As a policy assistant at Green Alliance, and a woman in her mid-twenties starting my career in energy, I am usually in the minority at meetings. My experience so far of the energy sector is that men are nearly always over-representated at meetings and panels, unless the organisers have made a conscious effort to include female speakers and panellists. And some attempts at increasing female representation are less than wholehearted; ‘pinkwashing’, where a woman chairs an all-male panel instead of speaking, is still common.
Statistics about women in utility companies and other organisations working around the energy industry confirm my own anecdotal evidence. Research by PWC, on behalf of Powerful Women, shows that 46 per cent of the top 80 UK energy companies have an all-male board, and only seven per cent of the board roles are taken by women. While this research did not look at the balance of all roles in the workforce, it is safe to assume that we are a long way from 50:50 representation. One of the reasons is that women have no female mentors or colleagues in higher positions to inspire and advise them as they develop their careers.
Space to collaborate
Fortunately, awareness of gender diversity in the energy sector is growing, and more and more organisations and initiatives are popping up to empower women to enter the energy workforce and importantly, once they are in, to work their way up to senior positions.
In 2016 and 2017, Green Alliance led events for She is Sustainable, an acclaimed initiative bringing together and inspiring women beginning their careers in sustainability roles. This new project, She is Sustainable: Energy Pioneers, in collaboration with the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), is specifically targeting women in the early stages of their careers in energy.
She is Sustainable: Energy Pioneers will focus on three aspects: building a network, improving awareness of opportunities and increasing exposure. It kicks off on the 25 June with a one day forum event aimed at collaboration, skills sharing and development for 20 women starting their careers in energy. A great line up of senior women in the energy sector will share their insights and expertise, including Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, and Catherine Mitchell, professor of energy policy at the University of Exeter.
Green Alliance will provide advice on the policy process, how to engage with a wide audience across the energy and policy landscape and the timeline of forthcoming opportunities for impact. Participants will represent the breadth of the whole energy sector, including business, academics and voluntary organisations.
Shaping the energy policy of the future
There are many hurdles in navigating the shift towards a low carbon economy, not least the need to decarbonise while maintaining supply and keeping bills affordable. The discussion on 25 June will be a unique opportunity to engage a broad range of experts on these challenges and solutions. The next phase of the project aims to give participants, supported by Green Alliance, the chance to organise a series of events at which they can present their ideas or analyses. And we hope these will be the springboard for other initiatives.
We won’t achieve gender balance across the energy sector overnight, but we hope that nurturing collaboration and providing this space for young female professionals to come together will be helpful in ensuring their views are heard in shaping the energy policy of the future.