Catherine McLean, Founder of Dylan Green on Placing Diverse Commercial Professionals Within the Clean Energy Market

Catherine developed a passion for clean energy and technology in 2011. She worked at the United Nations developing relationships with governments on public-private partnerships and subsequently took a job as a Consultant at Acre Resources, a global recruitment firm focused on energy and sustainability. Catherine founded recruitment business McLean Ross in 2011, with a core focus on placing sales and marketing professionals within the energy and utility industry. In 2017, McLean Ross merged with global engineering recruitment business JDR Energy, creating JD Ross Energy.

With a growing need for diversity in clean energy, Catherine launched Dylan Green in 2019, placing diverse commercial professionals within the clean energy market.

Take me to the podcast.

THE TRANSCRIPT: BIGGER THAN US EPISODE 154

This transcript has been lightly edited.

Host Raj Daniels  00:23

So, Catherine, I like to open the show by asking my guests the following question. If you were to share something interesting about yourself, what would it be?

Catherine McLean  02:14

Interesting about myself? It depends on what you define as interesting. I’m a single mom to a toddler. And his name is Dylan. And that’s who I named the company after. So I guess what’s interesting is trying to build a company while raising a toddler. That’s probably the most interesting thing in the world. It’s not boring.

Host Raj Daniels  02:43

Well, since you’ve mentioned him and Dylan, can you give the audience an overview of Dylan Green and your role at your organization?

Catherine McLean  02:51

Yeah, so I founded Dylan Green, when I was on maternity leave at the beginning of 2019. Dylan is a Christmas baby. So I had him at the end of ’18. I had started other firms previously but decided to go out on my own again, specifically focusing on diversity within clean energy. So I’ve been in the industry for about 10 years and felt like, it was a real opportunity for me to be more focused within the space. I was getting asked more and more to help candidates find, you know, awesome female talent. And so I decided to set up an agency focused on that. And it’s since expanded into not just finding awesome female talent but awesome talent in BIPOC in general. Yes, it’s been an interesting journey.

Host Raj Daniels  03:46

Question: why diversity, specifically in clean energy?

Catherine McLean  03:51

So I think I have had my challenges throughout my career. And you know, I say this, realizing that I have had privilege as well. You know, being a white woman, there’s always a privilege that I don’t think I appreciated until recently with the BLM movement, making me more aware of that privilege. But I have had a lot of challenges. Being a woman in my career, not just in clean energy, but previously, because I didn’t get into clean energy until I was 30. And what I was trying to do was to find a way to set up a new firm in the space that was a bit more niche. I’ve always felt like the more niche you go, the better because clients are looking for experts. And so I had a meeting with Jigar Shah. I came back to the US––I was in London for many years––and was back in the DC area and networking and getting to know who I should know in DC. Of course, Jigar Shah’s name came up. He wasn’t familiar to me at the time, because I’d been gone for so many years. So I was kind of getting up to speed on all things US clean energy. And when I met with him, I said, you know, if you were me setting up a new firm, what would you focus on? And he said, “Why don’t you focus on DEI?” And I said, “Oh, really? You think there’s enough of a market there to have an agency just focus on DEI?” And he said, “Absolutely.” He said, “I think that there’s a huge market opportunity there. People need a lot of help with it. And they don’t know how to go about doing it.” And so I think for me, I’d always had that sort of dual mission of that planet piece of placing people in clean energy, thus improving jobs that will contribute to a low carbon economy. And then, of course, the profit piece. I’m a recruiter. I’m motivated by profit as well. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. But what I realized from that conversation is the piece I was missing was the people piece. I think I’ve always been good, I hope, for clients, but I think really narrowing down on that people piece and how I could affect people’s lives, quite frankly. I don’t want to sound dramatic, but I get a lot of messages from people saying that they’ve got jobs and, you know, had opportunities that they wouldn’t have had otherwise if I hadn’t been an advocate for them, and so forth. So I think it was a combination of the sort of stars aligning at that point. And that sort of “aha” moment where I was like, maybe he’s right. Maybe there’s an opportunity here to help and have a triple mission instead of a double mission.

Host Raj Daniels  06:40

So before we move on, just in case, someone in the audience is not aware, can you share what BIPOC is?

Catherine McLean  06:46

Yes. So it’s Black, Indigenous, People of Color. So it basically means people from marginalized communities.

Host Raj Daniels  06:53

Now, in your experience of hiring, what have you seen as some of the biggest challenges that both individuals and organizations have, specifically around DEI?

Catherine McLean  07:03

I think that there seems to be a little bit of a disconnect of people like wanting to do it and having the intention of doing it, but perhaps not quite prepared for how much work it can take. And so what I mean by that is, I’m only able to help with the beginning of the journey. Diversifying the candidate pool. That’s what I can help with. But the inclusion piece, bringing someone on board, making them feel part of the organization, integrating them into an organization, retaining them promoting them––that is something I can’t help with. I am not an expert in those subjects. I can give advice, of course, from my experience, but I’m not an expert in that. So I think some of the pitfalls I see are people having good intentions of hiring around this, but not necessarily prepared for the onboarding and inclusion piece. The other thing I’d say on the hiring piece is that I have a lot of candidates from outside the industry, like oil and gas, for example. Some awesome talent, female BIPOC talent. And I think there’s a real hesitancy of, “We don’t have the time to train somebody.” And even in finance, we have some awesome women in investment banking, who want to pivot, if you like, into clean energy. “We don’t have the time to train them.” And the problem with that mentality is the people that have taken the chance, quote, unquote, on this talent, have been amazed that A, it doesn’t actually take as much time as you would think, to train somebody, on solar, for example––oil and gas is actually quite a complicated field, as is a lot of, obviously, investment banking practices, and principles. So the clients I’ve had that have taken that chance have been amazed by how great it’s paid off. My message to a lot of clients who are hesitant to take that chance is it does pay off. You tend to get candidates that you’re able to train up much more quickly than you realize. But the other thing I will say is the market is very, very strong. It is a candidate-driven market, everyone is hiring. So you know, if you’re going to be open to looking outside of our immediate industry, you’re going to be rewarded with the kinds of talent that you’re going to get. Because not a lot of people are willing to do that. They want like for like, and you know, as we continue to grow this industry, and the jobs just gonna get more and more plentiful, at some point, we’re gonna have to let more people in from other industries, because we just didn’t have enough people to do it, to have it.

Host Raj Daniels  09:47

So I’ve had a few conversations in the last couple of months, and specifically, people that are leading hiring or have a role in hiring at different companies. And when I speak about DEI to them, I often hear a pushback in their voice or directly around, “I want to hire around meritocracy and not specifically around, perhaps people of color or––let’s call it other kinds of talent.” And so how do you address those kinds of conversations?

Catherine McLean  10:18

I’m not trying to get people to hire off anything other than merit. I think that’s the thing, I’m not looking for some sort of affirmative action here where we have to hire a BIPOC candidate because we have to hire a BIPOC candidate. I’m simply saying that when you diversify your candidate pool, and when you put measures in place that you have to interview with a certain amount of BIPOC candidates, you will be surprised by how great these candidates are. And it’s just by giving them that shot, if you’d like, to even have the audience of these hiring managers, you’d be surprised by how great the talent is, I think we read resumes way too much. And we don’t interview people. And I can tell you after a decade of recruitment, I’ve had some beautiful resumes and not such great candidates when you get to interview and vice versa. You know, some of my best candidates haven’t had the best resume. I’ve never had a resume. I can’t remember the last time I had a resume, maybe when I first graduated. So the whole thing just seems ridiculous to me this over-emphasis that we place on a resume. So I guess that would be my message is you know, I’m completely open to hiring off skills, attributes, merits, let’s do it. But let’s stop hyper-focusing on what companies somebody has worked out or what school they’ve come from, or what GPA they had. Let’s have a little bit more of a bigger, macro approach.

Host Raj Daniels  11:56

So let’s switch from the organization to the candidate. How do you prepare candidates to find positions in the green tech cleantech industry?

Catherine McLean  12:06

I think the first thing I say to a candidate, and it depends on if they’ve come to me, and they’re looking for a job and they’re out of work, or if I’m headhunting them, and trying to convince them to go to one of my companies that I’m working with. It depends on the situation. But I think what I will say for candidates who are actively looking and on the market, contact me. I’m happy to help, sometimes I’m able to help and sometimes I’m not. But you know, the candidates I’ve seen that have done the best––been able to find your best opportunities––are candidates that have a multi-prong approach. So utilize someone like me, but also utilize their own network and make sure that they’re applying and networking themselves. And I’ve seen countless examples of when people put their mind to it, they’re able to get what they want, quite frankly. The market is very good. It’s just about putting the work in, quite frankly.

Host Raj Daniels  13:04

So let’s roleplay for a moment, I perhaps come to you and say, Catherine, I’m really interested in getting involved in cleantech, green tech, sustainability. I’m coming from a totally unrelated industry, what some tactical, tangible advice you could give to me for that?

Catherine McLean  13:21

Network. Networking, networking, networking, networking, networking. I cannot overemphasize it. Because I, as I said, have a real challenge on my hands. I’m trying to get companies to look outside the space. You’ve got to remember: as a recruiter, we have a fee attached to us. So there is a feeling that clients pay us to find exactly what they want, right? So you have to take matters into your own hands. And I think the best way to do that is by networking. If you look at the majority of the way people find jobs, it’s networking. And a big reason why white males are so successful is that they hear about opportunities before anyone else hears about them because they’re networking. So organizations like WRISE, organizations like WCS––Women in Cleantech and Sustainability––organizations like CELI––Clean Energy Leadership Institute––NEWIEE in New England. I could go on and on and on about how many different organizations there are. And I think by networking, what you do is you get rid of that resume that I was talking about, and people get to know you for you. So you go and you do some speed mentoring events you can join. Getting involved in these mentoring events, you know, you’re never too old, in my opinion, to have mentors, and learn from other people. And so I think when you start to do some of these events and go some of these talks and start to get to know the industry and show an interest in the industry, as I said, there are a lot of jobs, so you’re going to run into people that are probably hiring. And as they get to know you through these networking groups, it’s a lot easier for them to say, “Hey, you know, she seems or he seems like a great person, I really want to hire them. By the way, can you send me a resume?” You see, now it’s less important.

Host Raj Daniels  15:26

Katherine, this past year has been a difficult time to network and the world is opening back up again. I’m an introverted person, perhaps wanting to dip my toe in? How would you suggest I go about starting––if I’m starting from scratch––networking with these organizations, or perhaps even online?

Catherine McLean  15:42

Yeah, I think that this past year has been a great time to network because we are all stuck, we’ve all been stuck in our house glued to our computers. And I think for somebody who’s introverted, being able to network virtually is actually probably a lot less scary than doing it in person. I mean, I know I’ve gone to events like not know anyone, and I’ve been really terrified, and I’m a pretty outgoing person. And it’s a heck of a lot easier to do that virtually. So I think even as things start to go in person, there still seems to be a lot of in-tandem virtual events that are running. So for example, I’m part of an event in a couple of weeks in New York. That’s going to be in person, but they’re still going to be running it virtually, you see, so you still have an opportunity to if you don’t want to go face to face in New York to be involved in it. And so I think to answer your question, if you’re an introverted person, start virtually. And listen. Listen to what people are saying and take notes. And when you feel comfortable get involved in it and approach people.

Host Raj Daniels  16:55

I appreciate that. Now, earlier, you mentioned people, planet, profit, and you moved into this clean energy sector. What’s the why? What drove you to start addressing people, planet, profit, and then clean energy?

Catherine McLean  17:11

I’ll go back a bit. I had worked for DHL after I graduated college at George Mason, here in the Northern Virginia area. And as I was working for DHL, I created an opportunity. I say “create” because I wanted to live abroad. And I strategically worked for DHL because they’re a global organization. And they gave me the opportunity to work abroad. So I went to London. When I was in London, I fell into recruitment. Somebody called me out of the blue and offered me an interview to be a recruiter. I didn’t realize that at the time. I thought I was interviewing with them. As a recruiter, I thought they were talking to me about other sales opportunities because I was a salesperson. And then once they explained to me that no, the opportunity they were talking to me about was to work in recruitment. After I told them several times I had no interest in recruitment, I wound up in recruitment. And once I started with them, I realized that working in finance and recruitment in London was great. It was super competitive. And I enjoyed it, I did well, and got promoted, moved to Dubai. And then the recession hit. And I sort of took stock of like, what I was doing, and if I was happy, and I just felt like something was missing. And so I decided to take some time out to go back to school. And I thought instead of I was gonna do an MBA, and then I thought, well, I’m doing an MBA, but I don’t really know why I’m doing an MBA, maybe I should do something more focused. And so I decided to do my Master’s in Public Health. I’d always been passionate about nutrition. And so I thought maybe I can use my business skills to do something in public health. So I went to the University of Westminster in London and was a very poor student, as I was a very poor student at George Mason. So I realized that at least I was consistent. I’ve always been a poor student. But what I realized was I was really good at networking with the professors getting all kinds of internship opportunities for myself, and like several of my classmates, and I landed myself an internship at the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. And when I was in Rome for a few months, I realized, this is super cool. And it’s been a great experience. But, you know, my talents are in business, not the nonprofit world. But I want to go do something that is contributing to some sort of positive mission. I don’t want to go back to the finance world. So I decided to go back to recruitment focused on renewable energy recruitment. That came about because I went to work for a firm in London called Acre Resources, and Acre does sustainability recruitment. But because I had a background in sales, they basically said, “Can you place salespeople in clean energy? Because the UK market is deregulated. So it’s very competitive to get salespeople in these organizations selling to business customers.” I wound up doing that for a few months and realized very quickly that the market was booming. I mean, this is even when oil and gas were over a hundred dollars a barrel that the clean energy market was still was doing very well in the UK, and Europe. And so I left the firm after a few months and set up on my own, and that firm was called McLean Ross. So I guess that’s a very long answer to tell you that life is what happens when you make plans for it. I never thought I’d be in recruitment, and I never thought I would be doing clean energy. It’s just sort of that’s how the journey wound up happening. And I’m so grateful that it did. And I’m so grateful that I let it happen as well.

Host Raj Daniels  20:59

So you mentioned renewable energy recruitment, you mentioned your conversation with Jigar Shah. How big do you think this opportunity is for individuals that are looking to perhaps make a career change or coming to a new career?

Catherine McLean  21:11

What do you mean, how big?

Host Raj Daniels  21:13

The market for talent in the renewable energy climate sector?

Catherine McLean  21:19

If we’re talking about how big I mean, I think the sky’s the limit, especially when you have an administration that is finally willing to support us and work with us to build the space. I mean, I think what I’m also seeing the past few months is such a range of opportunities. So you know, last year was just inundated with solar, solar, solar, all utility-scale solar. And I think now what I’m seeing is EV opportunities and seeing SaaS opportunities and seeing onshore wind, offshore wind, storage. You know, there are so many different opportunities I’m seeing not only in job titles but in micro sectors within our space. So that’s a lot of what I tell people, when they’re trying to get in our space, I’m always like, “Keep an open mind. If you’re wanting to do solar, but you get an opportunity to build energy efficiency, embrace that. Just get that first step into our space in any way that you can. And then you can specialize into something that you may be interested in as you go,” if that answers your question.

Host Raj Daniels  22:34

It does, it does. So earlier, you mentioned life is what happens when you’re making plans. And you seem to be right now, in the right time, the right place. What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned about yourself in your journey?

Catherine McLean  22:47

I think being unapologetically honest. I’m very honest and transparent. And I think that may be a little bit different than a lot of people are used to when dealing with recruiters. The positive of that is what you see is what you get with me, but I think the challenge with that is I’m not gonna, I’m not an order taker. I’m gonna give you my opinion based on, you know, my experience. I like to think of myself as having more of a consultative approach. So I have learned to feel confident in that consultant approach and push back. I’ve also learned that it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you’re deliberate. And it’s amazing what you can’t accomplish when you make excuses, quite frankly. So I’m all about like, reasons why we can do something rather than why we can’t do something. And I think it’s much easier to approach life looking at things in a negative way, and why we can’t make it happen. But I feel very optimistic about Dylan Green I feel optimistic about Catherine McLean. And I feel optimistic about what we’re doing as a country and as an industry and the direction that we’re headed.

Host Raj Daniels  24:13

Can you give an example, either with a candidate or with an organization, where you’ve been, as you said, unapologetically honest?

Catherine McLean  24:21

Absolutely. I had a client. He wanted to hire a BIPOC candidate. He was looking for. He works for a utility-scale solar company. He wanted to hire somebody from a utility-scale solar company. And I said, “It’d be really interesting if we gave somebody a shot, who wasn’t from the industry.” And he said, “Well, I can’t on this role.” I said, “Alright.” He came back to me a couple of months later. He said, “Right, have a roll. I’m going to go for it. We’re not going to interview anybody from solar. We are going to interview people from oil and gas. BIPOC candidates, oil and gas.” I was like, “Let’s do it.” And so he hired somebody from a huge oil major. And the candidate was overjoyed to get the opportunity, and the client absolutely just thought he was outstanding. He’s come in, and he’s done a tremendous job of helping them implement some great processes and procedures on the FP&A side of the business. And I think that’s one of my favorite stories because it says a lot about that hiring manager. This is a white male hiring manager. It says a lot about him that he checked his own biases at the door and said, “Hey, you know what, she’s right, let’s do it. Let’s make a conscious effort to give somebody outside the industry a shot at this.” And it benefited not only him in the organization, but the candidate, and it just shows you what you can do when you put your mind to it.

Host Raj Daniels  25:50

It really does. So let’s step into the future. It’s 2030. What do you see the future holding for Dylan Green?

Catherine McLean  25:58

2030, that’s quite some time away. I think I’ll be very tired. What do I see the future doing? Where I would like the business to go is more towards assisting clients with C-suite and board opportunities. I place candidates at all different kinds of levels. And I really enjoy it. But I do think that where we need to focus these efforts is at that C suite board level to get that trickle-down effect. That is where we can make the biggest impact. That’s where I would like to see the business go, to more senior opportunities, leadership opportunities.

Host Raj Daniels  26:49

I like the idea of working on that trickle-down effect. And I feel like some of your candidates that you’ve placed in the last few years are probably ready for that C-suite in 10 years.

Catherine McLean  26:59

I really hope so. There’s nothing that gives me more joy than working with my candidates and seeing them develop and become hiring managers and leaders in their own right. It’s something that I relish and I and I hope to be able to help them both individually and as a business.

Host Raj Daniels  27:21

Speaking of hiring managers, if there’s someone listening right now, that’s perhaps struggling, and they’re within a company, and they’re trying to, perhaps launch a DEI initiative, what are some of the steps you would recommend they take?

Catherine McLean  27:33

The steps that we’d recommend they take is to make sure that it’s more than one. And what I mean by that is the companies I’ve seen that have been most successful in doing this work and bringing onboard diverse candidates have been companies where they’ve had more than one stakeholder who’s championing it. So they’ve put together a team or some sort of task force or coalition or whatever you want to call it. But making sure that there are multiple stakeholders involved at different levels. Senior-level, you obviously need a stakeholder who is championing this work, you need an HR perspective who’s championing the work, but you also need everybody in between. And I think that’s the biggest challenge is getting that middle management on board, because a lot of times, they’re the ones that are going to have to train people, they’re the ones that are going to have to be doing the actual legwork. So making sure that they’ve bought into the process. Maybe they don’t feel as passionate about it, but making sure that they at least understand the importance of it, and are willing to be a part of the process rather than hinder the process. And if they aren’t, questioning if they’re right for the culture of your organization, if that’s what’s important to the organization. And maybe they’re not right for the culture of the organization moving forward.

Host Raj Daniels  28:55

Speaking of the organization. Earlier in our conversation, you mentioned, retention. And I’ve seen some companies almost drop that ball or forget about it once they’ve hired someone. What are some of the best companies that you’ve seen? Or what are some of the best processes you’ve seen companies implement regarding retention?

Catherine McLean  29:12

It’s the number one thing I’m hearing at the moment is from companies saying that attrition is their biggest challenge at the moment. And as I said, the market is strong. Everybody’s hiring, wages are going up. And companies are losing people. And I think what’s surprising is they’re losing people, and they haven’t lost people before and they don’t quite know what to do about it. And so retention, I think, first starts with looking at pay and where you sit within the market, and making sure that you are paying packages that are going to retain your employees, because it’s a lot harder to hire than it is, in my opinion, to retain. And I think the other thing is making sure that you have things internally that people are going to be bought into. So not just pay, but the culture, the mission. You know, do you have a mentorship program? Are there people in the organization that is checking in with that person at different levels? Is it just their manager that is going to be the first one to hear if anything is going wrong? Or are there other opportunities for other people in the organization at other levels to be able to hear that information before it happens? I think a lot of people are surprised when people leave, is my point. There shouldn’t be any reason why you’re surprised there should be enough people that have touchpoints to various employees, so that shouldn’t come as a surprise. You should be able to kind of mitigate that resignation before you get that letter into your inbox.

Host Raj Daniels  30:55

I like the idea of touchpoints It makes a lot of sense. So last question. And this can be professional, personal, and you’ve already given a lot of advice, both to candidates and organizations. If you could share some specific advice or words of wisdom with the audience, what would it be?

Catherine McLean  31:10

It goes back to the very beginning of the conversation before you started recording, in which you said, what can I do to help you? And I think that that would be my words of advice. I think we all have a tendency to think about ourselves first, which is natural, but I think it’s about thinking about others first, and how you can help others. I think that’s been the game-changer for my career is by trying to help other people, I’ve always had people go out of their way to help me. So it’s karma. Just having good karma.

Host Raj Daniels  31:43

I love that advice. And I also have to, again, put a really strong point of what you mentioned earlier regarding networking, networking, networking. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve also suggested people and recommended people do that. So thank you so much, Jay. Thank you for your time, Catherine, and I look forward to catching up with you again soon.

Before we go, I’m excited to share that we’ve launched the Bigger Than Us comic strip, The Adventures of Mira and Nexi.

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Raj Daniels