Clean energy transition requires smart investment, sound policy, and promising technologies

Heather Stephens, ERA’s Chief Operating Officer, has been a foundational member of ERA since it began in 2009, overseeing finances while helping operate and grow the organization.

She has been an integral member of ERA’s project evaluation committee, involved in almost every ERA funding decision to date. Most recently, to accelerate economic recovery and support environmental sustainability, she secured and oversaw $280 million in funding from the Federal and Provincial Governments. These funds were used to rapidly create jobs and stimulate economic opportunities in response to COVID-19.

Over the years, Heather has worked hard to build a best-in-class data collection repository so that ERA can demonstrate its outcomes clearly and confidently. This has helped others in the Alberta innovation system better measure and estimate the outcomes of funded projects and programs and quantify the return on investment.

Last year, Heather was recognized by The Women in Energy Transformation Series, a partnership between the Pembina Institute and Globe Series that celebrates and honours the women advancing Canada’s transition to a clean economy and identifies opportunities for more women to get involved. 

What are the key challenges you’ve faced in your career?
As a career-driven parent, it can be challenging to strike the right balance of focus for your personal and professional life at various stages of your children’s lives. I was fortunate to have male mentors and leaders that understood the value that I brought to the team, even if it meant that they would get less than a full-time equivalent of me for a period of my career. I want this to be the norm in the workplace, that it isn’t seen as a slow-down or lead you to career oblivion if you decide to shift your focus to where it is needed most over your career progression.  Having a diverse array of female leaders telling their personal stories is important for our future female leaders, so that they can understand that career progressions aren’t always linear.

How important is it to connect with women in the workforce?
While I have been fortunate to have exceptional male mentors and leaders, I have had a 25-year career with a lack of female mentors.  This is a function of lack of diversity at senior levels in my chosen career path, but perhaps a larger symptom of the juggling act that a lot of female leaders face. With the obligations of career and personal lives, this leaves less time to concentrate on reaching out to mentor female colleagues. Having opportunities to gather women together in virtual and in-person environments to share stories, exchange ideas and feel supported by a cohort of capable and passionate women in the workforce can be very powerful and allow for these mentorships to happen organically.

Why is the energy transition important to you?
I want to be certain our kids will be proud of the future we’re creating. To get where we need to go, we need to show leadership by being open, transparent, and authentic. When we play to our strengths and work together, progress is possible. Ultimately, success will come from convening groups of individuals and organizations developing innovative approaches by looking at existing ideas in new and creative ways. With smart investment, sound policy, and promising technologies, we can be certain that the world our children need, the one the world is demanding, will come to be.

What does a successful energy transition look like to you?
I firmly believe that a successful transition will leave us healthier, stronger and more resilient than we are today. A successful transition will have an engaged, innovative and diverse workforce. It will include a wide array of technology solutions – some that already exist and ones we haven’t yet thought of. To support this, companies will have embedded a culture of sustainability and innovation into their organizations—into policies, processes, governance, and decision-making. It will focus on building vibrant communities while at the same time leveraging learnings and knowledge from the globe so that we can move at the pace required to get to net zero. And most importantly, it will have left no individual or jurisdiction behind so that we do not have the disproportionate impact of climate change affecting those who have had the least contribution to its existence.

What is the proudest accomplishment of your life?
The gift of raising my two daughters to be independent, capable, and empathetic women.

If you were granted one wish to make the world a better place, what would it be?
Equal access to opportunity, whatever that may look like for the individual, regardless of personal characteristics or circumstances.