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July 12, 2018

Gender balance: the path to parity in the energy sector

Pressure is rising for industries to face up to gender imbalance in their workforces and actively engage in addressing parity. So what do women in today’s energy industry think about the situation? Scarlett Evans speaks to women working in the energy sector to find out more.

By Scarlett Evans

The energy industry has come under increasing scrutiny over the past few years, with fears of climbing global temperatures and rising sea levels prompting many governments and company bodies to reassess their energy supplies, how they’re generated and by whom. However, as attention on the sector grows, so does awareness that it lags behind other industries on the crucial matter of gender parity.

Many believe the lack of diversity in the energy sector is actively holding back developments and slowing down the clean energy transition by excluding a range of people who could bring new ideas to a sector ripe with possibility.

Here, Scarlett Evans speaks to five industry experts to hear their opinions on the issue of gender in the energy sector, and how equality can be attained.

Scarlett Evans: What more needs to be done to ensure gender parity in the energy sector?

Anne-Charlotte Dagorn, Assystem communications director & head of gender diversity programme: 

 “The number of men and women in the energy industry is extremely imbalanced, especially in leadership roles. Today, we face unprecedented challenges and our capacity to tackle them will be greatly improved by ensuring a more gender-balanced representation of women in the industry.

“For change to happen, our political leaders and businesses must guarantee pay equity and provide women with an environment and a management approach that factors in the cognitive biases specific to all sexes. Our industry needs to avoid all forms of stereotyping and eradicate the belief that heavy industry jobs are not for women. We need to collectively better promote our industry as female-supportive.

“Going forward, our main aim should be to address the gender imbalance, change behaviours, and promote female leadership in order to have more women at all levels of a corporation.”

Bernadette Del Chiaro, CA Solar & Storage Association executive director:

“Anything that democratises energy, putting more choice in the hands of consumers, is going to inherently be more diverse in every way, including gender representation. Bolting on hiring practices and quotas to centralised energy industries is better than nothing, but ultimately decentralising, localising, and opening up energy markets to competition and innovation is what’s right for the 21st Century man and woman.”

Hanne Blume, Ørsted Senior Vice President:

“To ensure gender parity in the energy sector, a number of drivers are pivotal. First, we need more women with the right educational backgrounds. More women need to become engineers and technicians – and the energy sector needs to support this. The Danish initiative ‘Girls in Science’, where companies such as Ørsted promote technical jobs to high school girls, is a great success.

“Secondly, companies in the energy sector must work proactively to create an inclusive work culture, overcoming counterproductive bias and giving room to diversity. Companies need to ensure that their parental leave policies, etc., enable women to shine instead of forcing them to choose between parenthood and career advancement.

“Thirdly, women need to stop holding themselves and each other back – and just go for it. Managers are, we’ve asked in Ørsted, very supportive of a higher gender diversity in their teams.”

Juliet Davenport, Good Energy founder and CEO:

“There are two key issues. Firstly not enough women are joining the sector and secondly, companies do not do enough to support and retain those women that are.

“The problem starts at school age. Children are split into disciplines so young in the UK education system, that girls and boys are forced to box themselves into scientist or artist from an early age before they know what they might achieve. This means only 24% of UK STEM graduates are female (according to WISE), and the industry struggles to find the right skills they need for future leaders. This lack of female role models further discourages women, as they see few people like them in an organisation.

“There is plenty of evidence that shows that companies with greater diversity are likely to perform better. Ultimately, it needs to be recognised by companies as a priority and driven by the leadership. The more we raise it as an issue, the more that will be done to solve it.”

Ruth Cairnie, POWERful Women chair:

“The latest board statistics for the UK’s top 80 energy companies, published at our Annual Conference in May, show that progress towards gender diversity at senior levels is disappointingly slow. Women still only occupy 13% of all board seats and only 6% of executive board seats, and 50% of the companies have no women on their boards at all. It is clear that our sector is missing out on a wealth of female talent, talent that is vital in meeting the energy challenges of the future.

“Leaders must take bold action to develop the pipeline of female talent, accelerate the progression of women and tackle biases in their organisations. They also need to support aspiring women through mentoring, career planning, training and supportive networks.

“At POWERful Women, we publish annual statistics to highlight those companies actively trying to make a difference and support the senior leaders who are taking steps to improve, like the new Energy Leaders’ Coalition. Showing what good looks like and demonstrating the benefits to the business bottom line are powerful ways to encourage other companies to follow suit.”

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