Long Beach, CA. The first ever Women in ACT Summit took place here this morning in advance of the official opening of the 2014 ACT (Alternative Clean Transportation) Expo. Presented by Gladstein, Neandross & Associates, presenters of ACT Expo, it featured a stellar line-up of panelists drawn from both the public and private sectors who came to share observations and experiences about the alternative fuel and transportation industries and about what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated business. 

Ellen Voie, president and CEO of Women in Trucking, Inc., acted as host for the program. In her opening remarks, Voie stressed the benefits, financial and otherwise, of bringing more women into the transportation industry to help create more diverse leadership teams. She noted that companies which include women on their executive boards are often seeing superior company performance and profitability.

The Summit program was divided into three panels: one on Public Policy and Advocacy, moderated by Julia Pyper, transportation reporter for ClimateWire; one on Innovation and Implementation, moderated by this editor, Wendy Leavitt; and a final panel on Opportunities and Challenges for Women in Transportation, moderated by Dana Hook, vice president, CDM Smith and board chair of WTS International.

Members of the Public Policy and Advocacy panel included:

  • Linda Bluestein, national Clean Cities co-director, U.S. Department of Energy, a program which supports national public outreach, education and funding activities aimed at reducing petroleum consumption in motor vehicles.
  • Lynn Lyon, director, fuel market development for Pioneer Natural Resources. Lyon is responsible for converting 2,000 corporate fleet trucks to natural gas and initiating the use of natural gas-powered drilling and pressure pumping services in field operations.
  • Alicia Milner, president, Canadian Natural Gas Vehicle Alliance and board chair NGV Global, an international association for natural gas vehicles.
  • Eileen Wenger Tutt, executive director, California Electric Transportation Coalition. Tutt has also served as deputy secretary for the California Environmental Protection Agency.

Members of the Innovation and Implementation panel included:

  • Mary Boettcher, president, Trillium CNG, which is the second-largest provider of CNG fueling services in the United States.  Boettcher is responsible for the daily activities associated with operating and growing the company’s compressed natural gas (CNG) business. 
  • Dr. Rebecca Boudreaux, president, Oberon Fuels, a San Diego-based company making DME (Dimethyl Ether) as a cleaner alternative to diesel. 
  • Katie Dugan, associate director, global fleet operations for AT&T. Dugan oversees the planning and execution of vehicle deployments throughout AT&T’s service area, including compressed natural gas (CNG), hybrid electric, all-electric, and extended range electric vehicle technologies. 
  • Elizabeth Fretheim, director of logistics sustainability for Walmart. Fretheim develops and manages the sustainability strategy for the Logistics Division of Walmart. 
  • Nadine Haupt, founder and CEO of Fast Women in Business, a coaching and consulting firm dedicated to helping motivated women ignite their passion, create financial wealth and become Fearless, Ambitious, Strong, and Trailblazing or FAST. 

All panelists and Ellen Voie participated in the third panel.

One of the hottest topics for the first two panels was the question of public incentives for furthering alternative power development and deployment. Tutt observed that “incentives are the most important thing a government can do” [to further the use of alternative, cleaner power], noting that she hoped another ten to fifteen years of public funding support would get alternative power to a place where it was self-supporting.

Bluestein, on the other hand, stressed the role of private investment in alternative power as the way of the future, expressing an interest in so-called “green banks” that make low-cost capital available to alternative power developers and users. “We have to get private capital moving this way,” she noted.

Lyon likewise voiced a hope that incentives, which have been helpful, would no longer be necessary within about five years. My name is tied to alternative power efforts in Texas, she said. I’ll feel bad if incentives still exist ten to twenty years from now.

Women on the second panel tended to see the incentive process itself as the real issue, observing that grant writing and applications can be a complex and burdensome endeavor with no guarantee of any return on the investment of time and effort.

Like incentives for alternative power, using quotas to encourage adding women to male-dominated businesses received some support, although the support in this case was largely lukewarm. “Quotas are sad,” said Voie. “Norway has had them for years [and I suppose if that is what it takes then there’s a place for them, but it is too bad.]

It was a sentiment echoed by others. “I always used to look at quotas as charity,” noted Fretheim, adding that she always wanted to be recognized and promoted based upon her own merits.  Still, panelists generally acknowledge that there might be a limited place for quotas because of the benefits to be derived.

“Women who are leaders don’t tend to think of themselves as a woman in X role,” added Dugan, and others agreed. Boettcher encouraged women entering the industry to, “Look for a mentor within the company, [rather than look for quotas], someone who will help change the landscape for women.”

When it comes to tips for companies who are exploring the idea of adding alternative power vehicles to the fleets, panelists had some advice to offer as well:

  • Take your time considering options and getting approvals and buy-in
  • Choose what will work for your own fleet, not necessarily what is popular or being used by others
  • Listen to those who operate the alternative fuel vehicles and service those vehicles

Attendees at this first Summit offered plenty of praise for the event, and Gladstein, Neandross & Associates said that they intended to repeat it again next year. By the way, men are invited to attend, as well. Women at the Summit overwhelmingly agreed that diverse groups of people tend to deliver the best results, the richest mix of ideas. Who could argue with that?