The four barriers discouraging women from a career in energy

Posted in: Energy

Posted on: 01.11.2017

The energy sector is one still way behind other UK industries in terms of gender balance at a senior management and executive level. 

A couple of years ago, I invited Alex Chrisholm, who at that  time was the Head of the CMA; and Dermot Nolan, the CEO of Ofgem to a POWERful women event at the House of Commons. There, they listened to, and took on board the concept that if we want our energy industry to perform well, we need to enhance diversity throughout all energy organisations.

Tonight, I have the privilege of voicing my concerns about gender balance at 2017's POWERful women event, hosted by our Energy Minister, Claire Perry. I’m happy to say that Claire has taken up the challenge too.

In my opinion, there are four main barriers discouraging women from joining the sector:

1. The perception of the sector needs to change

Nearly ten years ago, when I became a part of wider industry groups – one of the things that struck me was that Senior Managers across the sector seemed to have three things in common:

They all tended to be male; all tended to be engineers; and all tended to think about the supply of energy just in terms of the technology.

They thought about the meters, and not about the people behind the meters.

I have always taken a very different view. To me, what’s exciting is what people do with energy. Energy is the magic within our society. It's the thing that allows us to do things we couldn’t do otherwise. 

Engaging people with their energy is extremely powerful.

Faced with that perception, any woman encountering the energy industry may feel that they too would need to look and think like the existing senior managers in order to be successful. In fact, I remember having that very conversation with someone from one of the big utility providers, who assumed she would need to completely change the way she worked in order to get ahead.

I think what she meant by that is that she had a family, she needed flexibility, and her male co-workers didn’t have that. They looked very different to her.

2. The industry needs greater flexibility

We need to stop looking at jobs in terms of set boundaries, and instead look at the outcomes. 

This means each member of staff making sure they deliver what they need to; whether it’s at home, at work; or out of hours when the children are in bed.

As long as people are managing to get enough face time with their colleagues and prioritising their ongoing training and development; it shouldn’t matter so much about working the traditional 9-5.

The industry needs more role models in senior positions who show that working flexibly can work. Until we’re able to do that it, is going to be difficult to change it.

POWERful women is an excellent organisation within the energy sector; maybe we can learn from other sectors which see men and women working more flexibly.

3. We need to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths to girls

I am a passionate scientist – I have loved science all my life. But what I find fascinating is the way we introduce science to girls in our society. Traditionally, it has been seen as a subject for boys, and arts and literature are promoted more to girls.

I think one way of tackling this is to consider the spokespeople we have. Not only do we need more female spokespeople on radio and TV; but we need to make sure that they are encouraging and inspiring women, not patronising them.

Another method is making science more interesting and more available to young girls.

We’re proud to work closely with the STEMettes; a fantastic organisation that aims to inspire young women into STEM subjects through fun and food. 

This may seem an odd technique, but being rewarded by chocolate cake is the very reason I loved my physics lessons so much.

Most of our society is built around technology; which is changing all the time with electric cars, smart meters and smart home appliances all coming into play.

Currently, only 15% of the scientists who developed the technologies are female, which has undoubtedly led to a bias. Encouraging more women into STEM careers will fundamentally change our capability as a country, bringing a different level of innovation and creativity to problems that we face as a society. Enthusiasm from an early age is crucial to making science something achievable for all.

Encouraging women into STEM careers will fundamentally change our capability as a country.

4. Companies must look at their gender diversity

There are key things that companies can do to address the gender diversity within their organisations.

Firstly, they need to measure it and ensure people see and think about it. Until people make the effort to take a look at the raw figures, they just won’t see the problems.

Secondly, organisations need to overhaul their headhunting practices. I've recently met several head hunters at an event who told me that women were less likely than men to return their call.

Ultimately though, we need to hold head hunters to account and tell them that single gender short lists are not good enough.

There is a lot of work to do before we can achieve a truly gender balanced energy industry.
But there are things that we can start to change today, which is really empowering.

It’s as much an attitude change as anything else, and the more we raise it up as a priority, the more that will be done to solve it.

Posted in: Energy


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