wind. 

Tell us about your expertise and passion in the sector. How has this business changed over the course of your career so far? For you, what is the next “space to watch” in renewable energy?

When I first started out in the sector, I did not feel the buzz that it has around it now. But at present, I see that people are genuinely interested in the energy transition and the change will continue to bring to the world. As the sector is growing it is opening opportunities for people from different backgrounds and with a broad range of skills to enter it. However, we still need to keep working on encouraging and supporting potential candidates to take the leap!

It has been great to see diversification in the market. One would expect the offshore wind market to grow more attractive to traditional oil and gas players given the synergies between the sectors. Today we are seeing an increasing amount of cross over, the first movers have gone with the wind and are reaping the benefits and others are quickly catching up.

Now I work in the floating offshore wind sector, the next big thing to watch in the renewables space! I head Public Affairs and Communications globally for Principle Power. Our company was founded on the belief that Floating offshore wind is central to unlocking the deep-water potential of the ocean.  Floating technology allows developers the flexibility to select the best sites for development, regardless of water depth and ground conditions. So, the technology dramatically increases the places where you can build offshore wind projects, and this has tremendous implications for our ability to decarbonise.

What we are seeing at present is that the industry is moving from proving the technology to demonstrating a path towards cost reduction and bankability – there are over 30 GW in development today. A lot of these projects are early stages, but they have closed  the development financing round and have the development budget required to carry the projects through FID. So, there is some pathway to go but this pipeline is really starting to provide the market for the industrialisation of the sector.

Plus, we are already looking at innovate ways of working with other important low carbon solutions such as green hydrogen

What sort of challenges did you encounter in entering the sector? Can you tell us about an achievement wherein you overcame such a challenge?

To be very honest I encountered a fair amount of day-to-day sexist behaviour that I am sure occurs in any predominantly male sector.  As women, we must not restrict our own success. If you believe you are capable to excelling in a role than you most definitely can. You must be your own champion.

Whilst all my mentors in the sector have been men – who have been great advocates for encouraging gender diversity in the sector  it is great that there are more women in senior positions to offer mentorship and support.

As a woman from an ethnic group, my career path has been one rather alien to friends, family, and my wider community. I am lucky to have a supportive family, but I still get questioned about my ‘unconventional’ choice. For me this makes having companies in the sector that truly value diversity and inclusion in all guises, more important. Throughout my career I have felt an acute need to educate my surroundings about cultural differences. These do matter in a workplace if it is to be truly inclusive. 

Employers need to remember that a diverse workforce does not necessarily mean you have an inclusive one! The two go hand in hand.  It is important that diversity and inclusion initiatives facilitate an open dialogue and feedback loop. There are battles a potential candidate may need to fight culturally before even considering a career in renewable energy. This might sound bizarre, but I have lived this reality. Having support from an employer or prospective employer advocating wider groups to join and showing there is a road to progression makes it a battle worth fighting!

I cannot stress the value mentorship enough. It is still something I am heavily invested in to support my continuous development. This has motivated me to become a mentor to others.

If you had to pick one key issue facing women in the wind power sector, what would it be and why?

I think these are all issues that need grappling, but for me personally tackling conscious and unconscious gender bias is critical. We must tackle unconscious bias! This is imperative to driving change and almost needs to be a staple in training within organisations. 

I think there is a need to bring more women into the sector and not typecast into certain roles. One of my previous companies had a 2-year rotation scheme for women who were entering mid-career and looking for a change. I thought was an excellent idea. We need to see women in leadership roles – but we also need women at all stages in their career getting support if they need it.

I feel optimistic. I have experienced first-hand how incumbents across the sector are open to education and understanding issues related to (gender) diversity and inclusion as well as seeking methods to address these issues. Educating, self-reflection and open conversation are the winners here, especially if you have an audience that is open to listening.

Finally, what do you hope to achieve as a mentor in the Women in Wind Global Leadership Program? How will you contribute to the next generation of female leaders in the sector?

Mentorship is a two-way relationship: We learn from each other. I myself have benefited from having mentors and I still do. So, I want to provide and safe space for exploring ideas, encouraging, and sharing experiences in a way that will help others.

Women who are in the industry like me have a responsibility to pave a better way forward for women coming into the sector. We need to continue to disrupt and challenge arbitrary binaries and biases. As a woman in renewables, I have found success by building a strong network and business relationships. I intend to build and progress my own career and want to encourage others to do the same long the way.

I really want to demonstrate that your empowerment to succeed should not depend on gender, ethnicity, etc. Every individual is entitled to the same level of respect and opportunity in an industry and workplace, and to thrive based on merit! Avoiding positive discrimination is equally important.

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