Empowering Women Can Drive Real Change in Green Energy

04 April 2019

When you look closely at women in Renewables one point comes through loud and clear: Women are underrepresented in many key aspects of creating and distributing sustainable goods and services in this industry. Statistics from the Energy sector support this conclusion. For example, half of the top 20 Energy businesses have no women on their executive teams.

While these statistics are informative, they’re also sobering. If Energy is to thrive in the future, it needs to change the structural inequality within the industry starting now. It also needs to take advantage of a women’s unique position in society to drive change. Boosting gender diversity in the Energy industry can generate enormous benefits for women, the sector, and the environment.

women in renewables

Lack of Diversity in the Energy Sector

The energy sector employs millions worldwide. But women represent only 6% percent of all technical positions and less than 1 percent of its top management positions. What’s more, women account for only 16% of board members of the world’s largest power and utility companies. Clearly, the Energy sector lacks diversity.

This poor connection occurs throughout the industry. For any female entrepreneurs hoping to enter into it, this high level of inequality poses significant barriers. Meanwhile, a report by the World Bank indicates that 155 of all 173 economies it covers have at least one law impeding female economic opportunities, including access to credit.

Things aren’t any better in the Renewable energy sector.  Women only account for about a third of global wind and solar power jobs. This number is higher than a lot of other technology fields but still lower than the share across the economy. The numbers are even worse in decision-making positions, where women continue to get shut out of the top jobs.

Several Reasons for Structural Inequality

Why is this lack of diversity such a problem? Because the Energy industry is responsible for almost two-thirds of all global greenhouse gas emitted—with residential solid fuel burning accounting for 25 percent of all global black carbon emissions. If Energy is to significantly reduce its contribution to the release of greenhouse gases and thrive forward, women need to make up an equal portion of the energy workforce.  

There are a number of reasons for this level of structural inequality. First of all, society doesn’t support girls in STEM classes, throughout high school and college. For example, women represent 50% of university degrees in OECD countries but only 30% in science and technology. This gender gap in science and technology partly explains the low representation of women in STEM subjects.  

Secondly, an unconscious cultural bias exists regarding women in renewables, especially in more labor-intensive sectors. Of course, many of the labor-intensive jobs require a level of muscular strength. But with help from automation and robotics, skilled women can—and do—carry out these jobs as well as men.

Fortunately, Energy is starting to address this lack of diversity. For example, WRISE (Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy) promotes the education, professional development, and progression of women to achieve a strong diverse workforce, supporting a robust renewable energy economy. An array of powerful Renewable Energy entities sponsor WRISE.

However, more must be done. With an aging workforce, as well as a global lack of skilled laborers, eliminating structural inequality is becoming imperative. Why has this happened?  Well, the International Renewable Energy Agency predicts that by 2050 there will be around 40 million jobs directly related to the renewable energy sector and energy efficiency within the industry. Women will be required to deal with this labor shortage.

women in renewables

Signs That Things Are Changing

Identifying bias in the industry is a sign that things are changing. It dismantles the stereotypes and prejudices in the sector. Another sign is what’s happening in many developing countries. For example, groundbreaking initiatives, such as Solar Sisters, are responsible for training and supporting women to deliver clean energy directly to homes in rural African communities. This is an encouraging sign.

Another encouraging sign is capital markets continuing to focus their analysis on the environmental, social, and governance metrics of different companies. Female empowerment needs to be a part of this effort for the industry to reach its full potential. For example, research shows that companies with a level of 30% female leadership hold an average 15% increase in profitability.

To drive change at this level, stakeholders need to pressurize companies, requesting them to set targets for female representation across all levels. Otherwise, companies could simply ignore this imperative.  Workplace diversity drives innovation. In turn, this boosts productivity, generating higher returns on investments. However, more must be done.

Driving Real Change For Women in Renewables

Energy must become more pro-active. Renewable Energy’s websites, for example, carry polarized messages and images. This needs to change, especially when it comes to recruitment. Being a high growth, innovative business, Energy is an attractive industry for forward-looking individuals and needs to brand itself as such to both men and women.

Below are some additional steps the industry can take to boost diversity:

  • Society and schools need to banish all biases that boys succeed in STEM subjects and girls only succeed in the Arts. Both genders must be encouraged to enter the industry they have the most interest in and without discrimination.
  • STEM Universities need to position themselves to become more welcoming to female leadership and educators
  • Companies need to set targets, policies and holistically embrace them, measuring their metrics and celebrating equality
  • The renewable energy sector must brand itself as offering an exciting and innovative career path for both men and women alike
  • We all need to support developing countries in the distribution of renewable energy into more remote areas with the result of empowering local women
  • Policy makers need to commit to and invest in all of these actions
  • The public need to recognize it as the responsibility of companies, educators and the government to drive change.

Taking these steps can help the Energy industry eliminate structural inequality that exists throughout, including the renewable sector, helping it to address workforce problems and continue to grow. But reducing structural inequality in the workforce isn’t enough.

To boost sustainability to the next level, the Energy industry must recognize the unique role that women hold in society, positioning them to drive international changes that need to be made in the sector. With women’s help, Energy can make the dramatic changes needed to minimize the impact on greenhouse gases and the environment.   

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Jenny Snook

Jenny Snook is content executive at GoContractor with the job of researching the latest health and safety trends in the heavy industry. Her past-experience includes the research of large museum collections such as the Louth County Museum, many from the industrial age.

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