Gender discrimination always matters. It should matter even more to the new green economy. Justice aside, barriers against half the workforce limit your talent pool. For a sector where “business as usual” guarantees failure we need to ensure the fairest selection processes from the widest possible pool as new jobs are created every day. But today’s energy sector has a bigger role to play. Energy is now arguably the 21st century’s “sector of sectors”, given the existential importance of the transition and the unequalled investment and innovation taking place right here. As such, it is uniquely placed to set an example for all other sectors, across whole economies, across the world. Katy Briggs at DNV-GL looks at the numbers and trends, and explains why gender equality is not just fair but makes for good business. There’s a long way to go. She quotes figures that show that the non-fossil power sector has less diversity than fossil fuel production in the U.S., with women accounting for just 13% of the workforce. She ends by asking what you can do in your workplace.
New Green economy, old gender bias
How diverse is your organisation? This isn’t just a question about equality or building a fairer society. It is a business question too. Companies that are more diverse make better profits. A study by McKinsey showed that companies with more gender diversity in their leadership were 21% more likely to outperform the industry average profit. Furthermore, ethnically diverse companies were 33% more likely to outperform the average.
In the energy industry, the rise of renewables presents a significant source of new jobs. According to a recent Forbes article, decentralised power systems and distributed renewable energy now play a notable role in employment in Africa and Asia. For example, in Kenya, renewable energy companies already employ nearly as many people as the state utility, with numbers expected to grow by 70% in the next three to four years.
Globally there will be an estimated 1.3 million full-time jobs in the off-grid solar sector alone, not including mini-grids, by 2022. Solar installer and wind turbine technician are the fastest growing professions in the United States. And they are expected to be so for the next seven years. Solar already employs twice as many Americans as the coal industry.
Gender imbalance in both high and low-income nations
But who is filling all these jobs? A new census from Power for All looked at how rural electrification using renewable energy is creating jobs in Africa and Asia. It found that, while 40% of these positions are being filled by young people, women account for only one quarter.
That figure is below the global average for the renewable energy sector, but we see gender imbalances across the globe and across energy sectors. An analysis by the Brooking Institute found that the non-fossil power sector has less diversity than fossil fuel production, with women accounting for just 13% of the US workforce.
Unfortunately, it comes as no surprise. Earlier this year, I was a panellist representing DNV GL at two operations and maintenance conferences for the wind energy industry. During one session, I counted only 13 women out of about 120 people. The gender imbalance was similar at the other conference. A lack of racial and ethnic diversity was also apparent at these conferences.
Other parts of the energy industry share low diversity statistics. IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency, found that women make up 32% of the global workforce in renewable energy and 22% in oil and gas. Clearly, neither industry is close to the 50% goal, nor of representing the diversity that exists in the world.
And representing the full diversity of people is important for our industry. We know that diverse companies perform better. But diversity also ensures the future growth of the renewables sector. Unless we welcome and promote all the potential talent out there, it will be harder keep up with the demand for renewable power, to be an innovative industry, and to meet the decarbonisation goals we wish to achieve.
Bringing change closer
Is the situation improving? I’d like to say, ‘Yes, we’re on track’, because many people have helped make a difference and progress has been made. However, the numbers and the trends demonstrate that change is actually very slow.
Based on 2011 data, the book What Works for Women at Work, estimated that it would take 276 years before we saw equal numbers of male and female Fortune 500 CEOs, based on the rate of change at that time. Hearing that made realise we have a long way to go. Since then the number of women CEOs in the Fortune 500 has increased to a grand total of 33 (or 6.6%). Including the most recent numbers, I estimate that it might now take “only” 135 years to reach gender parity. I guess that counts as progress, but not enough.
So, how can we make things happen more rapidly? I think it will take greater awareness and more intentional action by all of us – men and women. Men hold the majority of industry positions so they have the most potential when it comes effecting change. One thing to do is get involved in campaigns and organisations such as the ‘HeForShe’ campaign, the EI’s ‘POWERful Women’ (PfW) initiative and the WRISE organisation, which stands for ‘Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy’. Both men and women can get involved in these organisations.
Look at your own workplace
There are also things you can do straightaway in your own organisation. Look at how many women and how many men attend the meetings in which you’re involved. Who gets invited to meetings and to which meetings do they get invited? Amongst peers, who does the majority of note taking and other meeting housekeeping, and who does not? Who speaks? How much are they speaking? And who is actually being heard?
From these observations, what do you see? Now start thinking about what should change and what you can do to start influencing that change.
You can take this exercise further and ask many provocative questions like: How many women speak at the conferences you attend? Who does your company send to the conferences? Who gets high-visibility work projects? Who sees your company’s job postings? Who fills the different roles in your organisation? Who gets promoted? Who stays at your company and who leaves? What things have you tried? What actions are really making a difference?
The awareness that arises from these questions can lead to a more diverse selection of people in visible roles within companies and the industry. This visible diversity is a positive in its own right, but it is also a catalyst for further change as it creates role models. Role models are a big part of the reason I am where I am today. Seeing my older sister achieve a degree in physics and a PhD in engineering made it seem natural for me to pursue physics myself. The first person to tell me about the renewables industry was a woman I could relate to. It is thanks to good role models – both men and women – that I have stayed this industry for twelve years.
Diversity for growth
The renewable industry is growing fast and needs to continue to grow if the world is to meet its emissions targets. This growth is generating millions of new jobs, but if there isn’t enough diversity within the people taking on these jobs, we risk stifling that growth and missing our targets.
Once this topic is being discussed on a larger scale everyone will realise how critical a more diverse workforce is to the success of the renewable industry. It is just as important as trends and technologies, operational strategies, predictive analytics and innovation. Get involved in raising diversity now, and rapid change will follow as a natural consequence. After all, what company wouldn’t choose a path that raises your odds of good performance by 33%.