For Amber’s new Women In Tech interview series, we speak with female thought leaders from around the world to hear their experience growing a career in tech and to get their advice on overcoming challenges and adversity during their career.
For this week’s interview, we caught up with Dr Jemma Green, co-founder of Power Ledger, to talk diversity and advice on how to build a career in blockchain.
Can you tell us a little about what you do and what a typical day looks like for you?
Running a company that’s going through a rapid stage of growth, while also raising a three-year-old and six-month-old, keeps my days full of variety!
At Power Ledger, as the Chairman I look after strategic partnerships, external relations and risk management. This includes meeting with prospective clients, networking, overlooking marketing and media strategy as well as attending conferences and speaking engagements.
My day’s usually start quite early at home, when my kids wake up. With the help of my husband, Andrew, we’ll get their breakfast sorted and get them ready for the day.
I usually respond to emails, Telegram messages and take any media interviews during this time at home. My six-month-old son, Castiel, comes everywhere with me — including the Power Ledger office, conferences or business trips.
Amelie is pretty well-traveled for a toddler. She’d come on 25 business trips with me before turning two, but Castiel is slowly catching up.
Kids travel quite readily and on those big trips, my husband has come with me so he’s helped with the kids when I’ve had work things to do. You really need a lot of support to make this kind of thing work.
My work day looks very different to the average person because I do a lot of work in the evenings after the kids have gone to bed and have a nanny to help when needed.
Halfway through my time at JP Morgan in London, where I worked from 2004 to 2013, I looked around the office and saw there were no recycling facilities. This drove me to spearhead a disruptive and divisive trash recycling project in the business. The project exceeded its recycling and cost saving objectives, but sparked office bullying and a social media “bring the bins back” campaign. I think it made me the most hated person in the office! Rather than discouraging me, I was motivated by the experience.
Something twigged in my mind at that point and I found renewables far more interesting than my day job. Following my experience at JP Morgan, I embarked on a 12 month hiking sabbatical during which I started to formulate an idea of developing an eco-village.
In 2013, I returned to Perth and started a PhD in energy markets and disruptive innovation. One of the things I noticed was that hardly any apartments, which make up 30% of the housing stock in Australia, have solar panels. Knowing that apartment blocks could operate as an energy retailer without a retail license, I designed an embedded network for an apartment block to generate and trade solar energy.
I realized this field interested me so much more than anything I was doing in finance.
In January of 2016, a former colleague of mine introduced me to two blockchain developers in Perth. I actually thought it was all a bit whacko at first, but I asked if there were any applications for the electricity sector because I was doing a PhD looking at disruption in electricity markets. I was at the point in my PhD where I was designing a solar and battery system for an apartment building and condo, and I was trying to find a software that would allocate units of electricity to each apartment where if you weren’t home to consume that allocation, you could trade it with your neighbors.
I couldn’t find anything that did that, so when I had this meeting with these blockchain guys, including John Bulich who still works at Power Ledger as co-founder and Technical Director, I started looking into these applications for electricity and I saw that it could do exactly what I had intended for the apartment building.
I introduced them to Dave Martin who worked in electricity networks utility management and electricity markets for over 20 years. Dave had seen a problem in that part of the electricity sector where because of distributed renewables, the grid?—?the poles and wires?—?was being used less, and when I introduced him to the blockchain developers he started to see that this could enable a more transactive grid, maintaining utilization of the network and therefore its relevance.
He got really excited and said “I want to set up a company, do you want to join me?” and I said absolutely. So we explored that idea and on the 22nd of May 2016, about four months after that introduction, we set up Power Ledger.
Power Ledger was created to enable this marketplace so renewable energy can be affordable, low-carbon and available to everyone around the world. As well as energy trading, we’ve also developed products to enable carbon markets and unlocking new sources of capital for renewable asset financing.
Many women in the tech industry have felt their gender has affected the way they are treated in the workplace and industry. Have you ever been in a situation like that? How did you handle it?
My co-founders, colleagues, mentors and those in my immediate circle are very supportive when it comes to working at Power Ledger. But I’ve definitely faced push back in my career.
We’ve navigated unchartered territory in running Australia’s first ever Initial Coin Offering (ICO), so there were always going to be doubters. Throughout the ICO process, I was threatened and received death threats because people didn’t agree with how we were doing things. But I remained determined and resilient and ultimately, the token sales resulted in AUD $34 million which is helping Power Ledger’s growth.
I think a decent amount of push-back comes when your business starts to build a higher profile, especially because ours is at the intersection of two very topical sectors — energy and fintech. Tall poppy syndrome is very real. Criticism is a fact of life for organisations like ours, and while it’s certainly off-putting at times, the more it happens the less it impacts me on a personal level. I try not to let it become a distraction. I’m becoming better at looking at criticism through different lenses. If it’s criticism that’s fair, and we can use it to improve our business, we will channel it into action. But if it’s criticism that comes from a lack of understanding of what we’re doing and isn’t constructive in the slightest, I’ll take that as an opportunity to improve how we communicate and work even harder and prove them wrong.
There were times when being a women felt like it was holding me back, and there are times now when it feels like I have an extra large target on my back. But I realised pretty quickly that change doesn’t happen by sitting back and complaining behind closed doors. I know I’m as effective and powerful as any man and my ideas are just as worthy of being seen. I acknowledge the problem exists while actively reminding myself and others that we’re in the room because we belong there.
There are plenty of great initiatives in the space, and increasing focus is being placed on elevating women in tech and giving them a platform so the next generation can see there are role models and are more likely to envisage themselves in this field. I’m happy to be part of that.
If the women leading innovation in the blockchain space are proof of anything, it’s that the gender gap can be closed. We just have to make a stand for it.
I think the best part is being a visible example of a woman working in the space. I feel very proud that the work I’m doing and the profile I’ve built off the back of that can be an example for other young women to think, ‘Hey, she did it — I can too!’. I have a three-year-old daughter and it’s important for me to set an example so she doesn’t feel any doubt when it comes to achieving her goals. I want her to grow up knowing she can do whatever she sets her mind to. Her godmother bought her a book called Rosie Revere Engineer – showing her female role models in STEM.
What advice would you give to a woman starting her career in the tech industry? Is there any advice you wish you had known at the start of your career?
Sometimes it takes a little longer to get a seat at the table, but once you’re there it’s important to remember you’re in the room because you belong there. The criticism may seem to come harder and faster when you’re a woman, but don’t let it stop you. Persevere, stay focused and know there’s plenty of female focused support groups to help you if you’re feeling alone. Consistent delivery over time is the ultimate test, it’s a marathon not a sprint so make sure you look after yourself along the way