Interviewed by Vera Jonsdottir
WIL had the chance to interview our talent Jessica Dabrowski, Communications Specialist at Florence School of Regulation Energy & Climate, FSR Global, European University Institute. A Polish American living in Italy, Jessica shares in this interview how her dual-citizenship has influenced her, her work at the Florence School of Regulation, the mission of Lights on Women initiative, an initiative she founded to bring more visibility to women in the energy field, and much more!
You have dual citizenship, both hailing from Poland and the United States and are now living and working in Florence, Italy. How has your background and current country of residence influenced you?
As a first-generation Polish American, I am the product of two cultures melded into one. This has shaped many aspects of my life, from my inherent curiosity and adaptability to my unwavering ability to push the boundaries of my comfort zone. My dual-citizenship opened the door to countless experiences – new places, people, cultures and career opportunities – but it was my multicultural upbringing that gave me the confidence to walk through it.
My Polish roots strongly influenced my decision to move to Europe to pursue a master’s degree in European Union Policy in Florence, Italy. After I graduated, I continued my journey abroad working as a digital strategist in Vancouver, Canada and later remotely from The Hague, Netherlands. This position gave me my first taste of how digitalization is reshaping the way individuals across the globe learn, work, and live, as well as the solutions that will play a role in enabling people to adapt. I became particularly interested in the concept of ‘lifelong learning’ and how digitalization is transforming higher education. So much so that it took me back to Florence to work at the European University Institute’s (EUI) Florence School of Regulation (FSR) to develop a portfolio of online courses, as well as a community and experience that helps global energy professionals connect, exchange and learn.
Nearly seven years after first moving to Florence, I am still here! Moving to Italy taught me how to take changes and challenges in stride, as well as the importance of true independence and re-ordering my priorities. I also learned the value of taking things slow, not an easy feat for someone who grew up right outside of New York City!
You recently transitioned into a new role as Communications Specialist of FSR Global, an initiative of the Florence School of Regulation. Can you tell us about FSR Global and the work you do?
The challenges we face today – from technology and demography to energy and climate – are transforming our societies. These challenges extend beyond borders and require unified efforts to overcome them, all while ensuring no one is left behind. This collaborative approach and vision were fundamental to the creation of FSR Global. Through the initiative, the Florence School of Regulation extends its mission beyond Europe to facilitate the development and delivery of effective energy policy and regulation in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
One way we accomplish this is through the FSR Knowledge Hub, a platform that strives to make information about energy policy and regulation open and accessible. Using digital strategies, I connect the dots between the FSR’s three pillars – applied research, policy dialogue and training – and our global community of practitioners, policymakers and students. Working at the nexus of policy and academia, the knowledge we create is often highly technical and complex. Breaking it down and building bridges between our ‘scientific’ and ‘non-scientific’ audience – as well as helping the rest of our cross-functional team (e.g., our researchers) do so – is one of the most important and enriching aspects of my work.
While my responsibilities have spanned across digital learning, content strategy, marketing, and community building, I have considered facilitation my most important role. As a facilitator, I help our team, stakeholders, and community connect, engage and exchange knowledge, channelling their collective abilities to achieve common goals. As workplaces become less hierarchical and more culturally diverse and geographically dispersed, I believe effective facilitation will allow organizations to retain the best expertise and foster the collaboration and creative solutions needed to adapt to the Future of Work.
Building bridges between our ‘scientific’ and ‘non-scientific’ audience is one of the most important and enriching aspects of my work.
You founded the Lights on Women initiative that focuses on bringing visibility to women in the energy field. How does Lights on Women achieve its mission? What inspired you to establish this initiative?
A diverse talent pool will be a key driver of innovative and inclusive solutions to accelerate the energy transition and tackle energy and climate challenges our societies face. Yet the energy sector remains one of the least gender-diverse sectors in the economy.
Many impactful initiatives focus on promoting and encouraging women’s participation in energy. The Lights on Women initiative aimed to complement those initiatives and to find practical solutions to relatively new problems: namely, how to respond to the dynamics of gender inequality within digital platforms.
In this context, I made it a priority to address gender balance within media content and communications at the FSR. We began taking meaningful steps to integrate a gender equality perspective into our online activities and to counteract discriminatory norms, attitudes, and unconscious biases that contribute to the under-representation of women in energy. After our first year, we saw a 30% increase in the representation of women across our dissemination channels.
The Lights on Women initiative was created to shine a light on women’s expertise and make their contributions visible to the wider energy community. Three years later, it has blossomed into much more. Last year, the initiative kicked off its first annual scholarship to support women in energy, particularly in their pursuit of the technical knowledge (training) needed to advance their careers. We also offer the training and tools needed for women to best represent themselves across all forms of digital media, where their expertise can have the most reach. We hope that these targeted actions will empower women to take ownership of their knowledge and encourage them to share it, closing the “confidence-gap” that is often a barrier to participation and in turn, break the cycle that under-representation causes.
A diverse talent pool will be a key driver of innovative and inclusive solutions to accelerate the energy transition and tackle energy and climate challenges our societies face.
In addition to increased visibility, what else can help women reach tier-1 positions?
I believe that seeking out a sponsor within your organization or field at an early stage is key. Sponsors play a more direct role than mentors in the advancement of young professionals, taking meaningful and concrete actions to facilitate their career progression. A more hands-on approach to guidance, endorsements and access are especially important for female professionals, who are not earning leadership positions at the same rate as their male counterparts.
That said, it’s often the sponsors who find you, not the other way around. So how can female professionals attract sponsorship? A good place to start is to nurture relationships within your organization and enlist help; be proactive in finding support and trusted co-workers, ask questions, and invite feedback. Building on this, communicate the substance of your work and value of your achievements, especially to senior colleagues (and encourage the women around you to do the same!). Take credit for your accomplishments and don’t underplay your role in your team’s success.
You are a participant in the fifth Women Talent Pool Program. Could you tell us about your experience and why such programs are necessary?
Programs like the European Network for Women in Leadership and its WTP program play a key role in empowering women and encouraging them to reflect on their potential as leaders. I am very grateful to be a part of a program that promotes the open exchange of diverse experiences and perspectives. The WTP program connects its members with many ambitious women who motivate each other to set the bar high and provide valuable advice on how we can take our careers to the next level. From conferences to webinars offered by the network, it has been incredibly inspiring to learn about the journey’s women have experienced in high-profile positions, the challenges they have faced and the unique ways they overcame them.
Lastly, we like to conclude our interview with a question from the Proust Questionnaire: What is your motto? Why?
I don’t have a motto, per se, but I would say that my perseverance and drive for self-improvement guides me. I like to joke that if one door closes, I’ll find a cracked window to go through. We can plan; we can aim for perfection; we can wait until we are 150% “prepared”, but life is full of uncertainty, and if you’re doing it right, some failure too.
It is important to learn from failures or mistakes without dwelling on them and to focus on the bigger picture to overcome obstacles. Otherwise, we remain stuck at roadblocks instead of taking a detour (or a few) that can eventually put us back on the right road. Franklin D. Roosevelt put it best when he said, “When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
I like to joke that if one door closes, I’ll find a cracked window to go through.