Origami Head of Solutions Michelle Vezie-Taylor on diversity
To mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Origami Head of Solutions Michelle Vezie-Taylor explains why the energy transition needs companies to draw from a diverse range of talented individuals; and how Origami inclusively supports all colleagues to maximise their potential.
Thanks for your time. Can you tell us a bit about your career?
I grew up in a household where curiosity about the world was encouraged, and this really set me up for a career in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths].
I’ve always loved science and solving problems, so I studied science and maths at school. Then I studied chemical engineering at Stanford in the US; and, after that, I wanted to keep learning, so I started a PhD at Imperial College London researching solar panels. I’ve been fascinated with light and energy for a long time, and just felt there was something beautiful about being able to get energy from the sun.
Why is it important for girls to get opportunities in STEM?
First, it’s because science and engineering are so much fun, and it seems a shame for anyone who’s interested to feel they don’t have a place.
I went to a girls’ school, and I think that helped because I could study science and maths, and my gender wasn’t a big deal. At Stanford, I wasn’t in the majority gender-wise, but by that point I didn’t really care or notice. I just loved the course because it was all about solving problems, and the subject is massively applicable to real life. And then physics at ICL was also male-dominated, but my supervisor was a woman and there was also an active ‘women in physics’ group so I felt very supported.
I feel lucky that I’ve been really encouraged to study science and engineering, so I see it as my duty to use my voice to pass it on.
And then you came to Origami in 2017?
Yes, I came to Origami as an intern, and since then I’ve had a few different roles. I’m now the company’s Head of Solutions, and I’m grateful there is a culture here that will promote internally and values contributions.
I’m quite big picture and mission-driven, and so having that support and being able to work to support a renewables-based energy system is very important to me.
Why is diversity important for the renewables sector?
It may seem obvious to say but the energy transition is kind of a big deal! We need all the best people thinking about it and working on it from a wide range of angles so, even from a pure numbers perspective, we need diversity. The more inclusive we are, the more chance we have of capturing the best ideas to achieve the energy transition and get ourselves an energy system that is based on renewables. That is desperately important.
What can companies do to help address this?
There are some steps that companies can take to promote diversity. Addressing bias in the hiring process is a must, so we try to make our job ads as inclusive as possible and remove people’s names from their CV.
Companies also need to accept that people have families and personal lives, and so actively promoting and supporting flexible working is a must. As a new mum, I really appreciated this, but it applies equally to any new parent, people with elderly parents, and so on. Flexible working policies are so helpful if we want to be an accepting industry.
At Origami, we have a couple of peer networks, including a women’s network and a working parents’ group. We’re not a big company but having peer support and learning from others who’ve walked in those shoes can be so helpful.
How do you think renewables compare to the rest of energy?
One thing that’s quite interesting is, if you look at the demographic of big incumbent utilities, they are heavily male-dominated. But in organisations that are more firmly in the renewables camp – developers and so on – I have seen much more diversity.
On the one hand, I wonder if this is because of the mission side of things. However, for the record, I also reject the idea that women inherently care more or are good communicators. That can be really harmful for reinforcing gender norms.
Who do you admire? Do you have any role models?
What a difficult question! I'm not sure I’ve met any one person yet who epitomises what I want my career to be, but there are so many bright people in energy and tech. I love talking to passionate people with different perspectives. It’s so invigorating.
One experience comes to mind: when I was at Stanford I met Mae Jemison, the first black female astronaut. It was inspiring to meet someone who’s been the first. I’m not the first in the things I have done in my career, but that’s fine because you don’t have that pressure. It’s one less thing to worry about! But I do aspire to maintain a fresh perspective on what’s possible, and not feel restricted by what’s come before. I’ve found that to be a helpful mindset when it comes to the energy transition.