Diversity, equity and inclusion in the climate job hunt with Kristy Drutman, BrownGirl Green
When you know you want a green job but you have no idea how to find organizations that fit you —your interests, your experience, and your personality—what do you do? The Year of the Climate Job host, Daniel Hill, talks with Kristy Drutman, who founded Browngirl Green and the Green Jobs Board, to solve exactly this problem. Because she faced it herself, and she had to learn to demystify climate work before she could find her own path in it.
The truth is, the climate economy is growing and evolving. Every day, new green jobs are being created. But it’s a confusing job market shrouded in mystery. It’s no wonder it’s difficult to identify the right companies and roles for you.
In this first episode of our new mini-series, “The Year of the Climate Job,” Kristy offers strategies you can put to work today to get unstuck. And she tells us how she developed her own climate career roadmap when one wasn’t clear. She also speaks to how she’s attacking a big problem: the exclusionary history of climate-related employment. And she invites you to help make necessary changes to bring more people into the fold to address the urgent issue of the climate crisis.
Original release date: April 26, 2023
This transcript was auto-generated from an audio recording. Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors
DANIEL HILL: When I was in college, I knew I wanted a career working on climate solutions… specifically, alternative fuels. I was learning about the devastating impact fossil fuels have on the environment and local communities. And it was clear we urgently needed new fuel sources for our cars, planes, ships, and more.
But there was a big problem in my career aspirations. I couldn’t name a single company working on alternative fuels. I didn’t know what job titles to look for. I didn’t even know if there were jobs in that area! How do you begin a job search in an industry where you don’t even know the organizations or roles to look for?
After speaking with so many green job seekers, I know many of you are dealing with the same challenge.
But as difficult as it may feel, I’m here to tell you, the climate economy is growing and evolving. Just about every day, new green jobs are being added and created. And we’re here, with a special season of Degrees, to help you navigate it!
Welcome to The Year of the Climate Job, a five-part mini-series designed to help you get a green job.
HILL: OK, let’s back up. And before we dig into your biggest green job-hunting woes – and help you solve them – let me introduce myself!
I’m Daniel Hill. I run the Innovation Lab at Environmental Defense Fund. I also started Open Door Climate, where me and a whole bunch of other climate professionals are finding time to talk with anyone interested in green jobs. Before that, I was a social entrepreneur, a sustainability consultant, worked at a green building startup, and I was an energy auditor. And throughout my career, I’ve always looked for ways to help anyone who wants to work on climate get their foot in the door. Which is why I’ve recently added another title to my email signature: host of this new Degrees mini-series, The Year of the Climate Job.
Now in preparation for this role, I’ve connected with nearly 3,000 green job seekers in the last six months. I’ve personally talked with hundreds of you, and I’ve heard your challenges, your pain points, basically, where you’re feeling stuck in your green job search journey. Four are practically universal:
- First, you might feel like you lack personal connections, or any network at all in the climate sector.
- Second, you’re unsure how to transfer your existing skills to a climate role.
- Third, you don’t yet have direct experience in the field — and the green jobs you’re finding seem to require a lot!
- And fourth, you’re struggling to find the organizations,or roles, that fit your interests.
Yeah, I feel that last one. Kristy Drutman gets it too. She understands how hard it is to start a job search with no idea where to look.
Kristy graduated from UC Berkeley in 2017. She studied environmental policy and city planning. She was super engaged with other young climate activists.
I had all these networks and research and exposure to the issues, and wanting to take action and wanting to make a difference. But when I graduated college, even with all of that, I could not find a job. And when I tried to get support, especially when I wanted to build a job around climate communications, no one could really have an answer for me.
People just shared the same old playbook on how to build a career – that’s what Kristy felt. And that playbook made no sense for what she wanted to do. Because there was no clear roadmap back then for how to pursue the climate career path she wanted.
And so I felt lost. I felt frustrated. I felt like I didn't know if I really even wanted to pursue the sector anymore.
Thankfully, Kristy didn’t leave the sector. Instead, she turned something she was frustrated about into her career. In fact in the years since that seemingly dead-end job search, Kristy has created a movement to make the climate field more inclusive. For too long, she didn’t see other people who looked like her in the fight against climate change.
Especially other young people of color, who feel like the environmental space and the climate industry is very exclusionary. It's very gatekeepy around who gets access to these resources and having the right type of resume and the right type of connections to get your foot in the door. And I just find that really unacceptable when the stakes are so high, and we want to get people involved and take action on taking care of the planet.
In response, Kristy started her own organization, Browngirl Green. It’s an online space for storytelling and environmental advocacy. She talks bluntly about the climate workforce’s massive diversity problem. And she really wants people to talk more often and more openly about how to solve it.
As a woman of color in this industry, I would say, it's really, from my perspective, has been really up to minorities and people who care about accessibility and inclusivity, who actually create those conversations in those spaces. I don't really see it coming from people who are very comfortable inside those industries, and are like, ‘it's a boys club, a white boys club.’
But she didn’t stop there. She co-founded the Green Jobs Board.
I really wanted to just say straight up, this is hard for people to find green jobs. And it started as an Instagram post. It was nothing fancy. I just went on the internet and started finding climate jobs that I thought were interesting that were by organizations that I felt were doing something meaningful and it wasn't unpaid. And I made a strong point to make that clear to every one of the positions I was sharing. And something crazy happened where I was putting it out as social media content, but it was just blowing up. Young people were getting so excited.
Kristy does the legwork of finding companies offering good green jobs. And that’s why she’s joining us today, to help solve your challenge of finding organizations that fit you.
HILL ON TAPE:
I was just speaking with someone that currently works in the healthcare sector, who's really passionate about the environment. And specifically, they've just been really interested in solar. But when they try to think of it as a job, they don't even know who to search for on LinkedIn, right? Like, do I just type in solar in the search bar and hope someone comes up? I'm curious, what advice would you share with someone that's really coming from that stage of the process and helping them to figure out what companies to look for.
What has helped me is figuring out, like, what are some of the skill sets that you have in the positions that you'd be interested in. And being able to take that in along with solar. So let's say, like, you know that you're really good at research or data analysis, typing in like data analyst solar,’ like something will pull up, right. So let's say you worked in healthcare, maybe you have an admin background or a project management background or a data analysis background, think about how you could transfer those skills over to another industry. So you can start figuring out like, OK, these are the skill sets, type in something like solar, make a shortlist of those companies that maybe you're interested in. What kind of data analysts or people in those companies have intriguing role titles to you? And a key thing that you could do is you could go on the LinkedIn page of one of these companies or organizations and see who works there and just start clicking through and reading what those position titles are. LinkedIn stalk a little bit. And if someone seems intriguing enough to you, of course, it takes a little bit of vulnerability, a little bit of bravery. But then message them directly and say, ‘Hey, like, I'm coming from this industry, just wanting to get 15/20 minutes on your calendar to have a call, because I think your work is really intriguing.’
To all my fellow introverts out there, I can hear you tensing up. That messaging strangers piece can be a terrifying thing. Totally get it. But Kristy thinks the internet, and particularly social media, can offer some comfort, where you can comment and connect with others.
We're already seeing like people, even in our comment section on our Instagram posts, kind of meeting each other and talking with each other. And I think that that's an interesting way for people who are kind of worried about how to connect to, at least engage, in the conversation, maybe in a way that's like…a little less intimidating. There's also Slack groups that are forming. I'm a part of the Women in Climate Slack community. There's a few groups that are forming slack communities and groups where you can actually just like keep track of what's happening in the conversation.
That’s right. Dedicated, climate-specific job communities. Hallelujah. Communities like Work on Climate, Terra Do, Women in Climate, Climatebase, Climate Draft, MCJ Collective, just to name a few. All of them can be great resources to learn about organizations and roles. We’ve posted links to these communities in our show notes for you.
These groups bring in guest speakers, hold office hours, job fairs, all as ways for you to share resources and have real conversations.
But more importantly, these communities can give you the morale boost you need. Going on this journey can be frustrating and even feel lonely at times. Trust me, I’ve been there. And one of the things that kept me going was talking with other people going through the same thing.
Ok, thanks for indulging me and letting me go on a tangent about these communities. Clearly I really like them. Back to making the move to talk to people already working in climate. Not everyone is going to say yes to a 15 or 20 minute chat.
Kristy got plenty of no-thank-yous. And she got ghosted.
At the end of the day, you do have to learn how to put yourself a little bit out there. I feel like that's inevitable. There has to be some risk involved. If you really want it and you really want to build that, you're gonna have to do things that make you feel uncomfortable.
For her, taking that risk eventually paid off. Kristy wanted to do climate work in the areas of communications, journalism, or diversity, equity and inclusion. She says talking to other people helped her better expand her own imagination about the types of opportunities she could apply for.
When you're connecting with people, don't view it as what information can I get out of you so that way I can get to that north star? It's actually let me sit with you, understand you, understand how you think, how you work? And see, how does that resonate with my body? How does that feel in my mind?
And keep having these kinds of conversations, says Kristy.
And as you level up in your career, even if you do get that first job, you want to keep doing that practice. You want to think, who are the people that are two or three steps ahead of you in terms of their career trajectory, and where you want to go. And have a conversation on understanding what was their own map, and how you can relate that back to yours.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: there’s way too much mystery around climate roles. Kristy and I agree that it can seem like you have to be in it to even understand what companies are doing. So speaking with the pros helped demystify climate work for her. What do you do if you’re not quite ready to cold call or message someone? Kristy says, look for folks who are talking about their experiences in the field openly. That might be on a social media site like LinkedIn or, if I may do a quick plug, through efforts like Open Door Climate.
As part of the volunteer initiative, we started a series called “Day in the Life of a Climate Professional.” Climate professionals answer a few questions about what their day-to-day looks like. Reading these is a great way for you to make sense of green job titles out there. Both of these resources are in the show notes.
Kristy wants to see more climate professionals share their day-to-day experiences.
If there were more people with expertise hosting webinars or conversations like this, to be like, what does this work actually look like? It would be really great if we saw more of those conversations happening so more people felt like it was more approachable and that you didn't need to be 5/10 years in to even be allowed to have a seat at the table. So if you're a climate scientist, or a policymaker, or someone who works in renewables, you should make your own social media account and start telling stories about your work. Because you never know who's going to be listening and what young person you're going to inspire to pursue a career.
Another great way to find organizations and roles that align with your interests? Browse climate-specific job boards. Earlier, I mentioned Kristy’s Green Jobs Board. She launched it in 2022, with the intention of highlighting well-paying, legitimate green jobs, great opportunities. When I looked, I saw everything from entry-level roles offering twenty bucks an hour to director-level positions with salaries approaching two hundred thousand dollars!
What’s also really great is that you can see which companies are BIPOC-owned or led.
But she’s also using her Green Jobs Board to call out problems she’s seen, like too many organizations offering passionate people no pay, or very low pay and often asking for unrealistic levels of experience in return.
She wants employers to know jobseekers and employees are watching. So she encourages folks to share honest feedback on the Green Jobs Board Instagram.
People will say, Hey, why is it like this? Why is that happening? And then the company, organization usually either actually responds or has to reckon with why does that look like that? It shouldn't be on the job seekers to have to figure all this stuff out. It should be on the employers to be able to understand how inaccessible this space has been.
Kristy’s been to the White House several times to talk about environmental issues, including how to get more people into climate careers. That’s because the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed last year, is projected to create nine million new green jobs over the next decade. According to a Bloomberg report, U.S. companies have already announced 100,000 new climate jobs.
HILL ON TAPE:
I'm curious, during these talks, what kinds of solutions were people offering about how to get individuals into all these forthcoming jobs that are being claimed?
I would say like, the biggest takeaway that I've gotten from talking to bigger entities is a lot of conversations around community partnerships. When it comes down to it, there's been so many workforce development programs happening on the local level. There's been these community partnerships that are trying to get marginalized communities, especially, into good jobs. It's really important to figure out, how can we bridge what's already been there and not try to rebuild what has already been built, but actually to be able to help with optimizing and making it better, more efficient and more effective.
There are more and more workforce development programs in cities and towns around the country, run by people who live there. Companies looking to hire climate workers would do well to collaborate with these local programs.
Those are the people that, I think, really understand the pain points more than anyone else, especially in America, when it comes to concepts like a job transition. They understand what have been the gaps and the struggles and the opportunities when it comes to things like unionizing, as well as being able to get communities on the ground to trust when new industries are opening up and coming into their areas like the renewable energy industry, for instance.
That was Kristy Drutman of Browngirl Green and the Green Jobs Board.
Before we say goodbye: here’s a quick recap of what we learned – a few things you can do right now!
- One: Take stock of your existing skills. Use this information to narrow down your Google and LinkedIn searches for companies and types of work out there. Remember Kristy’s example: pair your skill with what you’re passionate about, like “data analysis” and “solar energy.”
- Two: Check out climate-specific job boards like Green Jobs Board to start browsing some of the organizations and roles in the space.
- Follow news and analysis hubs that often mention companies and jobs. For example, if you’re interested in climate tech, start following Climate Tech VC’s newsletter.
That's it for this episode! Make sure to listen and follow on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, or wherever you're listening now. Get the latest news on EDF’s Green Jobs Hub and new episodes by signing up for our newsletter in the show notes. And share this podcast with a friend so you can both get a job fighting climate change.
On the next episode of The Year of the Climate Job, networking! Technologist and social impact entrepreneur Nick Martin has built a LinkedIn following of more than 200,000 people by sharing his advice on how to build and sustain your professional network.
After I graduated, I spent a lot of time looking at the networks I did have. I mapped it out. I sat down with a pen of paper, you could do this and endless numbers of online tools, and I started to think, ‘Well, who do I know. And you start to really see how big your network is by documenting it. I think that's a powerful realization.
Degrees is presented by Environmental Defense Fund. Amy Morse is our producer. Podcast Allies is our production company. Stephanie Wolf, Elaine Grant, Andrew Parrella and Matthew Simonson worked on this episode. Our music is Shame, Shame, Shame from eco-conscious band Lake Street Dive. And I’m your host, Daniel Hill. Find me on LinkedIn and let’s chat green jobs. See you next time.
Change is coming, oh yeah
Ain’t no holding it back
Ain't no running
Change is coming, oh yeah!
Degrees: Real talk about planet-saving careers is presented by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Daniel Hill hosts The Year of the Climate Job. Yesh Pavlik Slenk hosts Degrees. Amy Morse is EDF’s producer.
Podcast Allies is our production company. Stephanie Wolf is senior producer; Andrew Parrella is our production manager; Matthew Simonson is our audio editor; Elaine Appleton Grant is CEO of Podcast Allies and Tina Bassir is podcast manager. Our music is Shame, Shame, Shame from Yesh’s favorite band, Lake Street Dive.
Resources from this episode
- Browse Drutman’s Green Jobs Board and see what people are talking about on the jobs board’s Instagram page.
- Check out the Environmental Defense Fund Green Jobs Hub.
- Read up on the 2022 LinkedIn Global Green Skills Report.
- Check out and join the following climate-specific communities:
- Browse other climate-related job boards:
- Sign up for the Degrees newsletter or the Climate Tech VC’s newsletter.
- Read #OpenDoorClimate’s “Day in the Life of a Climate Profile” series.
- Here are a few articles we’ve been reading about the Inflation Reduction Act’s impact on the green jobs market:
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