Women working in energy sector talk importance of mentorship, career paths at Grainger Hall panel

<p>From left to right: Moderator Nicole Patterson, panelists Miriam Makhyoun, Paige Swofford, Esther Kamau</p>

From left to right: Moderator Nicole Patterson, panelists Miriam Makhyoun, Paige Swofford, Esther Kamau

Members of the Duke community attended a panel Friday afternoon in Grainger Hall featuring three women working in the energy sector, who discussed the importance of mentorship and support systems in a male-dominated industry and other important topics in the field. 

The Women in Energy panel brought in Esther Kamau, a climate technology investment analyst at 8 Rivers and Fuqua '22, Paige Swofford, a principal strategy and planning manager at Duke Energy and Nicholas and Fuqua '18, and CEO of EQ Research Miriam Makhyoun. 

Nicole Patterson, a member of the strategy team at 8 Rivers and Pratt ‘21 and ‘23, moderated the panel, which was sponsored by the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability and the Center for Energy, Development and the Global Environment. 

While the panelists each took different paths to the energy sector, they all shared a passion for the field and its potential. 

Makhyoun, who offers consulting and subscription-based services for clients looking to become more sustainable, said that the most fulfilling part of her job is seeing the changes her clients implement, such as getting solar panels or building electric vehicle systems. 

Experiences outside the energy sector also opened new doors for the panelists as they stepped into their energy sector jobs. 

Kamau used her experience in finance to succeed in her post-grad job at a private equity company focused on energy before arriving at 8 Rivers. Kamau, who grew up in Kenya, said that the job helped her combine her passions for finance and making an impact on Africa. 

“I had the opportunity to not only help structure the equity and debt, but I was also privileged to be able to tell limited partners about investing in Sub-Saharan Africa. Being able to tell the story and impact that investor capital by helping provide energy and access to energy was such a profound experience for me,” she said.

In discussing their progression towards prominent roles in a male-dominated industry, the speakers gave advice on how to overcome adversity in the workplace. 

“You're always going to come across jerks, and what do you do in that situation? Well, you need allies. You need witnesses, and you need to get out of there,” Makhyoun said, as she highlighted the support she found in her women’s employee resource group while in a toxic workplace environment.

Makhyoun spoke about her experience moving up the ranks within the energy sector. 

After applying for a research position at EQ and interviewing to be a director, she was ultimately offered to be CEO of the company. Although the offer caught her off guard, she worked on the job to develop her skills.

Swofford also echoed the importance of confidence. There is value in realizing “I’m smart enough that I can learn it,” even if one might not initially meet all the qualifications for a job position, she said. 

As a new mother, Swofford called the women who showed her how to be a working parent a major impact. She also spoke to the pivotal role of mentors of all genders in the field and advised that those searching for mentors find those who are both similar and different to them. 

Kamau told attendees that they should stay optimistic within the world of energy and know that there are others who share your goals. 

“Be willing to do your research for companies that are really intentional about changing this story,” she said. “... I promise you there are these companies. There are people out there who are motivated and want to change the story, just be willing to find them.” 

Madera Longstreet-Lipson profile
Madera Longstreet-Lipson

Madera Longstreet-Lipson is a Trinity first-year and a staff reporter for the news department.      


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