A new report published by POWERful Women, the body representing the development of women in the energy industry, produced in association with global management consulting firm, Bain & Company, has revealed the extent of the barriers that are preventing gender gaps in the energy sector from being narrowed. The findings have shown that despite the efforts of many organisations to boost gender diversity, the industry would still appear to be very much male-dominated, especially when it comes to middle management roles.
The ‘Cultivating Female Talent’ report, which interviewed 4,700 women, found that although progress was being made by energy companies to support women working in the energy industry, of the 58% who said their company had implemented a sponsorship programme, only 12% had actually benefited from such an initiative. The paper also mentioned ‘benevolent sexism’ and the assumed perceived lack of ambition of women who choose flexible or part-time work, which in turn has led to significantly reduced opportunities to advance their careers.
Olga Muscat, Bain & Company senior partner and co-author neatly summed up the dichotomy between the intention to enhance gender balance and actual concrete outcomes, “The results of our research have given us some fascinating insights into women’s lived experience in the UK energy workplace. On the one hand the work highlighted the strong commitment of the energy sector to gender diversity, and all the progress already made. On the other hand, it revealed a delivery gap in well intended initiatives being put in place, but not consistently delivering on their promises.”
The big issue is that despite progress in diversity, gender gaps aren’t narrowing. POWERful Women’s outgoing chairman Ruth Cairnie summed it up, “Female talent is not being sufficiently developed, doesn’t feel valued and in some instances is being lost to rival companies or sectors. Our conclusion is that organisations need to work harder at cultivating the talent they already have. This can be an important contribution to creating the workforce they need for the energy transition, improving performance and fulfilling all that society requires from them.”
How to attract more women in energy
Recruiting women into the energy sector has long been a challenge and one that needs to be tackled with urgency. So, what can organisations do to boost female numbers in the energy industry and address the gender imbalance? We consider THREE areas that will make a significant difference:
Promoting energy careers in school
One of the best ways to get women interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) disciplines is of course to start early, at primary and then secondary school level. This will spark an interest in energy careers with more women likely to continue their STEM studies at university and onto the workplace. Discussing the array of soft skills needed, such as communication and collaboration will also entice more women to take up a career in the energy sector.
Championing female role models
More, however, also needs to be done to celebrate the achievements of women in the industry – there simply aren’t enough female role models in the energy sector. This is already having a negative impact on young women looking to enter the sector and who want to hear and read about the success stories of women who have forged inspirational careers in various energy disciplines.
Providing work benefits for women
As stressed in the report, women seem to be missing out on training and development opportunities disproportionately but they must also be encouraged to work flexibly so that they can maintain a healthy work-life balance. There is a huge demand for childcare benefits, such as onsite childcare facilities or increasing the amount of financial allowances that employers can offer to women who might otherwise leave the industry. Organisations must also seek to eliminate gender pay disparities while raising the profile of their successful female managers, leaders and mentors.
It is evident that women in the energy sector are not receiving the same opportunities to progress into middle management roles as their male colleagues. Flexible working should now be far more widely available and women’s career ambitions should not be curtailed because of it. But there must also be more promotion of energy jobs in early education if more women are to bolster the ranks of energy professionals and help the industry close the widening skills gaps.
Given the nature of the work, the variety of projects and the opportunity to change people’s lives, for example climate change, the sector has so much to offer. And so do its female workers.