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The Next Marissa Mayer is Probably in Cleantech

What do the cleantech companies ElectronVault, SEaB Energy, and BlackGold Biofuels all have in common? Female executives at or near the top of the food chain.

Marissa Mayer, the recently appointed CEO of Yahoo, drew a lot of attention because of her gender and the fact that she was pregnant when she took the position at a major company.

It’s no wonder she stood out: females make up a relatively minuscule 4 percent of Fortune 500 chief executives . And a pregnant CEO is even rarer: while some of those female CEO’s have had children prior to reaching the top spot, Mayer might have been the first ever pregnant CEO of a Fortune 500 company .

But in my experience working with the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program, the idea of a female executive is positively unremarkable—even a pregnant one.

“I can’t tell you how many high profile women I’ve met in this space,” agrees Linda Maepa, a Caltech grad and chief operating officer of ElectronVault, a manufacturer of battery systems that can be used to efficiently store and distribute energy. “I think there’s something about the intersection between renewable energy and long-term problem-solving that draws women. For example, the head of the battery program at GM is a female, as is the founder of battery technology company Boston Power.”

Maybe Linda’s on to something here, because our next exec also plays in that same intersection. Sandra Sassow heads UK-based SEaB Energy, a provider of on-site containers that generate renewable energy from waste. Like many others, she was drawn to clean tech by the idea of improving on the status quo and giving back to the planet—all while taking a company from startup, to first products, to first revenues.

Does successfully growing a business leave time for family? Absolutely. Sassow says: “I have four children (three daughters and a son), and I have worked full time all throughout. I hope I am a good role model for my three daughters especially, as they face some of the same challenges that I have faced.”

Emily Landsburg, CEO of BlackGold Biofuels—another renewable energy company focused on generating energy from the fats, oils, and greases in wastewater—is hopeful that people will see that there is no conflict between being a C-suite executive and being a mother. “If I had Googled ‘pregnant CEO’ two and half years ago, when I was pregnant with my son, I would’ve gotten a blank page of results,” says Landsburg. “That’s pretty sad. We need more visibility for female CEOs so that we can get to a point where people don’t give a second thought to the fact that a CEO is a female or is pregnant.”

Fortunately, these three women are doing their part to move things in that direction simply by leading their companies to success. The sooner we reach the point Landsburg describes, the better. Not just because studies show that companies with a high representation of women on their top management teams have better financial performance – but because the problems that cleantech is looking to solve are too big not to draw upon all the brightest available minds in the workforce.

And while ElectronVault, SEaB Energy, and BlackGold Biofuels might not be Yahoo-sized at the moment, keep watching this space: you might just spot the next Marissa Mayer.