Women in Building Performance: Darlene Jackson
Darlene Jackson is a program associate on the Residential team at the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA). In this role, she provides support in the coordination and implementation of HVAC SAVE and Illinois Home Performance. Before MEEA, she worked as a Policy Analyst for Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity through the graduate public service internship program.
Lindsay Bachman Flickinger: How did you get started in the energy efficiency industry?
Darlene Jackson: While completing my MPA program, I worked for the state of Illinois within the economic sector. I had the task of researching the different ways that solar and energy efficiency could positively impact the state’s economics. I grew interested in the space of conserving energy. I started to explore my options within the field. After applying and interviewing, a good friend/former classmate of mine mentioned how much he loved his job and the people he worked with and told me I should apply for a position with his organization. After about a three-week process, I’d finally landed a job in the industry. Lesson learned: Never doubt the power of networking and keeping in touch with former colleagues and classmates.
LBF: What has been your greatest accomplishment so far? What are you most proud of?
DJ: There are a few things that I am proud of, but recently one of our programs, Illinois Home Performance, sponsored a “green” appraiser training that was hosted by the Appraisal Institute. It was the first of this type of training in the state. Before the course, there were only six appraisers that were qualified to appraise an efficient home. There were 45 students in the class, and of those 45 there were about 30 that had plans to pursue the certification. If all goes as planned, those 30 people will be certified and added to the number of appraisers who can properly assess home with “green” features. It’s exciting to know that I had a hand in bringing the first “green” appraiser training to the state of Illinois. Moreover, it’s satisfying to know that we’re making an immediate improvement within our industry.
LBF: When you started out, what were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome these?
DJ: Both of the programs that I help manage deal with a ton of building science. That being said, I had to quickly learn about static pressure, AUFE, the stack effect, and much more. Attempting to engage with partners of our program with little knowledge of the science or technical portion of the industry is extremely difficult. Understanding that I could be much more impactful in my role with some knowledge about technical terms, I was adamant about learning more through conferences, single-day courses, and webinars. After a few months, I found myself capable of engaging with contractors and others within the industry with ease.
LBF: What is the most rewarding thing about your job?
DJ: I always say that working in this industry is great because you get to help people—even if they don’t know or don’t want the help. Being more resourceful and conserving energy is beneficial for everyone. I enjoy spreading knowledge about home comfort, indoor air quality, and strategies to lower utilities by using less energy.
LBF: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges for women in this industry?
DJ: I mentioned learning more about the building science and technical aspect of my role. To do this, I would often attend courses for contractors or conferences. These spaces were mostly composed of older, white men. Oftentimes, my colleague and I were the only women in the room; I was often the only person of color in the room. There surely weren’t any women instructors at these events and I don’t recall any people of color either. Needless to say, as a black woman, I stuck out like a sore thumb. Furthermore, I had to prove that I was worthy of being included in conversations and taken seriously. Sadly, as women, we have to continuously prove that we deserve a seat at the table—and that we can put the bacon on the table.
LBF: What advice would you give to a woman starting out in the industry?
DJ: For all of the women that are starting in the industry, I would strongly suggest developing a study plan for the industry terms and science. Because the more you know, the more you’ll be able to contribute during important conversations. Additionally, I would suggest networking and finding other women in the industry that you can learn from and use as mentors. You’ll need a support system that is willing to guide, challenge, and inform you. Moreover, it’s always nice to have someone cheering for you as you grow.
You can follow the Illinois Home Performance program on twitter @IllinoisHP.
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