WGL ’13: Keynote speaker pushes women in energy to innovate

By Adrienne Blume
Managing Editor

HOUSTON -- The Women's Global Leadership Conference (WGLC) in Energy and Technology was given an inspirational start on Tuesday morning by Amity Shlaes, director of the 4% Growth Project at the George W. Bush Institute. 

In her keynote address, Ms. Shlaes noted that the conference, now in its tenth year, is not only about fossil energy, but also about human energy. Innovation is key to keeping the energy sector at the forefront of US economic growth, and more of this innovation must come from women. "The message to women today is to rise to the top to walk in the halls of power, speak up, and improve your company as you do it," Ms. Shlaes said.

The director is a major proponent of what she calls "leaning out"—i.e., going out to obtain knowledge, and bringing innovative ideas to the table to help businesses grow. Women are often recruited to help rationalize, stabilize and socialize a company, but they are not often found in innovative, cutting-edge positions. That needs to change, said Ms. Shlaes. Change starts with better education and ambition. "Find ideas by attending conferences like this one, and bring those ideas back to your company," she said. "After the first innovation, take it to the next innovation."

Women can achieve greater audience by actively participating in, and bringing about, change within their organizations. Ms. Shlaes noted that innovation can and should be disturbing. "Sometimes an individual idea can help the [larger] ideas grow. You want to think about cooperation and collaboration, but sometimes you want to think about something more," Ms. Shlaes said. "You want to have the ability to lean out at the edge of your company."

Ms. Shlaes outlined four principles for conference attendees to actively participate in company innovation. First, she advised women to add science to their education. "With that knowledge comes the power that you want in the boardroom," Ms. Shlaes said. She quoted First Lady Michelle Obama as saying, "If we're going to innovate, we have to educate."

The second principle involves mentoring. Seek mentors as you progress in your career, but recognize that there are limits to the mentor/mentoree relationship, Ms. Shlaes cautioned. As it is a super/inferior relationship, sometimes mentees fall into the trap of helping to forward their mentor's ideas rather than their own. "Your networking emphasis should not be on friendship, but on knowledge," Ms. Shlaes noted.

Thirdly, "Be prepared for the chance that your company will not be interested in the knowledge you bring," she said. In that scenario, do not be afraid to leave your company and carry your innovative ideas to a new business, Ms. Shlaes advised.

The director's last principle involved work/life balance. Often, she noted, the work/life balance is upset by dissatisfaction with work, rather than by time-management issues. "You may find happiness in a new business that has longer hours. You might be happier because, in that new company, you may even be the boss," Ms. Shlaes said.

The director closed her keynote address by telling attendees, "Your industry is the most innovative in the world," and noted that women in the energy sector have ideas that will make it grow faster and faster. "Lean out, go get the knowledge, and bring it back to the table," Ms. Shlaes said. "Lean out even further, and we'll all be glad you did."

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