Quarterly Report: Leyline Addressing Racism (Q4 2020)
In the crucible summer of 2020, Leyline’s employees made a collective commitment to anti-racism and social equity. We pledged to hold ourselves and our company accountable for making real change, particularly in the renewable energy industry where Black and Brown people are dramatically underrepresented. Leyline issued its Statement on Equity on June 12, 2020, and formed the Leyline Addressing Racism Working Group (“LAR”) to organize our shared work.
Part of our public pledge is to report each quarter on the progress we have made toward our goals as well as our key metrics on environmental impact, equitable corporate governance, and social change.
Riding the momentum of our inaugural months in 2020, LAR and the entire Leyline team dug in, expanding both our ambitions and our reach. We are a learn-as-you-go group that strives to listen attentively to our partners and to take those learnings back and improve our action plan in real time. This post illuminates the thought and action behind the data shown in that Equity and Environment Report. Our commitment to continuous improvement can be seen in our three main overlapping focus areas this past quarter: education, employment, and finance and community partnerships. As a reminder, we define these focus areas as:
- Education: Introducing renewable energy at several critical points along the education pathway
- Employment: Refining Leyline’s hiring and employment processes to invite, include, and retain more diverse candidates
- Finance and Community Partnerships: Using Leyline’s capital and personal resources to increase access to solar energy for lower-income communities, particularly lower-income communities of color
Our Theme This Quarter: Taking Action
This quarter was all about amplifying our initiative within the larger renewable energy sector. We conducted research and reinforced our strengths as a working group.
Our Leyline team has bloomed by embracing a mentality that encourages continuous improvement and lifelong learning. We understand that action and practice must align with our organizational mission. Words combined with purposeful action facilitate real impact, and that is Leyline’s objective – navigating the crossroads between rhetoric and reality. We must keep stepping forward, speaking truth to power while acting in accordance with our values. We have joined other companies that are focused on antiracism and equity efforts within the renewable energy industry and called on those who do not share that focus to get involved. We have started to see our efforts bear fruit, and we encouraged each other to move forward and take action.
Our EDUCATION commitment flourished in the last quarter of 2020, informed by conversations we had with HBCU professors and career office staff who told us about the many companies who were reaching out, hoping to gain some diversity points by working with their institutions. What was more desired, they said, was a level of involvement beyond just posting on HBCU job boards, although all employers are of course welcome and appreciated. Our contacts called us to something deeper and more creative – a varied approach to engaging with HBCUs and other partners on many levels. So, in addition to ensuring that our job postings on Handshake and other platforms reached HBCU students and alumni, Leyline offered and was invited to participate in a third panel for NC Central Law, giving perspective on internal counsel practice; present to budding engineers at NC A&T on career opportunities in renewable energy; and join a mock interview program at Meredith College. We formed a subgroup of LAR members to lead outreach and relationship management with high schools, colleges, and universities, most of them HBCUs or with majority-Black and Brown populations. We have laid the groundwork for more events in 2021, focused on strengthening these bonds not just for Leyline’s own benefit, but for our whole industry.
Leyline and LAR took action on the EMPLOYMENT front at the end of 2020 as well. The first and most pressing issue was to “take our own inventory,” assessing each step of our internal hiring process and asking how we could make it more inclusive and more welcoming to diverse candidates. Some of these improvements – such as how to write a job description centered on the candidate, not the hiring manager, and exploring the vast array of locations to post our job openings – were surprisingly easy. But some were much more nuanced, like asking our executives and leadership to rethink the meaning of “culture fit,” devising a way to evaluate job candidates against a consistent baseline, working with standard question lists and candidate evaluation forms, and redesigning our job description templates to include inclusive terms and running each new posting through a language gender decoder to detect unconsciously biased language. We are excited about the many forms and dimensions that fair, inclusive, and enriched hiring takes and will continually strive to perfect our process and invite strong, diverse candidates to join, and stay, Leyline.
Leyline also joined the Renewables Forward Initiative, a new roundtable of renewable energy executives aimed at contributing real change toward diversity and inclusion in our industry, not just publishing aspirational, but ultimately practical and achievable goals. One of the immediate benefits of our involvement in Renewables Forward was getting access to the hiring practices and policies of others, learning from their successes and failures, and feeding our growing knowledge back into the group. Additionally, we participated in MIT Sloan Renewable Energy Finance workshop with industry members and leaders to define a more inclusive and diverse hiring process. We are reaching out as well as reaching in to see where we can move together. Working together with other organizations and initiatives, we already see fundamental shifts in how renewables companies create and fill positions and are excited to refine our practices in the coming year.
Lastly, LAR kicked off considerable work in our FINANCE AND COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS focus area, first by reaching out to potential partner organizations in our hometown of Durham, N.C. Durham is home to one of the largest past and re-emerging centers of Black wealth and commerce in the country, and home to a renowned HBCU, North Carolina Central University. This past and present make Durham a fertile ground for Leyline to bring its renewable energy and development experience to partners serving Black and Brown communities, especially those with the widest income and wealth gaps. We initiated a conversation with one of the city’s leading affordable housing and community developers, Durham Community Land Trustees (DCLT), to explore how solar plus storage systems installed on their rented and owned units could reduce power costs for their residents. We also volunteered to serve on the planning task force for DCLT’s next major project, a coordinated affordable housing community just down the street from Leyline’s offices that has committed to ambitious green building targets. We’re excited to bring our wealth of experience and capital resources to the table to help DCLT realize those goals.
At the same time, we rolled up our sleeves to pitch in on the ground. Leyline hosted an internal fundraiser for the Feed Them Foundation, which fights hunger and malnutrition in our community. We raised $7,700, which covered the cost of providing meals for 800-1000 families. Following the fundraiser, 10 Leyline employees participated in a Feed Them Foundation service day to support food distribution.
Riding alongside our progress, one of LAR’s greatest challenges in our work is how great the need is and how tempting it is to raise our hand for every opportunity to be of service. Calling on our colleagues and ourselves to meet those needs as much as possible, LAR is also cognizant of the need to balance the demands of service with our core work: to provide critical capital to renewable energy development. This primary mission is what makes our other work possible, and so 2021 will be a year of learning (again!) how to strike that balance and remain both a powerful force in the renewable energy revolution and a powerful partner in the fight against racism. Having broadened and assured our foundation at the end of 2020, we see the next level ahead and are already off and running toward it.
Happy New Year!