As a professional environmentalist for close to three decades, equity has been a centerpiece of my work. During 18 years at a non-profit environmental organization I helped to ensure that billions of dollars spent on affordable housing nationwide would be invested in energy-efficient, green projects. In 2006 I worked alongside State Senator Fran Pavley in California to ensure that her groundbreaking climate bill, AB 32, included language creating a new revenue stream for our most disadvantaged communities (Section 38565). Afterward, I worked again with Senator Pavley to create the $300 million dollar Solar in Affordable Housing legislation.
My social justice roots run deep. My dad led the Johnson Administration War on Poverty in California in the 1960’s and later served as the Executive Director of the Western Center on Law and Poverty which has fought for housing and health care for low-income Californians for over five decades. As a high schooler, encouraged by my mom’s political activism, I volunteered on Tom Bradley’s first campaign for Governor of CA. Bradley, the Mayor of Los Angeles, would have been the first African-American elected Governor had he won. Later, after graduating from UCLA I worked for US Representative Augustus Hawkins, a civil rights activist and leader of reforms to eradicate poverty and broaden educational opportunities for all. With his encouragement, I joined other Capitol Hill staffers organized by the Congressional Black Caucus and traveled to Greensboro, North Carolina where I walked door-to-door campaigning for Harvey Gantt, the then-Mayor of Charlotte, who would have been the first Black US Senator since Reconstruction, if elected. I mention all of these experiences not to impress, but because they fundamentally shaped me as a person, my thinking, and most importantly my life-long commitment to ensuring equity for all.
I am still fighting for equity in the environmental realm, only now I am working on behalf of a private sector industry that is advancing what Scientific American called one of 20 “world changing ideas.” I’ve been part of the PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) community for almost 4 years now. PACE is doing what no other industry has been able to do – provide access to capital for resiliency and clean energy improvements to people and communities that have historically lacked that access. And most importantly PACE has the potential to scale these improvements unlike any other private investment mechanism.
One thing I noticed shortly after entering the industry was that, similar to my experience in the environmental community, there was a noticeable lack of women and people of color in chief executive and senior leadership positions. This appeared to be a trend throughout the financial services industry. So, when I started at PACENation in 2020 and I was asked to lead efforts to expand diversity, equity and inclusion in the PACE marketplace, I jumped at the opportunity.
I was pleased to learn that the PACE community took early steps (well before the George Floyd protests of 2020) to encourage leadership on DEI issues. In 2019, over 150 PACE leaders took a pledge to increase diversity in the industry. Immediately after I started at PACENation in the spring of 2020 we convened thought leaders for a webinar about diversity, equity and inclusion for our membership. Subsequently, we convened the CEOs of our industry to discuss how to tackle these issues and what steps we could take to move toward meaningful action. What came out of those CEO conversations was the DEI Action Plan released this week and signed by over twenty industry leaders who have committed to tangible, credible action to advance DEI in the PACE marketplace. We know that there is much more work to be done but this is a solid step in the right direction.
One of the actions we’ve taken is to host an unconscious bias training for every PACENation member and all of their employees. Our trainer, Leslie Short of The Cavu Group had participants walk through an exercise to determine what is “in their bag.”The conversation was eye opening and the response from participants was overwhelmingly positive with many asking PACENation to host such events on a regular basis. We plan to do so and in addition we intend to add allyship training. We will also explore other avenues for increasing awareness and providing our members with the resources they need to create change within their own companies and organizations. In this vein, we have launched the Access & Equity paid internship program this year to create an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students with a demonstrated commitment to diversity and inclusion to explore potential careers in the PACE industry. We know that these steps only go a short distance toward changing the landscape in our industry. And without regular attention to these issues and a champion to continue moving the conversation forward, diversity, equity and inclusion could easily fall by the wayside as other priorities demand our attention. But we are ready to roll up our sleeves, to do the work and to create a lasting change in our industry. It is long past time.
Mary Luévano is Deputy Director, PACENation.