The Real Women of Home Performance: Marge Anderson
Marge Anderson is the Executive Vice President of Seventhwave, a non-profit that advances environmental and economic sustainability. Her passions include empowering practitioners through education, scaling energy efficiency, and making sustainability real for the under-served.
Macie Melendez: How did you get started in the home performance industry?
Marge Anderson: I was asked to co-chair the Affordable Comfort conference when it came to Madison, Wisconsin in 1996. Energy efficiency and the home performance industry were both new to me. Two things captured my attention at that conference: first, the number of working-class people engaged in home performance. I’m from a working-class background myself, and energy efficiency felt very elitist to me in the early days. I was glad to see more class diversity in the residential sector. Second, I was impressed that so many small business owners were committed to doing the right thing through efficiency—even if they hadn’t figured out quite how to make money at it yet.
MM: How has your career evolved?
MA: Like so many people with a working-class background, I did not do much career planning. I had a fantastic undergraduate education at a women’s college, but never thought about what was next. I took a job canvassing to fundraise for social justice issues, and I still use those skills every day. Then I managed marketing at an architectural-engineering firm until I took over education at Seventhwave. Education and outreach are so essential to our mission of economic and environmental sustainability that I was able to move up from there. Now I oversee all of our education—including the Better Buildings, Better Business Conference that targets home performance—and our marketing, fundraising, outreach, and business development.
MM: When you started out, what was your biggest obstacle? How did you overcome it?
MA: As well-educated as I was, I still didn’t take myself very seriously. I have a large, fun personality and it was easier to play to that than to my brains and accomplishments. A lot of women face the same challenge. We had some changes in the organization and I was put into a more senior leadership role before I felt ready. The responsibility of making our organization successful because so many paychecks depended on it was very motivating to me. I also took on many leadership roles through my volunteer work, chaired a Board of Directors, and started to see my capabilities through my peers’ eyes. Then I felt I had to deliver on those expectations.
MM: What is the most rewarding thing about your job?
MA: I feel called to work in sustainability—that’s my vocation. Seventhwave’s workforce is now a majority millennial team, and their energy and collaborative ethos is so refreshing. They have been raised under the shadow of climate change, and they don’t let the bad news get in the way of diving in to solve problems. They fire me up every day. I also Chair the Board of Directors of the U.S. Green Building Council. Volunteer leadership of an organization responsible for so much change at such scale has been the professional privilege of a lifetime.
MM: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges for women in this industry?
MA: Our biggest challenges lie within us. Having confidence, taking ourselves seriously, feeling comfortable directing and delegating others—if we can conquer these things, we have a lot of opportunity. I believe the millennial culture also embraces some of the more “female” leadership values: collaboration, excellent communication skills, follow-up, listening, working for the greater good instead of the individual ego. As the millennials take over, I’m optimistic about the future for women in home performance and in sustainability in general.
MM: What advice would you give to a woman starting out in the home performance industry?
MA: Don’t be shy. Speak up, volunteer for leadership positions, pursue promotions, value your own skills and expect that others respect them. Surround yourself with women and men who have the same values, integrity and work ethic that you do and ditch the rest! Focus on doing each task well and following through rather than taking on too much and hoping it will all work out. Forgive yourself. Make time for yourself. Celebrate.
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