Charging Up: A chat with Constance Thompson, senior vice president of DEI at ACORE

Canary Media’s Charging Up column chronicles gender diversity in the climatetech sector. Part one is a short Q&A with an industry role model about their career path. Part two features updates on career transitions. Please send feedback and tips to wesoff@​canarymedia.​com.

Constance Thompson: DEI expert and super-connector

Constance Thompson is senior vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice at the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.

How did you end up on this career path?

I believe no career path is linear, and mine exemplifies that. I grew up in a military environment, specifically the Air Force, and that shaped my worldview. I was accustomed to being around diverse people and finding similarities among differences. My career began as a headhunter, recruiting engineers for various companies. Then, Corning Incorporated in New York found me. I was brought in as a headhunter, but I was also asked to be involved in creating diversity and inclusion programs at their headquarters.

As diversity and inclusion gained momentum, Cornell University recruited me to establish its first diversity recruitment program. Then, after my stint with the National Association of Manufacturers' women in manufacturing program, ACORE approached me. They needed a diversity and inclusion expert for their ACORE Accelerate program focusing on women and BIPOC entrepreneurs. I was initially skeptical due to the surge of performative pledges that had been made by companies during the unrest that followed George Floyd's death, but I was reassured when I learned they had committed meaningfully to these initiatives.

Transitioning to renewable energy was interesting and a new challenge, but my experience with engineers and engineering environments helped.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Don't let making a living interfere with making a life. I had a mentor when I was at the American Society of Civil Engineers who was a civil engineer herself, and she gave me that advice and added, “You are working to make a life, but you're also working for a cause. Don't let that cause take over your life.”

What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it?

Colorism. It's something I've come to understand deeply through study and personal experience. I have seen instances in my career when individuals with lighter skin tones are often promoted and perceived as more knowledgeable and capable leaders. I’m not only darker-skinned but also short, and I’ve experienced how people often listened to me more readily over the phone than in person.

The way I learned to move past it was to not take it personally. Understanding this bias helped me make informed decisions in how I deal with people. I would make a choice to just keep it in mind when interacting with them, or mention it to them in a kind way and in an opportune moment. As a diversity and inclusion practitioner, I've had opportunities to open the door to conversations that might not occur otherwise.

What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech?

We often talk about roles in renewables like they are amazingly technical, but really there is a need for diverse skill sets like communications, finance and accounting. The way we talk about opportunities in the field can be exclusionary, and we need to change that. It's crucial to frame the industry as diverse and inclusive, requiring a range of skills and roles.

When I was at the American Association of Blacks in Energy conference earlier this year, I learned about a study that found the jargon used in the industry creates barriers to inclusion for employment. I've seen firsthand how important it is to train people to speak about these roles and the industry's future in a way that is inviting and understandable.

What is your superpower?

My ability to make connections between people, strategies and the big picture. My Accelerate members at ACORE make me laugh because they are always saying, “How do you know everybody?” It’s not that I know everybody — it’s that I am able to remember things about people and I am masterful at making connections. I'm a big fan of the collective-impact approach, which is used in a lot of communities to move social issues forward by bringing people together toward a goal bigger than themselves. I can connect people with that approach too, and then I step away and magic happens.

Career moves

Elizabeth Roberts, previously with Aegis Ventures, is now a senior analyst at SJF Ventures, an investor in high-growth cleantech companies.

Felicia Lorenzo has been promoted to senior group manager for demand generation at solar software design company Aurora Solar.

Yesenia Rivera, previously with Solstice Initiative, is now executive director at Energy Allies, an organization that promotes community-led energy.

Erin Greeson, previously with RWE Clean Energy, is now founder and principal consultant at Climate Line, a communications firm for sustainable brands.

Nina Fahy has been hired as a senior energy transition specialist within the RaboResearch Energy Transition team at Rabobank, with a focus on natural gas and transition fuels. Before joining Rabobank, Fahy was a director in Baringa’s energy and resources practice.

Kate Bassett, previously with Fifth Wall, is now vice president of marketing and communications at Galvanize Climate Solutions.

Emilie Grenier is the new VP of people and talent at Encore Renewable Energy, a Vermont-based community and utility-scale renewable energy development company. Prior to joining Encore, Grenier served in human-resources roles at Calendly, GitHub and the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation.

Jessica Makolin has joined investor and incubator Powerhouse Ventures as its operations and communications manager. Makolin was previously with Running Tide.

Check it out

This week, Canary Media hosted an online event with Maria Gallucci and Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon on how to rein in American exports of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, which Senator Merkley calls “a lose-lose proposition.” You can watch the recording here.