It's difficult not to notice that at most energy events I attend, I'm one of just a handful of women. Last week's C3E Women in Clean Energy Symposium at MIT looked and felt a lot different. It provided a forum for female professionals to come together to discuss challenges and opportunities in clean energy.

C3E stands for the Clean Energy Education and Empowerment program launched in 2010 to advance the careers and leadership of women in clean energy. Why do we matter? In policy discussions and research, diversity brings novel ideas to the table. We are also the primary energy decision-makers at home in both the developed and developing world. So if we are truly serious about finding solutions to our most pressing global energy challenges, both halves the population must contribute to the conversation. C3E is a step in that direction by providing mentorship, support, and a network of pioneering women in a field traditionally dominated by men.

The highlight of the symposium was the keynote "Creating a Sustainable Culture of Innovation" by Sharon Vosmek, CEO of Astia. While not an energy expert, Vosmek is passionate to propel women's full-participation as entrepreneurs and leaders in all roles. She explained why it's not just "nice" to include women, but essential, pointing out that 95% of venture capitalists are men. If women want to get into that network, she explained that we'll need greater access. The most memorable take-away was this--which was not energy specific: Reducing barriers to female participation in the workforce can increase GDP up to 9 percent. Translation: When we work to include women, it benefits everyone.

So how do we get there? Vosmek advised the audience to "pursue uncomfortable work situations" where we feel different because of our gender--rather than try to avoid them. Our presence helps to challenge the status quo, which ultimately fosters change and more equal representation. She described the clean energy sector as ripe for inclusive innovation because it is young enough to build in women leaders. I suspect she's correct.

I left Boston feeling optimistic about the future of women in clean energy. Instead of listening to the same old questions ("where are the women?" or "how do we raise numbers of women in...x?"), C3E is working toward change by fostering a community of women actively involved in the energy conversation.