A man’s world? Gender disparity in the power sector

Ilaria Grasso Macola 6 March 2020 (Last Updated March 6th, 2020 14:56)

Sunday 8 March marks International Women’s Day 2020, but the fight for gender equality is far from won, with women in many sectors – including the power industry – having yet to break the glass ceiling.

A man’s world? Gender disparity in the power sector
42% of top UK energy companies don’t have women in their boards. Credit: Freestock.

Sunday 8 March marks International Women’s Day 2020, but the fight for gender equality is far from won, with women in many sectors – including the power industry – having yet to break the glass ceiling.

According to the Gender Social Norms Index – a study published yesterday by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – 90% of people still hold biases against women and 40% believe that men make better business executives.

UNDP human development report project head Pedro Conceição said: “Gender gaps are still all too obvious in other areas, particularly those that challenge power relations and are most influential in actually achieving true equality.”

While gender disparity is present in every industry, the power sector is predominantly male-dominated, with a gender gap still permeating power companies’ board rooms.

In February, Engie’s CEO Isabelle Kocher was ousted by the board after what was reported as months of internal fighting. After reviewing her four-year tenure as CEO, Engie’s board members decided not to renew her contract, claiming that the company’s further developments required a change in leadership.

Engie’s board chairman Jean-Pierre Clamadieu commented the decision: “Just as ENGIE wants to establish itself as a leading force in the energy transition, this essential enhancement will allow the group to clarify and strengthen its position relative to its different stakeholders, employees, clients, and shareholders.”

Kocher, who had been the only female CEO of a French multinational company, was criticised for the decisions she made during her tenure. According to Reuters, the 53-year-old received backlash after she decided to sell some assets, including coal and gas.

With Kocher out, fewer women occupy executive positions in the power industry. But what are the actual numbers?

Duke, the US-based energy company and the world’s biggest power company by market value, has three women in its senior management committee out of nine board members, while French power company Engie has five women on its 14-member board.

Among the top 10 power companies, Iberdrola has the highest percentage of women, reaching almost 50% with six out of 14.

Atlanta-based Southern Company has the worst ratio, with two women out of 15-people board group.

The ratio for women of colour is even lower: out of 34 women occupying seats in top power companies’ boards, three of them are non-white, with two women occupying senior management positions at Southern Company and one at Dominion Energy.

According to an analysis by POWERful Women, 42% of the UK’s top 80 energy companies do not have women on their boards, while 16% women as of Q1 2019 occupy a board seat and 6% fill executive board positions.

POWERful women chair Ruth Cairnie said: “It is clear that we still have a very long way to go to truly tap into the pool of female talent available in the energy sector so that it is fit to meet the challenges and opportunities of the energy transformation.

“The 2019 statistics show that progress is disappointingly slow, and has even gone backwards when we look at progress towards targets.”

“In some companies, we see positive initiatives on the ground that are starting to feed the pipeline of future female leaders. But this will take time to come through and we need much more concerted action and leadership to really shift the dial.”