Karen Harbert: When Preparation Meets Opportunity

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“There are many, many times when we sit around a table and I’m the only one in heels. And it doesn’t go unnoticed. So I always wanted to be very confident of the facts and prepared in what I was going to say, because you don’t want to be dismissed. That’s true in any meeting, in any setting; however, it was very true in my earlier years. I think that once you prove your muster, you are given equal time and equal confidence. But it is true: You do have to prove it; you do have to earn it, not unlike in anything else.”

So says Karen Harbert, President and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She’s discussing some of the challenges of being a woman in what has been a mostly male-dominated world of energy, a world that she has played a significant role in shaping throughout an accomplished career that began with an assignment at the Republican National Committee (RNC) upon her graduation from Rice University in 1988.

“And I think things are beginning to change in the energy industry: We certainly see more women in the C-suite,” says Harbert. “On the other hand, I don’t think we see enough women on boards. That’s probably across all business areas, but particularly in the energy industry, and I hope that does continue to change over time. But it is less about bringing people in from the rigs and up the headquarters ladder; the industry becomes more open to women as it evolves into more of a high-tech industry. So, it’s changing, and for me it meant doubling down and making sure I was well-prepared. But also, it’s about kicking the tires a little bit and letting them know us women can do this too.”