microphone on table background

Experts Only Podcast #80:

With Energy Data Expert Devin Hampton

[ CEO, UtilityAPI ]

Listen now:

Transcript

Jon Powers:

Welcome to Experts Only Podcast, sponsored by CleanCapital. You can learn more at cleancapital.com. I’m your host, Jon Powers. Each week, we explore the intersection of energy, innovation, and finance with leaders across the industry. Thank you so much for joining us.

Catarina:

Hello, everybody. And welcome to the Navigate Webinar Series from the Northeastern Energy Council in cooperation with CleanCapital. Thank you very much, Jon, for moderating this webinar, or should I say, the fireside chats about diversity and clean tech sector. My name is Catarina Madeira, and I run Navigate. This series has the invaluable support from all Navigate sponsors, such as the state agency NYSERDA, works to advise energy innovation, technology, and investment in New York state. Thank you for your support. Before passing forward to Jon, I’d like to kindly remind you to stay on mute and to use the Q&A feature to send us your questions, and to advise you as well that at the end of the session you’ll receive a short survey that we’d very much appreciate if you could complete it, please, because your feedback is very important to us and our sponsors. And tweet with us using the handles NECEC and CleanCapital_. And now it is my pleasure to hand over to Jon Powers, CleanCapital cofounder and president. Thank you.

Jon Powers:

Thank you so much, and thanks to Navigate for continuing to host these really interesting conversations. And we are proud partners with the New England Clean Energy Council and the amazing work they’re doing in the northeast, helping to really drive the energy transition. My name’s Jon Powers, I’m a president, cofounder of CleanCapital. I’m joined today by Devin Hampton who’s the CEO of Utility API. We’re going to dive much more into that, but I just want to step back and talk about the topic at hand today, and then introduce Devin. Just so everyone knows, this is being recorded as part of the Experts Only podcast. Experts Only focuses on the intersection of energy, innovation, and finance. This topic today, building an equitable energy future, is really critical to that, as we want to have a diverse workforce as we’re building that energy transition.

Jon Powers:

I also want to just point out that there’s a lot of conversations happening in this space today. What we really want to focus on is not just the topic and the issue, but what actions you can take, whether you’re an entrepreneur, whether you’re working within a business, whether you be just an employee, how can you help drive change within your companies? And we’re going to talk about that today. But without further ado, I do want to introduce Devin Hampton, and Devin, thanks so much for joining us.

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, I’m really, really happy to be here, and thanks for the opportunity to chat about … It’s been a pressing topic for some time. It seems like now we have some momentum to get something done.

Jon Powers:

Absolutely. So before we dive into the topic, I just want to step back and really talk about your personal background, because it’s fascinating. You grew up in Seattle, you end up in Washington working in the Obama administration. Talk about sort of what led you first into the political sphere, and then into the energy sphere.

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, I appreciate the question. I will first say that I do not have what I think anybody would consider a traditional path, into politics or even into energy. I’m from the Seattle area, I went to college when I was like 18 or 19 like everybody else, and I dropped out probably two quarters later, and I got a job working for a union. My job was to throw bags for Alaska Airlines. Right, literally, like when you go flying and you check your bags and someone goes and stacks those in an airplane, that was me. And I did that for about five years, actually, so until the time I was about 24, 25, and the reason why I bring that up is when you hear people talk about these panels, right, it’s like, “Well, I did college here, I did my MBA here, then I got an internship here, and then I worked for this person here, and that’s where I am.” Right? I think it’s important to talk about, that doesn’t have to be the only way to do this kind of work.

Jon Powers:

Sure.

Devin Hampton:

So I worked for the union. At five years in, they actually laid off our entire union. Just, phone call…

Jon Powers:

This is the airport out in Seattle?

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, airport in Seattle. Phone call, 3:00 AM, “Congratulations, you don’t have a job anymore.” And for me at the time, I was like, “Well, I’m 24, 25 years old, that was weird, but I’ll just go back to school,” or something, right? And the one thing that was hard about that, though, is the folks that I worked with there at Alaska Airlines, that union, right, I learned so much about how to get a job done and how to work hard, but also how to work with very, very different people doing that job, right? You’re underpaid, you worked hard, it’s not safe, and you have to rely on each other. And so I had a camaraderie with these folks that to this day are still some very close friends.

Devin Hampton:

So we all got laid off. Instead of going back to school, though, I started working in bars and restaurants and things. Again, nontraditional path, right? politics. My friends would make fun of me, because they’re like, “You’re the only ramper who’s reading the New York Times every day.” I was like, “This is interesting stuff, this affects all of us.” And I was like, okay, I’ve always had an interest in this, I want to do this. I’m a bartender at this point, I don’t know anything about politics. And so I literally found as many as I could by talking to people in my bar and asking who they knew, and sending emails to people, “Hey, can I work for you?” Of course, I got nothing back.

Devin Hampton:

Finally, a regular of mine walked in and he was like, “I’m actually running for city council,” and literally gave me an opportunity to volunteer in his campaign. And he won, which got me a desk at city hall. So here I’m at city hall, young Black guy, intern, and it was interesting, because this guy Tim Burgess who I worked for was having me do community engagement, and he fought, at city hall, “This guy’s email can’t be intern, he has to … a real name.” Changed the policy so our interns can be real people, and just that kind of lesson about what it means to fight for people, just so you could actually have real voices at the table was important. I was able to take that job, and it led to working with the governor and her campaign, and then sure enough, some folks were working for Barack Obama, I was able to connect with them.

Devin Hampton:

So a year from the day that I started working, well, not a day, but the month I started working on this city council campaign, I was backstage at an event briefing Barack Obama on what he was going to do that day for his campaign, right?

Jon Powers:

That’s amazing.

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, so I had this opportunity to really kind of just make this huge shift just by kind of asking for help, really, and making myself vulnerable. Yeah, and so that, obviously he won.

Jon Powers:

It’s interesting, a major portion of Experts Only is conversations with folks about their backgrounds, because I actually, I was an elementary education major who went in the Army, and I was substitute teaching when I first got into both politics and energy, right?

Devin Hampton:

Yeah.

Jon Powers:

But the level of conversation you hear from the chief environmental officer at Microsoft, he had no background in computers. He was working over in sub-Saharan Africa on some project for the Peace Corps, went back to school, and someone said, “You should probably check out computer science,” and it led him on a trajectory that just changed his life, right?

Devin Hampton:

Yeah.

Jon Powers:

I love that part of your story. So once the campaign’s over, you decide to come to DC.

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, campaign’s over, come to DC, helped with planning the inauguration. Maybe I was naïve at the time, I had no idea that if you did well on a campaign, they won, you might be able to get a job in the administration, right? And they asked, “What are you interested in?” And I was like, “What do you mean, what am I interested in?” And they’re like, “Well, what do you want to do?” And I was like, “Well, I’ve always had a huge passion for science, technology, and also this climate change thing seems pretty bad. Who’s working on that?”

Jon Powers:

Right? It’s legit. It’s legit.

Devin Hampton:

Who’s working on that, right? And they said, “Well, the US Department of Energy is the world’s leader at tackling all these issues. You know how to get things done, so why don’t you go try to get a job there?” And I did. I knew nothing…

Jon Powers:

And you had a couple different roles at DOE, right?

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, a couple different roles at DOE. Again, talk about a group of folks who let me come in with maybe some ability to work hard but not much subject knowledge and allowed me to kind of learn and grow. I mean, I grew up at Department of Energy, right? Like I started off planning advance trips for Secretary Chu, which, planning a schedule, basically, which then led to a job in his office, managing his schedule and his day to day functions, which then led to a job with the deputy secretary kind of doing a little bit broader scope around just plain, I don’t know the best way to describe it, kind of as a jack of all trades for him. Me and the deputy secretary worked together for years. And the whole time I’m just learning, just learning, just growing, and able to actually put some of this, what I’m learning to work.

Devin Hampton:

From there I became the senior advisor for emerging markets, which because I’d been doing so much international work, just by virtue of the Department of Energy, was beyond our borders. The world’s leader in energy, policy, science, technology. And also, on the other side, the agency’s nuclear weapons and nuclear security. So so much international work is done through that agency, and so I learned a lot, and was able to actually start taking those learnings and putting them to work, not just domestically, but overseas. So yeah, in six years I went from stapling papers to running initiatives, and that’s a testament kind of how to that administration also worked. Like, if you’re smart and you can work hard and you learn stuff, you can put to work, we’ll keep giving you by the opportunities.

Jon Powers:

Yeah.

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, and by the end…

Jon Powers:

I’d argue that’s how startups work too, by the way.

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, no, exactly right, like I’m pretty familiar to that kind of… Yeah, but it was a great way to kind of fight this fight from the policy standpoint, and obviously that came to an end. But…

Jon Powers:

So when you transitioned, well, first of all, Utility API, you guys are built on some of the work done while you were at DoE, right, which was..

Devin Hampton:

Yeah.

Jon Powers:

Green Button. Was that something you were working on there at all? Or-

Devin Hampton:

No.

Jon Powers:

Or no?

Devin Hampton:

You’re trying to get me in trouble or trying to get me fired…

Jon Powers:

No, it’s okay.

Devin Hampton:

No, it wasn’t, no, but it was something obviously that I was very aware of, right?

Jon Powers:

Yeah, of course. When I was at the White House, we tried to implement Green Button as the taxonomy for the federal government’s energy, which was a fascinating effort.

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, fascinating effort, and it laid some seeds, right?

Jon Powers:

Sure.

Devin Hampton:

It laid some groundwork. It identified an issue, and that’s exactly what Utility API that we’ve built is, for those of you who are listening, don’t know what Green Button Connect is, it’s this concept that the data around how somebody uses energy, so what we would call kilowatt hours, or literally how much energy a home uses and how much that costs should be recorded in a way that can be easily transferred to from a utility, like say, a solar provider. There’s a few catches there. That data’s private, so it has to be secured, and people have to consent to that transfer of energy data, and also, the idea of Green Button Connect was they tried to also standardize what that data looked like. If you’ve ever worked in software, data’s no good unless it actually matches the formats that you need it to match.

Devin Hampton:

And so Utility API basically grew from those seeds, saying, “Okay, there needs to be a standard around this, but in the meantime we’re going to build a company that actually enables this functionality, that solar providers should be able to ask customers to see how they use energy in basically a seamless exchange. And so we built a software service that does that.

Jon Powers:

And in that experience, you didn’t start off as the CEO at Utility API.

Devin Hampton:

No, no.

Jon Powers:

So talk to me about sort of your growth in the company.

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, I mean, I’d like to say that I just landed here and knew exactly what to do, but that would be lying. Yeah, it was interesting transition, right? I left government, where we have budgets in the billions of dollars, and staffs in the hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, and I came to a startup, and at the time I think we were four people, five people? And I came here because … I love serendipity. I wanted to work with a company that was trying to make a difference, and I knew that the idea of working for a startup was exciting, because really the idea of molding what you’re doing sounded … The difference being when I was in government, sure, my goal was to get to the tip of the spear. A lot of the times in government, you’re trying to just build the train tracks, you’re trying to guide … But I wanted to actually get to the implementation side.

Devin Hampton:

And my last role in government was the chief of staff at the Trade and Development Agency, which is an implementation agency. And so I realized I liked that kind of getting things done piece, the action. And so a startup, you can think of something in the morning, have somebody work on it, and it can be deployed that afternoon, right? You want to talk about getting things out there.

Devin Hampton:

And so Utility API, when I came here, they had just had their founding CEO, she had just left. And they weren’t looking for a new CEO. Her cofounder, our current CTO just took the reigns and said, “It’s my company, I own most of it.” I came on just to kind of help with a few things. Business development, the ideas around, this is a highly regulated industry, you are a political person, you probably know how to work with these regulators and these highly regulated entities, but also, you seem to be passionate about climate change, and also the next wave, the technology providers who are trying to provide these new services. So can you come help build some of these relationships, and be a little of a sales role, a little regulatory role, kind of everything. In a startup you just, whatever it takes, right?

Jon Powers:

Totally.

Devin Hampton:

And did that for about a year or so, maybe two years even, and it got to the point where, hats off to our founder Daniel and our COO Lynn. They’re both like, “This guy’s doing all the things a CEO would do, here. Do you want to be, let’s elevate you so you an actually have some control and power over what you want to do.” And I don’t know about y’all that work in startups, but for a founder to take the CEO hat off and hand it to somebody without external pressure …

Jon Powers:

It’s a big deal.

Devin Hampton:

It’s a big deal. And so I think it’s testament to our team and what we’re trying to build here, is we all understand each other’s strengths and we all lean in where we can and realize where the other folks are going to fill the gaps.

Jon Powers:

Yeah, so-

Devin Hampton:

So it’s been a really, really nice journey here so far.

Jon Powers:

So before we dive into, so the issue at hand, just for a commercial… what’s next for you guys? Give the quick sales pitch to the audience and why they should be working with you.

Devin Hampton:

Quick sales pitch, yeah, yeah. So right now we’re used by over 1000 technology providers.

Jon Powers:

Including CleanCapital.

Devin Hampton:

Including CleanCapital, thank you very much, right? We help them get the data they need for their projects, and once they build their projects, they’re able to use us to continuously monitor the performance, by looking at the energy data from the utility.

Devin Hampton:

So we built this entire market, but what was missing was the utilities themselves. We were just using them as a data source, but we weren’t including them as customers. And so we built a new platform where we would go to the utilities and say, “Hey, there’s a whole new market out there looking for you.” You want to engage with them by being an easy data solution for them. Basically, if you have energy efficiency programs or solar programs or storage programs, you name it, demand response, you need to be able to share data in a secure and private way, the tool already exists, you don’t have to go build it.

Devin Hampton:

And not only does it exist, but we already have the market using it. So sign up. We built that actually with the help of Department of Energy…

Jon Powers:

Sign up at utilityapi.com.

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, sign up at utilityapi.com. Yeah, sign up at utilityapi.com, and literally we have utilities now turning this new functionality on. It’s white-labeled, but it’s our tech behind it, and-

Jon Powers:

Oh, that’s wonderful.

Devin Hampton:

… that’s really, yeah, that’s an inflection point for us. We’ve built this market, we know it can work. And when you talk about fighting climate change, right, we have huge impact numbers for our size. Because every single one of those projects that gets built means that you’re putting more clean energy on the grid versus using traditional sources, so I’m pretty proud of that.

Jon Powers:

The data’s so critical in-

Devin Hampton:

So critical, yeah.

Jon Powers:

… managing, owning…

Devin Hampton:

Managing, owning, speeding up the process, a process that took a month before takes five minutes.

Jon Powers:

Yep.

Devin Hampton:

Yep.

Jon Powers:

So first of all, thank you for the work you guys are doing, and I want to transition now to some of the conversation at hand. And I think we’re, there’s a national conversation happening today around diversity, inclusion. I do want to talk about some of the challenges of the industry, but I also want to talk about just actions people can take, because I think sometimes, almost like climate change, my wife always says to me, she’s like, “Sometimes I just wonder, what else can I do? What can I do?”

Devin Hampton:

Yeah.

Jon Powers:

Right, so having those clear actions are really critical. But I just want to set the stage for a second, I’m going to fall back on a little bit aged data, but from the solar jobs census, that almost 250,000 solar workers nationwide, women only represent 26% of them, Hispanic and Latino workers, 16%, Asian workers, eight, Black or African American workers, less than eight percent. Not to the national numbers in terms of equality. So what are some of the challenges the industry’s facing here, and I think, there’s a lot of them, but let’s just-

Devin Hampton:

How much time do we have?

Jon Powers:

… paint a picture, yeah, paint a picture of the problem before we sort of get to the solution.

Devin Hampton:

I mean, you really just laid it out there in those numbers, right? I mean, this industry is, folks call it clean tech, some folks call it climate tech, clean energy, whatever you name it, it’s the fastest growing sector in the energy space. It drives me crazy when you hear people talk about, “We’re killing jobs.” It’s like, we’re creating more jobs than have ever existed.

Jon Powers:

Right.

Devin Hampton:

Right? So, but we see what’s happening already. We’re seeing numbers that are similar to the tech sector elsewhere in our space. And I think the difference is, though, most people that work in this space aren’t here because we’re trying to get rich. Folks are here, it’s not to just make pretty websites and new apps to click, it’s because we’re trying to fight climate change. We’re trying to bring solutions, you want to talk about action, right, we are trying to bring solutions to the table. And by not having a bench that actually matches our country, working on a problem … I like to say that climate change is an all hands on deck issue, and we’re trying to fight it without all hands on deck, right? There has been study after study that show diverse teams bring stronger business results, and since our business is fighting climate change, we need to build stronger, diverse teams.

Devin Hampton:

I can use Utility API as an example. Our leadership is a white man, LGBTQ-identifying woman, and a Black dude. Our lived experience has virtually zero overlap. If there was a Venn diagram, we’d be like … But because of that, we argue and fight in a trusting and respectful way, and bring different perspectives to the table that allows us … I mean, this company should be gone. We should’ve gone out of business in the solar downturn, when the majority of our customers were big solar companies. We’re in the middle of a pandemic right now. But we’re able to see, and have different perspectives on, and different risk tolerances, frankly, on how to run the business. And ultimately, we come to pretty solid decisions about what we should be doing next. Those diverse voices are so important, not just for internal decision-making, but also think about your customer base, right? If you’re trying to serve customers across this country, and people in your company don’t look like the people you’re trying to sell to, you’re at a disadvantage. Right?

Devin Hampton:

Same goes for boards. To me, it’s just common sense, just like fighting climate change. We even wrote a blog about this on our website. Climate change, and systematic racism. What do they share in common? We know the solution to both, we just need to do them.

Jon Powers:

Right, right. I like that.

Devin Hampton:

I mean, frankly, right? It’s time for action, time to start making those changes, and so I guess is what we’re here to talk about today.

Jon Powers:

Yeah, let’s talk about some of those actions. I mean, part of it is, and I would just be candid about CleanCapital. We’ve done a great job on gender diversity, we’ve done an only limited job diversifying beyond that. But it’s not from a lack of, at least conscious effort. But then when we think back and think about, like how are we recruiting? Most of us, we recruit through our network, we recruit through our LinkedIn. We’re missing those sort of critical next steps. You founded something called the Empowering Diversity in Clean Tech Partnership with the Clean Energy Leadership Institute.

Jon Powers:

For folks that don’t know, we have a whole episode on CELI, but could you just talk for a sec about CELI, what it does?

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, yeah. So EDICT, Empowering Diversity in Clean Tech is a group of almost 40 clean tech companies that have committed to … And we can talk about the commitments in a moment, certain actions to start solving these issues we’re talking about. But EDICT is just a collective of companies, it’s not a nonprofit or anything that’s run to do this kind of stuff. And so we’ve partnered with CELI, the Clean Energy Leadership Institute, which has a framework for not only trying to reach out to diverse communities, but also to train or really give people the skills that it takes to work in this space.

Devin Hampton:

Part of the EDICT founding idea is that clean tech is still pretty young. So if you get in now, you’re going to be a leader in five years. But on top of that, because most of the companies are mostly investor, venture-backed type of, kind of grow quickly companies, these companies also fail quite often. It’s just the way that it’s structured so far. And as a collective, then, if you start working for one company and get these skills, the other companies are going to snap you up, either if the company fails, but let’s think in the positive light. As this industry grows, people want to have career paths. And even if your company is growing and thriving, but you want to switch to another company, another company that’s part of our organization will likely snap you up. And so it’s trying to offer a career path. And so Clean Energy Leadership Institute is really helping us with some of the backbone of how to actually operationalize some of these issues.

Jon Powers:

Yah, excellent, I love it. So let’s talk about the action plan. I mean, the goal of the actions, and I’m going to literally read this, so excuse me, but is to build a more diverse, inclusive, stronger clean energy sector. But you’ve got it sort of broken down to six different actions. I’m going to challenge everyone to find this on the CELI website, because when you look at those actions, you can really think about how you can implement them within your own company. You want to walk us through those actions…

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, and I’ll do my best to not tell a 14 minute story for each of them, but actually these actions are six actions, but they all came to fruition based on really hard, uncomfortable conversations, which I think are important… what we’re talking about right now. But the first is what I think is, first it’s an action that you can take now, before doing anything, and it’s pushing for the inclusion of diverse voices and conferences and industry events. Meaning if you get invited to speak on a panel, and you look at some of their panelists or you look at the whole conference and you recognize that hey, wait a minute, this is just a bunch of white men, say something.

Jon Powers:

Right.

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, no… right? Say something. Just be like, “Hey, we’re putting a bad face forward.” And that actually came out of, I had a conversation at a climate event we had here in the Bay Area two years ago, it seems like a century ago, where people are like, “We’re going to fight climate change, and we have all the world’s leaders here.” And I was talking to CEOs, I’m not going to all them out, of a very, very large American company that’s not in the energy space, and they said, “Hey,” to a friend of mine, “We’re going to do a panel on women in finance. You should speak on it.” This is two white men. And I stopped and said, “Why don’t you all speak on it? Why don’t you go up there and talk about why it’s important to have women in finance.” And they looked at me like I had three heads. But the idea is is that, of course you’re going to have … So when I say diverse people at the conference, I don’t mean have a diversity panel led by diverse people. I mean throughout every panel, I want to see the financing the next round panel be Black and brown people, and the diversity is important be a bunch of white dudes.

Devin Hampton:

Because obviously I think it’s important. I deal with all this crap every day. We’re only going to start winning when the folks who … And I guess this is something I should also figure out, and I promise the rest of them won’t be so long.

Jon Powers:

No, this is important.

Devin Hampton:

Is that bringing diverse voices to the table doesn’t just help the diverse voices. It actually does more for the other folks who are already there. It’s common, when people try to slam like an affirmative action program, it’s like, you know who benefits the most from this? Not the new person you brought in the door, it’s the people that are already there who’ve never had a diversity of thought like this who are now going to have their eyes opened… think about things.

Jon Powers:

Yeah.

Devin Hampton:

And so I really want to make that point, that this is an easy action. Call it out, make a change. Do extra work. And I can keep going through, if you want to-

Jon Powers:

No, look, as someone who gets a lot of conversations, it’s something that we’ve implemented … It is extra work. It’s making that ask of, not just, “I’ll do it and send me a calendar invite,” but, “Let me see who else is going to be in here, hey, by the way, what do you think about X, Y, and Z, to” …

Devin Hampton:

Yeah.

Jon Powers:

I love it.

Devin Hampton:

And that helps. When someone like me shows up to the conference, and I’m like, “Oh, here we go again,” being the only person of color in the room, it was a game for me at some point, I’d try to count how many others. Sometimes I wouldn’t need more than one or two fingers, right? And that is shifting, but not quickly enough.

Jon Powers:

Yeah. So I think the next action is really important, which is interviewing diverse candidates for job openings, and not just for job openings, but for how we can mentor, promote, sort of sponsor people throughout the industry. If someone sort of commits to that, what kind of actions should they be taking to sort of help diversify their applicants?

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, I mean, it kind of plays off the first one, right? It’s, when you’re hiring for a new position, and I struggle with this myself. We’re dealing with a system that is stacked against people from underrepresented communities, right? And so when you’re trying to find a new position or a new hire, we just hired a bunch of software engineers, we’re hiring a VP of sales, you can’t rely on just traditional, “traditional,” go to the business school down the street and see who’s around, unless that business school’s been doing a good job themselves. And so it’s just recognizing that when you’re doing an interview process that you need to work harder, that it’s worth the extra work to put in to find candidates … And I’m not saying that companies have to be over-representative. The percentages … Just hit the percentage of people in the country, or in your own community.

Devin Hampton:

I’m from a city called Tacoma, Washington, and I know the city there has made a commitment to making the city staff match the city itself, right? Pretty interesting goal, but that makes a lot of sense. And so similarly, it’s, think about who you have already on your team. Think about the people that you work with, and the communities that you serve, or the country you’re a part of, and like, okay, let’s try to make sure that I’m at least including these diverse voices in my interview panels.

Devin Hampton:

And I think the second part, though, is also important, is once you bring somebody in and once you make connections, is continue to mentor and sponsor their success. I’ve heard too many stories of, especially Black women, I’ll be frank who once they get the job are treated as, someone’s like, “I’m the director of such and such, yet people keep asking me to schedule their travel for them,” right? “Why are they asking me to schedule their travel?” It’s because of this unconscious bias that they’re just not used to having a Black woman as our peer, right? And I wish, I would almost laugh, but it’s really sad.

Jon Powers:

Yeah.

Jon Powers:

It’s interesting, I hear your personal story, right, and some of the mentors that you’ve had along the way, and me personally, I mean, I had no right following the career path I had, but I had coaches who helped me figure out … And I try to do that myself personally back as much as I can, because it’s such a critical piece of the future development of leaders, so …

Devin Hampton:

Definitely, definitely.

Jon Powers:

So I think one of the things I love about this, these actions, is you guys specifically call out the need to have uncomfortable conversations at the corporate level. I’ll tell you what we’ve done at CleanCapital is we’ve put together a working group of folks that are really passionate about this, and we’re forcing the conversation both at the management, not that they need to be forced, but making sure the conversation happens at the management and board level on these issues. What do you advise sort of companies who are looking to force that conversation?

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, and this is part of why we want to partner with CELI is they make sure that people talk about this. And talking is a start, but I’ll give a couple examples. I was very fortunate myself to have a Black man as my boss at one point in my career, because frankly, working in the energy space, that can be a rarity. And so it was really nice to have somebody that looked like me, that understood the external issues that might be going on, that are always going on, being a Black man in this country.

Devin Hampton:

And then there’s a question, though, that I asked almost all the founders and CEOs who’ve signed our pledge so far, at least ones I’ve had a chance to talk to, and this actually came from a different mentor of mine, a woman. When I was interviewing for a job with her, she asked me, she said, “How many women have you had as a boss in your life?” And I said, “Oh.” And I actually had forgotten, it was one, but I was like, “Zero.” And she was like, “Here’s a book, go read it, and then I might think about hiring you.” I’m serious. You might know her, Lee Zak, used to run USTDA.

Jon Powers:

Oh, yeah.

Devin Hampton:

Yeah. “Here’s a book, I might think about hiring you after you read this book.” And it was about how awesome it is to have a woman for a boss, and what women bring to the workspace. And really, that always stuck with me. So I asked all the leaders, mostly white men, I said, “Hey, have you ever had a Black peer or a Black boss in your career?” And most were like, “No.” And that’s the beginning of an uncomfortable conversation, right? We’re sitting here on Zoom, because we can’t be in the same room, and I’m like, “Okay, that’s nothing to feel guilty about, but that just means that you might want to think about, internally, your organization, what it’s going to be like when you do succeed in bringing in people who don’t look like you.” We can even break it down even further, like, “Are you used to getting criticism from somebody who doesn’t look like you?” We can talk about Black boss or Black peer, right, someone who tells you that your idea stinks, and that here’s how you can make it better. If you have some kind of unconscious bias, you’re not going to be able to benefit from that diverse voice if you’re too busy getting angry and hurt in a way that you wouldn’t with somebody that looks like you.

Devin Hampton:

And so that was why we put that. The companies themselves have to do probably as much work internally, or this doesn’t succeed. We bring people in and they’re like, “This is stupid, I’m out of here.”

Jon Powers:

Yeah. And it can’t be a one-time conversation, right, it has to be…

Devin Hampton:

No, and I have one little anecdote on that, is after, I think it was after Mr. Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, was on a call with only Black folks in this space. And I was encouraging everybody, I was like, “Hey y’all, we are the answer to the problem.” Meaning, people want innovation in this community, they want different perspectives, so that’s us. And I was like, “Use your voice.” And a younger guy said, “Hey, you must be out of your mind. If I am my authentic Black self at the office, I’m going to get fired.”

Jon Powers:

Oh wow.

Devin Hampton:

And that broke my heart, because I knew his boss.

Jon Powers:

Right.

Devin Hampton:

Right? And I was like, “Oh my Lord, you’re right.” And so it’s like, it’s so pointless. If people don’t feel comfortable being themselves, then this is not going to succeed, and our businesses are going to suffer from it. So that’s where this commitment came from, is we have to have those conversations and make sure that people feel comfortable being themselves at work.

Jon Powers:

Yeah. So I’m going to focus on the next two, which I think are really interesting. You’ve got mid-career senior hires, and you’ve go interns, and you guys say to go after both of them, which I love, because it’s critical to have. We need not only to build a bench but to empower a bench that’s there already. And some of this is about hiring, and sort of that process to go through the hiring process. Any advice on how to actually help to both grow the pool of applicants, and engage, and this is maybe too much of an HR question, but really engage in questions that aren’t restrictive, right, from a cultural perspective.

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, I mean, so yeah, this is a place where this is why I’m looking for partnering with other organizations, right? I’ve said this is a problem. The reason why it’s broken down in interns and mid-career and senior is that I often hear when people talk about diversity initiatives, like, “Oh, we should do paid internships.” Pretending that there’s not already qualified candidates out there, we have to create the candidates, right? And I’m like, “Oh my God, okay, we’ve got a long way to go here.” I would love to get my next VP of sales, maybe someone that doesn’t know energy, but they’re crushing it in some other tech sector, right, or outside of tech. They’re working in real estate, or something. I can teach them energy. And so that mid and senior from other industries is exactly that. Look beyond your normal scope, and then for the internships, the reason why we have them paid is because of the way that our country has been structured for hundreds of years. Most people can’t do unpaid internships. We’ve got to pay people for work. And so it’s to make sure that we take the risk out of that. But to your bigger question-

Jon Powers:

I’ve been spending way too much time in Washington, DC, which lives on unpaid interns.

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, exactly.

Devin Hampton:

And so who are the interns that you get, right? People who can afford to not work for three months living in Washington, DC.

Jon Powers:

Yeah, absolutely.

Devin Hampton:

Yeah.

Jon Powers:

Which was not me, this is why the Army paid for college for me, so I…

Devin Hampton:

Right, yeah, no, exactly, which I, yeah, definitely was not going to happen. I got paid in DC and could still barely live there.

Jon Powers:

Well, now you’re even worse.

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, at a startup in Oakland, I know. I’m in the wrong career path.

Jon Powers:

So the last thing, and I think this is interesting because it also sort of ties to your day job, which is about data and holding people accountable. How do you sort of advise companies to develop and manage metrics on this?

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, so this is a big challenge, right? We are still trying to sort out, how are we going to look at the metrics? Is it just trying to match the country as a whole, or is it incremental change within the companies themselves?

Jon Powers:

Right.

Devin Hampton:

What I want to do, though, is as EDICT we come up with a template that everybody has to adhere to. And I’ll be the first one to say, this is hard, right? Like I’m hiring right now, and I’ve had to hire two non-diverse candidates of the four that I’m hiring for, and I need to say that. I can’t hide it, right?

Jon Powers:

Right.

Devin Hampton:

Like I need to be open and say this is hard work, and I have failed in … Maybe failed is the wrong word, because these are great guys that we’ve hired, right? But when it comes to our organization as a whole, we are looking at this and we’re realizing that we have too much groupthink, we’re going to hurt our growth. And so how do we constantly maintain this balance? And so being transparent like that, radically transparent, I think, is also a big feature of this.

Jon Powers:

Can I go deeper on that with you?

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, yeah.

Jon Powers:

For a second? So as you’re going through that, and we’re also hiring too, by the way, cleancapital.com/careers, if you’re interested.

Devin Hampton:

…jobs.

Jon Powers:

Yeah. As you’re looking to grow that diversity, and you’re going through the process, and I don’t know what, we use Jazz as our recruiting tool for resumes, were you pushing to make sure you had a certain amount of candidates that were in diversity for each slot? Like how did you think about that in the phase one and two of the hiring process?

Devin Hampton:

Right, yeah, so I’ll use our engineers, for example. Being hired to be a software developer, it’s a technical job. We have a really hard test that we make people take. And so to make sure that we have people pass, we actually have to have quite a few people take that test. And so what we do is we encourage people to say, “Hey, our job posting says if you have experience in these things. But don’t worry too much about what your resume looks like. We don’t care if you went to college, we don’t care if you have the checkbox on a resume, can you pass this test? And just take it. And if they don’t pass the test, but we like them, I’m probably going to open a can of worms here, if you failed our test and we liked you, we probably still have you in a file somewhere, and we’re going to call you back for a different job some day. Right? Meaning that if you couldn’t pass that really difficult test for a certain role, but you had technical chops, we’re going to need help for account management, technical account management, right? Or other kind of project manager. Anyone that needs to understand the software, but maybe seems to have something else, too, right? It wasn’t a right fit for that job, but that we could use down the road.

Devin Hampton:

And so for us, it’s really getting rid of requirements for jobs and saying, “What can you do,” right? I think we get caught a lot in an industry, someone check the right boxes. I don’t check the right boxes. I didn’t graduate college until I was like 37 years old or something like that, right? Like, I wouldn’t have gotten this job if there was a requirement around these things. Same thing in the government, right? There are requirements in the government around skills, college courses taken, et cetera, et cetera, right? But the point being is, I was a political appointee, so I wasn’t a civil servant. There are very different set of rules. And we follow kind of the same model here at the startup. If you seem smart and know how to get things done, we’ll find a job that you fit in.

Jon Powers:

Yeah… books, right? Yep.

Devin Hampton:

Yeah.

Jon Powers:

So I’m going to ask really interesting question that came in from the audience, and this is about someone who is sort of, comes from someone within a company, said how do I nudge my company and colleagues to think more about this issue? So it sounds like someone who’s passionate about this and really wants to try to push upwards and …

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, how do you nudge someone? I mean, frankly, I don’t know how to give advice for people to talk about uncomfortable things. I like talking about uncomfortable things, and maybe that’s what the nudge is, is just get yourself ready to have an uncomfortable conversation. Because it sounds like if they’re looking at a nudge, it feels like they don’t feel like it’s going to be something that people are actively already addressing. So depending on the situation, I find it’s very powerful to say, “Hey, we’re not doing best by our investors or by our customers. Our team is not built in a way that is proven to bring proven to success to what we do.” That’s one way to look at it…

Jon Powers:

Can I suggest a nudge?

Devin Hampton:

Yeah, I would.

Jon Powers:

We didn’t really nudge, we sort of went in, but one thing we did in Slack is we created an allyship channel for people to start posting stories and data about these issues. And what you saw was this all of a sudden drumbeat, folks across the company saying, “Oh, I read this article, this is here, this is here,” and that led to development of a working group, which led to taking your actions and adopting them, right? So it just, maybe take that first step and sort of see how it’s received, not that’s just a Slack… but it worked well.

Devin Hampton:

No, that’s a great one. And we have a random channel here at the office, people post all the time. I didn’t think about that as a factor, that’s a great way to … We talk about it daily here, so it’s …

Jon Powers:

Yeah.

Devin Hampton:

Many people want me to stop talking about it, actually.

Jon Powers:

So I want to sort of step that back a second and just go back to you personally as we’re sort of wrapping this up, and if we could look at the workforce in 2030, across the industry, what does it look like?

Devin Hampton:

I mean, I think that’s where the real opportunity is, this industry is still so nascent that if we have success, it’s simply just having the workforce match the community it serves, which is the entire country. And we have 10 years, right? So I mean, frankly, and I hear my father say this, I hear older people say this, as a Black man, when he was fighting for a lot of these things in ’60s and ’70s, right, he thought it’d be done by now, right? And I have the same hopes. In 10 years, in 10 years, if we are still just talking about how we need to fix this problem, it’s kind of the same timeline for climate change. We have 10 years to figure this out. If we don’t figure this out in 10 years … But I have to have hope. I mean, the alternative is too bleak, that people are now waking up and we’re having this uncomfortable national conversation, finally. I mean, Black Lives Matter is I think the largest social movement this country has ever seen. That means something. It’s no longer just a fringe idea of civil rights and some people do that, this is everybody. And so this feeds into that same narrative.

Jon Powers:

I love it. So I’m going to go back to just end with a question I ask sort of all my guests, and if you could go back to yourself in Tacoma, coming out of high school, before you went to your two semesters of college and could sit down and have a beer, what advice would you give yourself?

Devin Hampton:

Give myself, that person then? Me, you know, I’m actually really happy for the detours I took, so I would probably sit down and have a beer and say, “Enjoy the ride, you’re going to learn a lot. You’re going to learn a lot, it’s going to be a lot of hurt, going to be a lot of joy. But just lean in.” I guess the biggest advice was don’t ever be scared just to be you. Be your authentic self, bring that to the table constantly, and then you won’t ever worry about diminishing who you are, and just live your life. Don’t let other people take the shine off. I think that’s super important for anybody that looks like me in this country, is we’re so, always, as Black men, trying to make sure that we don’t scare people, or that we don’t live up to stereotypes, right? And it’s so exhausting to try to just fit into certain molds and stuff and not to be who you actually are, and I would make sure to tell that younger Devin, “Hey man, just be you.” And if you match any mold or not, who cares, just be yourself.

Jon Powers:

It seemed to work for you. So thank you so much for being on, and thanks for the great work you guys are doing at Utility API, and thanks for driving EDICT and the work that you’re doing, the actions folks can take across the industry.

Devin Hampton:

Yeah. I appreciate the opportunity, and thanks for a chance to have this conversation, and to anybody listening, I am always happy to answer questions or to learn more about what somebody else is doing in the space. We’ve got to do this together, so it’s a group effort.

Jon Powers:

Thanks. And for the folks at NECEC… Catarina, thank you so much for helping to put this together. Wanted to thank the producers of the podcast, Colleen Young and Carly Battin. You can get more episodes at cleancapital.com. You can learn more about the work that Devin’s doing, both at utilityapi.com, and as well as through CELI. Find the actions and adopt them in your company, so we can have that workforce we talked about in 2030. Thanks so much.

Catarina:

Thank you. Thank you very much Jon and Devin, and thank you to our audience, and again to CleanCapital and NYSERDA.

Jon Powers:

Thanks for listening in today’s conversation. Find more episodes on cleancapital.com, iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. You like what you hear, be sure to subscribe and leave us a five star review. We look forward to continuing our conversation on energy, innovation, and finance with you.