February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the cultures and accomplishments of the Black community, as well as recognize the work that must be done in order to continue to strive toward a more just society.

We have teamed up with Black & Brown @ Invenergy (BBI), our employee resource group focused on expanding opportunities for people of African ancestry in the renewable energy industry, to spotlight a few of our Black colleagues and learn more about their work at Invenergy, career journeys, and the significance of Black History Month to them.

Kharma Paige, Executive Assistant, Global Financial Operations and Corporate Finance, and Program Administrator for Invenergy’s Corporate Card Program, was one of the founding members of Black & Brown @ Invenergy. Hear more from Kharma as she dives into the challenges of diverse representation and changing the perception of administrative professionals.

Tell us about your role and how long you have been with Invenergy.

I joined Invenergy nearly two years ago and currently am the Executive Assistant to Andrea Hoffman, Senior Vice President, Global Financial Operations, and Jesse Campbell, Vice President, Corporate Finance. I also manage Invenergy’s Corporate Card Program. Both roles allow me to connect with various colleagues across the company and collaborate with our smart and resourceful team of administrative professionals.

What drew you to Invenergy?

I had worked for more traditional, large companies prior to coming to Invenergy, such as the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and Coca-Cola which are both big voices in the healthcare and food/beverage industries, respectively. I liked that Invenergy is a big voice and innovator in sustainable energy. I had listened to a few podcasts featuring Invenergy’s founder and CEO Michael Polsky as part of my interview prep and was drawn to the company’s origin story. I was excited about the idea of working in this industry and the opportunity to work on interesting projects.

What are some challenges you have faced along the way?

Assistants are the grease that keep the wheels of organizations going, and we have all faced similar challenges in our careers: from dealing with difficult personalities, juggling several calendars, up-managing executives and teams, admitting mistakes, solving problems (mine and everyone’s), all the while making decisions, honing critical thinking skills, and maintaining a positive attitude. It’s an exciting career that can at times be disheartening.

There are so many stereotypes that persist about the administrative role, partly because it is a role inhabited by mostly women, and partly because the role often gets reduced to three tasks – getting coffee, filing, and typing – which are somehow ascribed to women exclusively. There is also the persistent belief that this role should merely be a stepping stone to a “real” career. The truth is performing this job at a high level requires leadership, social influence, tech-savviness, creativity, and idea generation. In my short time at Invenergy, all the assistants have demonstrated some combination of these skills. The biggest challenge? Changing the perception of this role.

How have you been able to work toward the goal of increasing visibility for administrative professionals?

Early on in my career, I knew I needed to start owning my professional development and began to search for leadership opportunities. While in a previous role, I worked with colleagues to create an organizational affinity group for assistants focused on increasing engagement, role-specific training, networking, and sharing best practices. From there, I joined the Admin Awards Advisory Board, which allows me to publicly celebrate the achievements of my peers. (You too can celebrate your admin’s achievements by submitting a nomination here!)

I am also a member of the DEI Standing Committee of the International Association for Administrative Professionals (IAAP). Connection to these organizations has helped me articulate to others the value that assistants bring to an organization which in turn helps people to understand what we do. I’m proud to be an assistant and love my job. We are always striving to be viewed as equal teammates, and I think we have earned our seat at the table.

Who are some role models that have inspired you and/or helped you pursue your career path?

So many: Melba Duncan, Jeremy Burrows, Bonnie Low-Kramen – they are huge leaders in the administrative professional community. Also, Sunny Nunan, who founded the Admin Awards, as well as Ike Saunders, a personal assistant to Chris Kennedy, who founded R.E.A.C.H., the Regional Executive Assistant Cocktail Hour, a fantastic networking group in Chicago. These folks are tremendous advocates and resources.

Black and Brown at Invenergy is working on some exciting programs since being formed in 2019. What are some of your favorite initiatives or events?

I love that I was part of the inception of this affinity group at Invenergy. Those initial, informal discussions around how to create opportunities for guidance, support, mentorship, and career advancement were energizing. In summer 2020, which was a difficult time for all given the effects of the pandemic, BBI collaborated with the Invenergy Women’s Network to host the Invenergy Summer Career Series. This web-based career-building series for high school and early-college students came out of BBI conversations focused on broadening Invenergy’s external outreach, and we partnered with external youth education organizations in Chicago to connect with aspiring students interested in energy and sustainability fields. It was great to see the participants and a wonderful opportunity to learn about other roles here at the company. At that time, we were deep in the pandemic, and it was exciting just to see other Invenergy employees that were not on my team.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black history is American history, but we place particular focus on Black History in February thanks to the efforts of Dr. Carter G. Woodson who created “Negro History Week” in 1926 and who set it in February to honor the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. That it exists is important. I am the only African American Executive Assistant at Invenergy, and I think that makes the DEI work currently underway at Invenergy very critical. I think that Black History Month points towards needing more diverse representation and contributions to Invenergy’s workplace.