By Jessica Bennett, RFA Vice President for Government and External Affairs
RFA works hard every day to represent all of our members and the hard-working men and women that make these companies, and our industry, successful. More than ever before, representing our industry also means representing women in the renewable fuels industry.
The number of women working in the renewable fuels space has grown substantially over the years. In fact, as of 2019, women make up 30 percent of the ethanol workforce, according to the National Association of State Energy Officials and Energy Futures Initiative. While there’s still plenty of work to be done to bolster gender parity everywhere, RFA is especially proud to have the guidance of two prominent female industry leaders who serve on our Board of Directors.
In honor of International Women’s Day and in the name of celebrating all the women who have helped shape our industry, we reached out to these two female RFA board members to get their perspective on being a woman in the renewable fuels industry.
First, we spoke with Dana Siefkes-Lewis, who serves as the Chief Administrative Officer of Redfield Energy, LLC, a 60 million-gallon ethanol production facility near Redfield, South Dakota. In addition to serving on the RFA Board, Dana is chair of the Renewable Fuels Foundation and President of the South Dakota Ethanol Producers Association.
“I’m still outnumbered, but I’m no longer the lone woman in the room,” said Siefkes-Lewis. “Over the past 15 years, I have seen a big change in the number of women working in the renewable fuels industry.” The data proves that Dana is right—more women work in our industry than ever before. And the share of the ethanol workforce comprised by women is larger than other energy sectors like oil and gas, nuclear, and electricity transmission, distribution, and storage.
As we reflected on the growth of female representation among the operations and leadership staff of our industry, I was reminded that, while our experiences as women give us a unique perspective, what’s most important is being an effective leader and bringing excellence to our work every day.
Dana captured this sentiment with a piece of advice that rings true for any young professional, regardless of gender: “Lift that chin, put your shoulders back and stand proud. Whether you’re walking into a Senator’s office or just walking into your office, first, feel confident in what you’re doing, then go out there and prove it.”
Next we heard from Jeanne McCaherty, who serves as CEO of Guardian Energy Management, LLC, the managing company for three ethanol facilities that produce a combined 368 million-gallons of ethanol each year. In addition to serving as RFA’s Vice Chair, Jeanne also serves on the Boards for RPMG, LLC and the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association.
“Women are natural collaborators and bring unique perspectives to opportunities and challenges,” said McCaherty. “My advice for women is to focus on important issues and use your strengths to make a difference.” Jeanne’s reflections highlight the difference renewable fuels make every day.
Helping Americans fill up their tank more affordably while using clean, green fuels that reduce smog and pollution matters. So does our work supporting our country’s national security interests by reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil from hostile countries. The livelihood of the 70,000 people who work directly in the U.S. renewable fuels industry also matter, as well as the economic stability of those in related industries who support what we do. In 2019, our industry helped create $23.3 billion in household income and contributed $43 billion to the national gross domestic product. Meanwhile, this work is helping create a cleaner, more sustainable world for future generations. That’s work that matters!
Dana and Jeanne are prime examples of effective leadership because they understand that promoting the use of renewable fuels is fundamentally important work—so important, that they’ve committed their talent and time to serve our industry every day. There are dozens of female leaders amongst our membership, including half of RFA’s staff, who serve this same mission, and I’m fortunate to serve this industry with all of them.
In honor of International Women’s Day, I’m pleased to take time to recognize these talented women and their work. From the farmers who plant the corn to the drivers who deliver it; from the scientists in labs to the decision-makers in boardrooms—outstanding women are making a difference in our industry and around the world.