Wanda Lee Florestine (She/Her) is the Talent & Acquisition Director of GRID Alternatives.org. GRID is an entrepreneurial, high-growth non-profit organization that provides direct solar installation and project development; clean mobility options; workforce training and service learning opportunities; and low-income solar policy advocacy. Employing around 400 people, GRID Alternatives works locally through eight affiliate offices to serve families in California, Colorado, and Mid-Atlantic region. They also have an International Program serving Nicaragua, Nepal, and Mexico, and a Tribal Program serving families nationwide. In this episode, Florestine shares how a sustainable mission helps GRID attract talent at every level. (Full interview available below.)
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#IncludingYouPodcast Interview with Wanda Lee Florestine
[00:00:48] Amy: Welcome back to including you. I’m your host, Amy C Waninger. My guest today is Ms. Wanda Lee Florestine. She is the talent and acquisition director of grid alternatives.org grid is an entrepreneurial high growth nonprofit organization that provides solar installation and project development, clean mobility options, workforce training and service learning opportunities and low income solar policy advocacy employing around 400 people.
[00:01:16] Amy: Grid alternatives works locally through eight affiliate offices to serve families in California, Colorado in the Mid-Atlantic region. They also have an international program serving Nicaragua, Nepal, and Mexico, and a tribal program serving families nationwide. Wanda, welcome to the show.
Wanda: Thank you, Amy. Thank you for having me.
[00:01:33] Amy: I am so excited to talk to you. I’ve already met with someone who works in energy policy at the federal level, and then having someone who is involved in an organization that does local activism, advocacy, and actual installations and construction is really exciting to me.
[00:01:53] Amy: And I’m sure to my viewers and listeners as well. I’m wondering if you can tell me why is a focus on inclusion so important to Grid.
[00:02:02] Wanda: We have to include everyone. There’s no energy revolution without everybody being a part of that equation. We need to make affordable solar and renewable energy opportunities available so that everyone can participate in.
[00:02:18] Wanda: Everyone can have a hand in helping our climate. All the impacts that we’re having currently on the climate to, to not escalate, but to hopefully level them off and renew some of them in some cases,
[00:02:33] Amy: It’s interesting, as you were saying that it occurred to me. We don’t all live in the same world, but we do all live on the same planet.
[00:02:39] Wanda: Very much true.
[00:02:41] Amy: And I’m curious, is there a focus for grid on helping the inside of the organization reflect and represent the constituencies that you serve on the outside of the organization as well.
[00:02:56] Wanda: Yes, we definitely wanted to move away from what has been called the savior, white savior syndrome and make sure that we are listening to our clients and also reflecting them internally as well.
[00:03:09] Wanda: So, we’ve done a few things, a number of things actually starting well actually before our director of equity, inclusion and diversity, and we call it equity, inclusion and diversity versus DEI, which is what’s out more popular now, but we call it E I D because. If we have equity and we have inclusion, then you’re gonna have diversity.
[00:03:30] Wanda: We have been consistently for the last six or seven years working to include first women in construction, that was the first leg of this journey, and then once we hired our director of EID we implemented several programs not all at once. We had a strategic flow of how things were going to be implemented into each area of our organization so that folks can get educated on why we even want to do this and why it is very important to the business and also to the health of our nation and the climate.
[00:04:07] Amy: And so, a lot of the work that you’ve done around your hiring practices has really been fueled by a focus first on equity, then on inclusion and ultimately in diversity, can you talk about some of the changes that you made to attract people into the organization? That may not seem like a big deal, but really gave you amazing results.
[00:04:30] Wanda: Yes, we’re doing a lot around how we per, how we are perceived to the public. So, we speak out about current political things that are occurring. We talk openly about that on our website. We have written several op-eds I guess, for lack of a better term about our thoughts, about why we either agree or disagree.
[00:04:51] Wanda: Current event had happened. Additionally, we looked at how we post our jobs and how inviting an actual job description is to a particular candidate that maybe didn’t go to an Ivy league college, or didn’t have, great succession of corporate jobs in their history. So, we decided a few things about the job description and one of them was and this is like an easy fix for a lot of people.
[00:05:13] Wanda: We, a lot of companies publish their AAEOC statements near the bottom of their job description, and it always feels like for me, especially as a person of a woman and a person of color, it feels like an afterthought or I we’re just putting this here because we have to put it here. We moved it into the description of who we are higher up on the job description, because it is important for us to include everyone and to make opportunities available to everyone.
[00:05:38] Wanda: So, we just by repositioning that piece and embedding it into our mission, it was just really very powerful I think, and I’ve heard from candidates that have applied that they really like the, our emphasis on equity and inclusion. Another thing that we did was really look at the job descriptions and decide are any of these really required to have a bachelor’s.
[00:06:00] Wanda: Degree or a master’s degree which we know that has been a tool to block access in some cases like do you have people in outreach that absolutely need a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree to go out and talk to people? That’s an easy answer, great, no construction, same thing, there’s some skills that you need to have.
[00:06:19] Wanda: We’re not saying that, anyone can walk in and get a job. You need to come with something, but we need to know that we wanted to, to our potential job seekers to know that you don’t necessarily need a bachelor’s degree in order to get a job and not just an entry level job, again, you may be able to get that without a mid-level job or a management job, even without a bachelor’s degree, if you have history of doing great work.
[00:06:50] Amy: And so, what did that change for you? As you’re looking to hire people into your programs, you have various programs. We’ll talk about those in a second, but everybody’s talking about how hard it is to find qualified people. You made a couple of pretty, they’re significant but small,
[00:07:04] Amy: they’re not huge hurdles that you had to overcome to implement these changes to make significant changes, and what have you seen as a result of that in terms of looking for talent and what you’re finding?
[00:07:13] Wanda: We’re finding that we’re getting applicants across the board. We’re finding that we’re taking time to mark really evaluate resumes and cover letters versus looking for keywords and key schools or key companies and, trying.
[00:07:26] Wanda: Tier them for the top, the next level the third level I’m old school I’ve been recruiting for a couple of decades, and that’s how we were trained to do it. We want the cream of the crop, like we want the best candidate, like, how are we defining best? Can that be expanded now?
[00:07:41] Wanda: We’re in a different place in society and we’re, we have more opportunities that are available for more people of every background. No, there’s no reason that a person with a desire and a work ethic of doing great work and being accountable for the work they’re doing, shouldn’t be able to find employment.
[00:08:01] Amy: And so, you’ve actually seen an increase in applicants, right? Because of all those that you’ve done, and these changes that you’ve made.
[00:08:07] Wanda: We did, we actually as at the end of Q2 for this year, we had the same number of applicants are close to the same number of applicants that we had all in all of last year.
[00:08:18] Wanda: And that’s been very rewarding for the work.
[00:08:22] Amy: Yeah, so just integrating equity into your mission, which makes sense for the work that you do, but then also being more transparent about who’s welcome to apply, who’s encouraged to apply and knocking down some of those barriers.
[00:08:36] Amy: It, I’ve read and I’ve studied that’s quite a bit and it’s seems to be universally true across the board that when people who have been historically excluded from opportunities, the job description, they want to check every box in the requirements and every box in the preferred qualifications, before they even think about submitting a resume and that alone, just that mindset of if I’m not better than.
[00:09:02] Amy: If I’m not living up to the full list, I’m not good enough to be there, they won’t see me as good enough to be there, which I think is probably a more accurate depiction, and to taking some of those check boxes away means people will self select in at a higher rate.
[00:09:19] Wanda: Yeah. It just makes it more friendlier and warmer, we did an experiment too on LinkedIn where we posted just the essence of the job and it was a little bit of word pros thrown in there to make it sound really attractive and engaging, and people responded really well to that as well.
[00:09:35] Wanda: So, it took the stiffness off of it or the, opportunity to incorporate imposter syndrome into your app applied for a job, and I think it removed the fear of not feeling like you’re enough to allow more people to apply.
[00:09:51] Amy: Yeah, and then let’s talk a little bit about the different jobs programs that you have, because you’re not just looking, as you said, for people who are recent college graduates or people who are transferring in from other fields, you’ve got programs.
[00:10:04] Amy: Really across the board, can you talk about some of the programs that you have that are skill building, job, building job creation programs?
[00:10:10] Wanda: There’s, it’s a hodgepodge of different things. We do, solar works program in our Mid-Atlantic region where they find folks to come in through community based organizations to come and get training from grid.
[00:10:23] Wanda: We have an IBT 200 that we develop internally. We are in the process of accrediting as well, and it’s that’s hundred hours of solar work. It’s IBT stands for installation basic training, and the goal for that program is to have people be able to become gainfully employed after they complete the program.
[00:10:42] Wanda: We have our solar core, which is a program similar to the AmeriCorps program where we recruit YI can’t say college graduates cuz it’s not exclusive to college graduates anymore. But we recruit folks that are interested in a fellowship allowed to have an 11th month, 11 months of solar training.
[00:11:00] Wanda: It could be any in any part of the organization, not just construction and installation, it could be outreach, it could be operations, it could be workforce development. So, they get a real hands-on all-in opportunity, paid opportunity to learn solar. For 11 months is a 11-month job interview or audition for the program.
[00:11:20] Wanda: And that’s been very successful. The cohort for 2021, 22, just completed at the end of July, and we ended up hiring 20 of those folks full time. So, they’re now full-time employees at grid. We have, did I say women in construction programs that we’ve will do they’re more like events.
[00:11:38] Wanda: It’s not an actual program yet, except we’re moving in that direction as well. So, they’re more women will look at this industry as an opportunity for their careers as well, and I’m forgetting the others, but there’s yeah, and we’re always open for more. We have our solar program as well, where we have trainees there that are learning how to do solar.
[00:11:59] Wanda: So, it’s been expanding, it’s been great, it’s we have solar spring break for college kids to get an introduction to come instead of going to Miami or Mexico they can come and learn solar for a week, which is really cool, and then we have solar careers, I think that’s what it’s called for high school students where we’ll go into high schools to introduce solar careers to them as well.
[00:12:22] Amy: Yeah. That’s a different kind of fun in the sun for spring break than I think most college students have on their mind. But I think it’s great that, that you’ve got these programs at all different levels because, the work that you do touches so many industries, so many it’s engineering, it’s energy, it’s public policy construction.
[00:12:38] Amy: Trades, there’s just so much going on. Plus, all the back-office stuff that keeps all of that going. The marketing and the operations and the outreach, like you said.
[00:12:46] Wanda: Yeah, and there’s some designs. So, we do have college graduates. I’m a college graduate, we have, I don’t know what percentage of our employees are, but definitely we do have that as well, but there’s the mix of everyone.
[00:12:56] Wanda: So that, that is what makes it really great and dynamic, I think.
[00:13:00] Amy: And just having all of those different perspectives inside the organization at the same time, because I’m sure when the designers are thinking about, from their perspective, what needs to happen on a project, they’re probably missing a lot in terms of.
[00:13:14] Amy: The people that will be using the product or the people that will have to install it and how, or, how it’ll have to be distributed or shipped or, preserved or stored or maintained, so there’s a lot of different perspectives that need to come to the table.
[00:13:26] Amy: To do what you’re doing in sustainable energy itself, sustainable.
[00:13:31] Wanda: Exactly. Yeah, it’s there’s a lot, and it’s great to have as many perspectives as we have, cuz you’re not just, in the echo chamber or just in your bubble or your silo of how things are done. You get to have that opportunity for diverse voices and diverse perspectives and it just makes a better gumbo.
[00:13:52] Amy: Well, and it makes us a more resilient nation as well, because we’ve already seen with the effects of climate change with, the lack of investment in infrastructure for the last few decades. Hopefully some of that’s turning around now, an overreliance on non-renewable energy sources for more decades than we should have had, all of that comes together to be.
[00:14:13] Amy: A problem, and a problem that feeds upon itself and makes itself bigger. And what you’re doing is not only important for the people that you’re hiring and the communities you serve, but for all of us who live on this planet. So, I’m just so grateful that organizations like this exist to do this work in really not just philosophical, theoretical, ways, but really practical solar panels on roof and, design and construction that matters.
[00:14:41] Wanda: Yeah. Yeah, I saw a colleague post. I didn’t get to read it, I just saw the headline that she, I think it was her five-year anniversary here at grid, and she was posting about the solar core fellows that, applications are open now for the next cohort that starts in September.
[00:14:58] Wanda: And she said that it changed her life and I wanted, I tagged it, so I could go back and read it to read what she wrote cuz because it, it really does impact people in so many ways.
[00:15:09] Amy: And just having people go through the program, even if they don’t stay in the industry or stay with the organization, you’re creating an awareness campaign that can filter out into communities and can filter out into advocacy in other places.
[00:15:21] Amy: And, just creating an awareness people can keep that top of mind wherever they go than I would imagine.
[00:15:27] Wanda: Yeah. That’s how the recycling trend started. It’s like people were made aware. All these things can be reused, they don’t have to be thrown away, and then more and more people started doing it.
[00:15:37] Wanda: So, the more people that know about solar and understand how it works is it’s been around for a long time, and we’ve got solar in space for the last 50 years or so, and so the more that folks know about it and how it works, then the more, the less I don’t know, , if frightening is the word or the less fear there is about learning more about it and using it and applying it wherever they can.
[00:15:59] Amy: Yeah, I think there’s so much resistance because people have not been educated, they don’t have basic understanding of the science of what solar power does and how, how the power stored and the cost savings, and besides that, there are a lot of programs. I’m sure that you take advantage of, but also that you create, they can help offset the cost of converting to solar or adding solar onto homes and businesses across the country.
[00:16:25] Amy: There are ways to do this that are very cost effective and the long-term savings are significant.
[00:16:29] Wanda: They are, and also, with the increase of the now the clean mobility areas that we, and programs that we currently have we’re allowing for folks that may not be able to benefit from having solar installed on the roof, but maybe you can benefit by trading in your combustible engine for an EV or a hybrid.
[00:16:48] Wanda: And we have programs where folks are giving grants to do that, to go in, and I think up to, I wanna say up to $5,000, it could be slightly less or more. I’m not sure what the exact number is and what the scale is, but there’s opportunities for people to move away from combustible engines to more clean, renewable electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles.
[00:17:12] Amy: Yeah, and we’re seeing the effects of having waited so long we’re seeing homes being destroyed by floods and fires and it would be hard at this point to deny that climate change is not just imminent but happening right now, and the more we can do individually, collectively, and at a policy level, the longer we get to live here.
[00:17:35] Amy: Because there’s not a whole lot of other places for us to go, and the inequities that result from that because it, it seems there’s always a threshold of access and wealth that allows people to escape certain problems. At some point though, we don’t have another planet to live on and this is going to affect everyone at some point, it won’t affect everyone equally.
[00:17:56] Amy: I think the work that you’re doing to build equity into the and equity into the work is really important because that helps, level the impact for some people that may not have access independently.
[00:18:11] Wanda: Yeah, and it, it becomes more common and not something that only certain income levels can afford.
[00:18:17] Wanda: The sun is for everyone. I like saying it.
[00:18:18] Amy: The sun is for everyone. Absolutely, Wanda, I wanna thank you so much for coming on the show for sharing what you’re doing that’s working. A lot of times I hear from people in nonprofits that say, we just can’t find people and clearly you have found the right formula, the right chemistry to make this happen, so that you can continue to expand.
[00:18:38] Wanda: Yeah I, yeah, that one to me, that one’s like kids on a playground that are underage and can’t drive yet are asking each other for, do you have a driver’s license? Whereas folks, if you’re only asking your current networks for.
[00:18:52] Wanda: Other people to hire and to diversify your talent pool, then you need to expand that, ask, I I’m available and you can call me. I’ll help you out. We have opportunities to refer people to various organizations, but there’s so much talent out. There’s no shortage of.
[00:19:10] Wanda: There’s no shortage of diverse talent.
[00:19:13] Amy: That is absolutely true. It’s all about where are you casting your line? What waters are you casting your lines into?
Wanda: Yeah, the that’s good analogy too.
Amy: Thank you so much, Wanda. I appreciate your time today.
[00:19:24] Wanda: Thank you, Amy.
[00:20:15] Amy: That’s it for this week’s episode of including you join me next week when my guest will be Francesca Carrington. From shark ninja