Updated: May 26
This month the Michigan Chapter of the American Association of Blacks in Energy interviewed Dr. E'Lois Thomas in the Member Spotlight of their newsletter AABE Michigan News. Read what Dr. Thomas has to say about her career journey in the energy industry
and advice on professional development.
How did you find your way to the position that you have today?
Two words… hard work. I definitely put in the extra effort to learn more about energy and the best ways to operate and grow our business. My team can tell you that I am an engaged leader who is quick to follow-up and respond. I’ve put systems in place that keep me abreast of what’s going on in all of our business units on a daily basis. Also, I am avid learner by nature. Since energy efficiency is a relatively new sector, when there was no precedence or direct download of institutional knowledge in our company, I worked harder and I did the research to land SEEL on as level a playing field as possible which allows us to compete with the big guys in the industry.
Further, at SEEL, it is a requirement for managers to obtain a Six Sigma Yellow Belt. For me, that was not enough. I pursued both a Six Sigma Green Belt and a Sig Sigma Black Belt on my own. I’ve always been a process-oriented person. Training at the highest level has helped me to really look at the root cause of problems and develop good problem-solving skills to keep the organization lean and posture us for continued growth.
I joined SEEL as a program manager. Even in the early days, I aspired to become an officer in the company. I am able to participate in the leadership of SEEL because of my commitment not just to energy, but to process and continuous improvements. Today, I serve the company as Chief Administrative Officer leading a team that is poised for the future of energy.
What advice do you have for individuals entering the energy sector or whose career has halted?
Walk the walk. Be an active participant in the solution for energy security.
Then, find your passion. You don’t have to be an engineer to work in energy. So many other disciplines are needed, like skilled trades, accounting, or information technology. The important thing is to be a part of the solution whether its energy efficiency, energy resiliency, or electrification. We all have an opportunity to be an ambassador for energy, to ensure it is here for generations to come.
For those who feel their careers have been halted, the important thing is to make sure your skill sets are current through education and training. Make sure you have the knowledge it takes to be a part of emerging industries in general and the changing landscape of energy in particular.
According to the Environmental Defense Fund, clean energy is building a whole new American workforce. It’s important that the workforce, especially African Americans, are ready for the jobs of the future. It is equally important that organizations are willing to train them in a space where opportunities have not been traditionally granted. That is one of the things that I love about SEEL. Our access to SEEL U (short for SEEL University) with courses in building science, call center skills, six sigma, safety, and continuous improvement is second to none.
Do you have any advice for professional development?
Take advantage of the plethora of resources that exist for professional development. One of the first things I did when I started in energy was to look for certifications and professional development in energy management. I accessed and obtained available online certifications in green energy management.
AABE has a great series of webinars and podcasts that they host. These can be found on their website and many of their resources posted on their social pages. In addition, Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA) offers webinars to their members. These webinars are available to the employees of member organizations. There are also accrediting bodies like AESP that allows you to pursue certifications to enhance your expertise in the energy field.
What books do you recommend AABE members to read?
I’ve read so many books about energy and leadership; It’s tough to narrow them down. I’m always reading books to become a better leader and an example for others who look like me to succeed. There are three books that I will mention.
The first one, The Energy Within Us, I recently finished reading. Written by five African American women trailblazers in energy, this book gives a vivid perspective of Black women leaders in energy documenting how they progressed through their careers. One of the authors is Joyce Hayes Giles, former senior vice president of Public Affairs at DTE Energy and a member of the Michigan chapter of AABE. I highly recommend this book because it presents Black women in key roles and discusses it as a new normal for the industry.
The second book is Lead with No Apologies, by Jesse Cole, Jr. Cole is a motivational speaker and coach who has significant experience in supporting diverse individuals to attain positive life change through proactive and continued education and training, a philosophy I believe in 100%. In the book, Cole advises to come from the mission of being an unapologetic leader who teaches how to give clarity, poise and vision to your team, which allows leaders to intensify their influence as well as amplify their own potential as a leader.
Last, but not least, I am in the middle of reading a book called, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum. Dr. Tatum is an expert on the psychology of racism and also was once the president of Spelman College. Her book provides insight into how we might confront our reluctance to discuss issues of race. Particularly given the current racially charged climate, I feel it’s important for leaders to stay abreast of supportive ways to handle issues of race in the workplace. I think this book should be read by everyone.
How has AABE impacted your career journey?
I am honored to be a part of an organization that is the African American voice in the energy industry. When I first started with AABE, I enjoyed participating on the Louis H. Latimer Committee. In my position at SEEL, I am able to continue supporting scholarships for young people who are pursuing careers in energy, by giving to AABE. I also serve as a board member.
Overall, I am appreciative and very supportive of AABE’s mission to be heard in the industry as it relates to economic, social, and the political impact of environmental and energy policy. A collective voice has a greater impact and AABE gives us a voice in the policy making process by encouraging both public and private sectors to be responsive to the problems and aspirations of the African American community. When we look at the issues of energy burden, energy insecurity, etc., organizations like AABE allow for inclusion so that we are deliberately involved in regulations and the fight for energy equality.
Dr. E’Lois Thomas is the chief administrative officer for SEEL, LLC, one of the largest 100% minority-owned, disabled veteran owned energy program management firms in the nation. Dr. Thomas earned an MBA in Management from Walsh College, a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from the University of Detroit Mercy, a professional certification in green energy management from San Diego State University, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Northcentral University with a focus on African American Businesses.
She has won many awards, including: Who’s Who in Black Detroit, Michigan Chronicle Women of Excellence Award and Crain’s Detroit Business Notable Women in Finance. A mentor with the Council of Women in Energy and Environmental Leadership, Dr. Thomas is also vice chair of the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance board, a member of the Association of Women in Energy and a board member with American Association of Blacks in Energy. She is also a board member with RESULTS Mentoring.
Dr. Thomas recently celebrated her 26th wedding anniversary to her beloved husband Charles Thomas, Jr. Together, they have two sons, Charles III, and Isaiah.