Dawn Putney considers herself a Minnesota country girl by nature, having grown up on the farmland her Irish ancestors homesteaded. She was active in 4H and the Future Homemakers of America (FHA) as a child. Then she discovered design in high school, and she knew she’d found her calling. Dawn’s first “real job” was as an advertising typesetter, where she developed a passion for big ideas, storytelling, the printed word and attention to detail. She went on to work at some of the most prestigious advertising and design firms in Minneapolis.
Dawn moved to Colorado in 1994 when her husband landed his dream job in atmospheric science. Though that marriage ended, her love for Colorado and the desire to raise her kids surrounded by mountains and big blue skies remained strong. After many years pioneering beautiful design in Northern Colorado for other companies, Dawn co-founded Toolbox Creative, a branding and marketing firm that helps innovative technology companies tell their unique stories. She is an active advocate for women in technology both in and out of the office. She sits on the board of Colorado C3E and Pretty Brainy, and volunteers her time and expertise with several other women-focused enterprises.
I love helping tech-centric companies develop their brands and positioning, demonstrate their expertise, and then show off their brands genuinely and consistently. There are so many innovative companies coming up with solutions that make our world a better place, and those stories need to be shared.
What inspired you to start Toolbox Creative? How did you do it?
In my 20s and 30s, I had the good fortune to work at some of the largest and best design shops in Minneapolis — a great way to learn design thinking from the best in the business. But it was my experience working with some of the smaller agencies that helped me focus my attentions on design and positioning as a marketing strategy.
I’ve always been entrepreneurial, so starting a creative agency seemed like a logical next step when the company I worked for shuttered after 9/11. I love a challenge, and starting a company with my pragmatic husband while being my own boss was a challenge too good to pass up. Bootstrapping is in my blood, and we put a lot of sweat equity into building Toolbox Creative and a culture we could be proud of. There have been plenty of bumps along the way, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Why did you choose to focus on clean energy clients?
Toolbox made the decision to work with engineers, in part, thanks to our immediate surroundings. Northern Colorado is a hotbed of innovation, and when we were a new Fort Collins company 15+ years ago, we began working with local engineers. We discovered that through design thinking, we spoke a common language. That kind of magic really gets the creative wheels turning. Clean energy and tech was a natural progression for us — the industry is chock full of innovators who think differently for the good of all.
Clean tech and energy companies are all about creating tools that solve a problem — often big, hairy problems. Planet-saving problems. Helping companies that are making a real difference in the world is why we’re passionate about working in clean energy.
By working with some of Toolbox’s innovative clients, we’ve seen firsthand what small businesses can do to make a big impact. It started when we first helped develop the brand for the Colorado Clean Energy Cluster several years ago. Since then, we have worked with other save-the-world-with-clean-tech organizations like Brendle Group, Prieto Battery, Colorado C3E and Pretty Brainy. Every day, we strive to leave the world a better place than we found it. At Toolbox Creative, we choose to focus on working directly with clean tech companies to help make that dream a reality.
How does your company work within the clean energy sphere?
Our specialty is working with clean tech and clean energy innovators, along with 3D printing and ag tech. Most people hear “clean tech” or “clean energy” and think that means working in engineering or another technical STEM career. Marketing has a place at the table, too! When is the last time you saw a successful innovation company, start-up or otherwise, that didn’t have a need for marketing? Never (I hope). I love helping tech-centric companies develop their brands and positioning, demonstrate their expertise, and then show off their brands genuinely and consistently. There are so many innovative companies coming up with solutions that make our world a better place, and those stories need to be shared.
Some people think marketing is simply about putting content on the company website or coming up with the next idea for your digital ad campaign. While those tactics are all creative, building a brand that cuts through the extraneous noise — that’s when the fun really starts. I love rolling up my sleeves, poking, prodding and understanding a customer’s pain points — that’s when what we do becomes really fun.
Which new work projects excite you most?
WomenInCleanEnergy.com and this initiative to collect and share the stories of women in technology, clean energy and beyond is one of my current favorites. Women’s voices need to be heard, and their stories told.
What role has mentorship played in your career?
My high school FHA advisor, Mrs. Sederstrom was my mentor before I knew what that meant. She encouraged me to get involved with leadership roles within the regional organization. She believed in me when I didn’t know what I was capable of doing.
What advice would you give young women who want to pursue a career in clean energy?
Find a mentor and believe it when she tells you that you can do anything you set your mind on. In the male-dominated world of high tech, it’s critical that women take an active part.
What is the most difficult vocational challenge you’ve overcome as a woman?
I was a single mom early in my career, and the challenges of raising my kids while working full-time was tough. I could not have done it without the support of my family and friends. When your Mom is willing to take care of your kid with chicken pox – then you know you have a strong support system!
What would you change in the clean energy work space to make it more equitable for women?
Technology companies can provide more support for women as we focus on taking care of our families with flexible work schedules, equal pay and a level playing field in career advancement.
What do you consider your biggest career success?
As a business owner, I’ve always been involved with organizations that help women in business succeed. I believe that when women work together to magnify and amplify one another’s voices, the world is a kinder, smarter place. As a board member of both Colorado C3E and Pretty Brainy, a girl-focused STEAM (STEM + art) nonprofit, I have had the opportunity to meet and support some of the smartest, most creative women I’ve ever known. That’s hard to beat.
What do you want your legacy to be?
For me it’s all about getting stuff done. Doing that while helping women advance their careers is the best gift I can give.How do you think C3E can encourage more women to pursue a career in clean energy?
By supporting one another through networking, encouragement and amplifying one another’s stories, we can — and do — make the world a better place. I’ve seen a handful of Women in (fill in the blank) initiatives out in the world and truly admire what they are doing to advance women in all kinds of tech and STEM fields. I am most inspired by how Women in 3D Printing are taking action to advance women in the male-dominated additive manufacturing industry.
Now more than ever, women supporting each other is critically important. The Women in Clean Energy initiative will help increase the visibility of women in the clean energy industry through shared stories, which will hopefully encourage more women to contribute to clean energy innovation.
Judy Dorsey is the founding President and Principal Engineer of Brendle Group, an impact-driven, people-centered sustainability firm that solves complex sustainability challenges through practical planning, robust engineering and analysis, and actionable implementation. Over the past 22 years, Judy has grown Brendle Group into an award-winning consulting group with impact areas focused on transformative energy and water solutions, resilient and regenerative systems, and symbiotic relationships between the natural and built environments.
Judy also serves on the advisory board for Colorado State University’s Energy Institute and is co-founder of Colorado C3E, an initiative to advance women in clean energy. She is a member of the American Solar Energy Society, the Association of Energy Engineers, and the Colorado Renewable Energy Society. In 2005, she helped launch the Colorado Clean Energy Cluster and form the vision and key implementation projects for FortZED as well as other cluster initiatives, including the International Cleantech Network (ICN). Judy has a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Northwestern University, and a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Colorado State University. She resides with her family in Colorado’s first LEED home.
To me, success is measured in positive impacts on people and relationships. As a woman engineer and mom, I hope to help other women engineers achieve both their professional and life aspirations.
What’s the most difficult challenge you’ve had to overcome as a woman in your career?
As a woman engineer, I strive to break down barriers for future generations. Part of breaking down these barriers is busting myths that women aren’t as technically qualified as male engineers or that we aren’t as committed professionals due to family commitments. Some of these stereotypes are especially hard to address since women are so underrepresented in engineering. In fact, we have less market access, making women-owned engineering firms federally designated as disadvantaged. At Brendle Group we work hard to thrive as a business despite these market disadvantages. While it can be beneficial to some of our customers that Brendle Group is a certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, it can also feed the notion that women are less than equal to our male counterparts. As an entrepreneur, that presents a bit of a quandy and a challenge to navigate.
What are you proudest of in your career? What has been your biggest success?
To me success is measured in positive impacts on people and relationships. As a woman engineer and mom I hope to help other women engineers achieve both their professional and life aspirations. I started Brendle Group when I was in the third trimester of my pregnancy with my son, Andrew. Throughout my career, I’ve tried to be a role model for successfully managing work and family, and have proven it’s possible to have both. I’m proud to be able to help women and people in general positively look forward, and reach their desired goals. It makes me happy to see other women engineers at Brendle Group balancing families successfully. And I’m also happy to share that my son is now an electrical engineer serving as a Peace Corps volunteer and my daughter, Maggie, is pursuing a degree in ecology. Life comes full circle.
What do you want your legacy to be, whether in your workplace or in life?
From raising my two children with my husband Dan, I’ve learned it takes a village to accomplish your goals. It’s the same for clean energy and gender equality. Personally, I want my legacy to include the relationships I’ve built and the impact I’ve made as a role model for my family and all women. Through these relationships, I want my legacy to be a piece in the big picture of closing the gender gap and creating a more sustainable future.
What inspirational experiences do you have that you wish to share for women wanting to pursue clean energy as a career path?
My inspiration comes from the long lasting and sustained impact I’ve shared with my community. As an engineer focused on clean energy consumption and sustainability, I’m both technically challenged and professionally rewarded by pursuing positive sustainable solutions. The most inspiring part of this career is reaching goals and the satisfaction of having hard work make a positive impact, not just on myself but also for the larger community.
What new projects are you working on that you wish to share?
Brendle Group has several projects that we’re working on at the moment. Currently, we’re very excited to be conducting a Climate Vulnerability Assessment in Bozeman, Montana. We’re also growing and innovating on our partnership with Xcel Energy through Partners in Energy. Through this offering, Brendle Group helps participating communities develop a plan that identifies their energy goals and maps out how they can be achieved. We’re also continuously helping various partners and customers in the private sector achieve their net zero energy and water goals.
What one thing would you change about your workplace in order to make it more equitable?
At Brendle Group, equity is one of our core values, essentially running through our DNA as a company. However, there is always room for improvement. At Brendle Group, equity applies to both men and women. For example, we’re currently looking into paternity leave for new dads because we recognize that the importance of work and life balance for long and successful careers. We’re also piloting alternative work opportunities for individuals nearing the end of their career (we call this an Encoreship), part-time employment, and sabbaticals.
Thinking about what you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Growing up, I was very energetic and definitely a classified risk taker. Knowing what I know now, I would advise my younger self to embrace failure with open arms, and stomp out perfectionism. Nobody is perfect and it is important to learn from failure to grow as a person.
How do you think C3E can encourage more women to pursue a career in clean energy?
Right now, the stories and interviews campaign that the C3E website is introducing is a very powerful tool to encourage more women to pursue a career in clean energy. These stories show that women are already influencing the Colorado clean energy economy and breaking down gender barriers across a wide range of jobs and clean energy sectors. Beyond these stories, it is essential to work with employers to continue breaking down barriers to recruiting and retaining more women into their ranks. C3E can also work with employers to put more women in Colorado board rooms. C3E is a very powerful network that connects employers with exceptional talent – without gender bias.