‘I don’t think I had more difficulties establishing myself in senior roles than my male colleagues’

This week, Women in Solar Europe (WiSEu) gives voice to Maria Sabella, CEO and founder of Italy-based Enlight Energy Services. She told as, in some cases, at the beginning of her working relationships, she felt some prejudgment from male colleagues, but she also aknowledged, that the initial reaction disappeared after the focus on the details of the activity to be performed increased.

The European solar industry experienced its take-off fifteen years ago when several women were already into STEM-related university studies and professional roles, so we had the chance to start building expertise all from a similar point and level of skills. I tend to be an optimist, and I see more opportunities than challenges in the solar industry. Because of its intrinsic features, as a sector that contributes to sustainability, it typically attracts purpose-driven professionals.

The female component of leadership, as I like to call it, is essential to create a healthy, motivated and inspiring work environment, hence attracting and retaining talents, which is a critical differentiating factor in our fast-growing industry. The main challenge for a woman is to remain herself and leverage her unique features by maintaining her own leadership style without necessarily imitating others and ending up in a purely profit-driven and competitive approach that might not be in her nature.

At the beginning of my career in the solar industry, I was lucky enough to work with supervisors who based their decisions on competence and skills and gave me all the trust necessary to help me grow and gain my space. The beauty of our industry is the possibility to interact with a variety of different counterparties: local farmers, manufacturers, maintenance workers or international institutional investors, to name a few. If you have the chance to gain exposure to the entire value chain as I did, you learn the right language and mindset to use with each of them. This is where our empathy and versatility can be considered a significant value add rather than a weakness.

I don’t think I had more difficulties establishing myself in senior roles than my male colleagues. I have to admit that in some cases, at the beginning of new working relationships, I felt some prejudgment. Still, the initial reaction disappeared after we focused more on the details of the activity to be performed. I will never forget the recommendation of  “not wearing high hills for a site visit on a solar farm,” but I think it was more of a joke than anything else.

I believe the approach is critical when it comes to management: I tend to remain humble and learn from everyone in the organization, always trying to remember that I couldn’t be successful without the support of others. I like to create a team spirit and generate individual leadership, having authority without being authoritarian. This results in respect and trust from everyone in the company, both men and women.

Solar development in Italy is going through a very positive and dynamic phase, with many projects in the pipeline of international investors. We are still though facing a relevant NIMBY effect. On top of the more technical barriers (complex grid connections and lengthy authorization processes), one of the main challenges is to be accepted and valued by local communities. Asset Management is an area where women can add significant value. With our ability to manage stakeholders and listen to different points of view, we can help all market operators become more sensitive about the potential local impact of projects and the importance of gathering feedback from the communities.

We should start spreading the word from universities about the extraordinary impact that everybody, including women, can have on sustainability through our sector. I am still convinced that there needs to be more awareness, as young women need support while taking their first step into the job market. In addition, we should find new ways and instruments to support each other more.

The WiSeU network is a great way to join forces, and we should take any opportunity to help other women through mentoring and sharing our experiences. There is now a significant number of successful stories about women in our sector, and by sharing them, we are inspiring other women to do the same.

My message for the younger generations joining the industry is not to underestimate the impact they can have on the world. They should be part of the amazing revolution moving towards clean energy to protect our planet. Never forget: “Believe in yourself, listen to  your ideas and find your own place in our industry!”

Maria Sabella has nearly 20 years of experience (of which over 15 are in the clean energy sector) in business management, investment management and advisory.  She managed transactions under multiple roles in relation to over 2 GW of solar plants. Before founding Enlight Energy Services and Astrea Energia, Maria was European MD in WiseEnergy (NextEnergy Capital Group). She previously worked as a Senior Associate (financial advisory and fundraising) in the Macquarie Group and as a Business Analyst at Mediobanca. In addition to her current role as a CEO, she is also the Finance working group Advisor & Coordinator at Italia Solare, the Italian PV association. Maria holds an executive MBA from SDA Bocconi School of Management, a Master in Renewable Energy from Politecnico di Milano and a degree cum laude in Economics from Bocconi University. 

Interested in joining Maria Sabella and other women industry leaders and experts at Women in Solar Europe? Find out more: www.wiseu.network

This post appeared first on PV Magazine.

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