Wednesday
Apr 01
2015
April 1, 2015

Ceiling Breaker for Women in STEM

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Leslie Labruto is senior manager of programs at the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) and helps lead the Resilient Communities Program. The Resilient Communities Program works to transition Caribbean countries’ energy sources from diesel fuel to clean energy by providing financial, political, and technical support to governments engaged in energy transition.

Raised in a household by her single mother and grandmother along with her two older sisters, Leslie grew up playing with building blocks instead of dolls creating a completely gender neutral environment.

Raised in a household by her single mother and grandmother along with her two older sisters, Leslie grew up playing with building blocks instead of dolls creating a completely gender neutral environment. Fascinated by the tactile elements around her, she knew from a young age that she wanted to be an engineer. After high school, Leslie attended Vanderbilt University and entered the School of Engineering, which is comprised of only 30 percent women. Rather than being intimidated, Leslie embraced this as an opportunity to shine. In addition to studying 60 hours a week for her Engineering major and two minors in Energy and Environmental Systems and Engineering Management, Leslie knew that building strong leadership skills was the key to growing in a predominately male-led career. In college, Leslie became a VUceptor (an upperclassman who mentors first year students), President of Vanderbilt’s Environmental Club, Social Chair of American Society of Civil Engineers, a Project Engineer for Engineers Without Borders, and a member of the Society of Women Engineers.  As a result, she was elected to the Board of Trustees at Vanderbilt—an extremely prestigious position at 21. Leslie’s ability to turn a situation that is disadvantageous for many into an opportunity is inspiring.

After receiving a Master’s in Sustainable Energy Futures from Imperial College in London, Leslie accepted a job at a predominantly male venture capital firm, in part because she hoped to help transform the internal culture. Rather than feeling empowered, Leslie became discouraged. Not only were there few female associates at her level, Leslie observed that there were no women in senior leadership positions at the firm. Leslie wanted to connect with her colleagues for guidance, but was unsure of how that might come off in this environment while still being taken seriously as a professional. Like many women in finance positions who are told to “man up,” Leslie realized that her colleagues at the firm and similar firms in that industry lacked appreciation for diversity and did not understand that not only does diversity promote equality, but it also is better for business.

Leslie realized that her colleagues at the firm and similar firms in that industry lacked appreciation for diversity and did not understand that not only does diversity promote equality, but it also is better for business.

Passionate about working for an organization that was doing work that she felt had a global impact, and in an environment that appreciated diversity, Leslie joined the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) where she met Dymphna van der Lans, the chief executive officer of CCI and a ceiling breaker for women in climate and energy. Recognizing Leslie’s passion, Dymphna has been working closely with Leslie to help her understand how to lead a team and how she can reach her full potential in the STEM field.

Working in venture capital with no mentor or role model, Leslie had trouble visualizing and progressing her way to the top. And today, with strong professional support and mentorship, Leslie is committed to truly making a difference in the field of energy inequality. Leslie is also passionate about mentorship reciprocity; she always passes on the support she’s received by mentoring any young people, not just women, who reach out to her. Leslie “wants to see more women in leadership. There’s an opportunity for us now to assess and address how to ensure the number of women CEOs in the Fortune 500 grows from 24 (5%) today to more than 250 in the near future. Women can be at the top of a ‘man’s world’ and systemically change the game.” By supporting young women, especially in STEM fields, we can work towards achieving Leslie’s dream for women and girls. 

 


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