Breaking barriers: Improving gender equality in the energy sector

EXCLUSIVE: Britain's energy industry is not moving fast enough to drive gender equality at a board and executive level, and there remains a misconception that women do not have the skills or technical abilities to become energy managers.

Currently, around 6% of executive boards seats in top 100 UK-headquartered energy firms are held by women

Currently, around 6% of executive boards seats in top 100 UK-headquartered energy firms are held by women

Those were two of the key points made by industry experts in the latest episode of edie’s Sustainable Business Covered podcast, which features some of the women who are supporting the fight for equality in energy and sustainability in celebration of International Women’s Day on Wednesday 8 March. (Scroll down to play podcast).

In the podcast, Conservative MP-turned sustainability consultant Laura Sandys said that women continue to face “ceilings and barriers” in energy management, and that a more equal gender balance could bring business benefits across the sector.

“There is a problem in the energy sector – a lack of women, not just at the board level but at the executive level,” Sandys said. “Things are changing – the chairman of Shell is a woman; the chief executive of Drax is a woman. But it’s happening slowly, too slowly at the moment.

“The business model for the energy sector is changing. If it’s changing, it needs new people; new ideas and a diversity of ideas. A business is resilient if it can draw on all of its skills.”

Sandys, who used to work as the Parliamentary Private Secretary for former Energy Minister Greg Barker, is the co-founder of POWERful Women – an organisation dedicated to ensuring that women have equal access to senior executive positions in the energy sector.

A report by PwC in association with POWERful Women last year revealed that just 6% of executive boards seats in the top 100 UK-headquartered energy firms are held by women. Sandys’ organisation has therefore set a target for 30% of executive energy company board members to be female by 2030, and is mentoring women who are moving up the career ladder in the sector.

“We have regular events with CEOs of energy companies and either commend them or give them a hard time depending on how progress has gone,” Sandys added. “[Businesses] have got to be looking at gender balance when it comes to the entry level – apprenticeships and university graduates.”

'Such a shame'

The Sustainable Business Covered podcast also features Network Rail's energy and carbon manager Wendi Wheeler, who discusses some of the shocking challenges she has faced as a woman working in energy management. 

“It’s a subject close to my heart because, as a woman working in this sector, it is very male dominated,” Wheeler said. “It’s a lot better now, but certainly in my early days of working in energy management, it was very difficult as a woman to make an impact.

“I would receive telephone calls and people wouldn’t talk to me because I was a girl – they wouldn’t believe I was the energy manager because I was a girl.”

Wheeler helped to set up the Energy Managers Association (EMA) Empowering Women in Energy Management and Environment group, which helps to encourage and enable more women to enter the world of energy management and other environmental roles.

“I just think it’s such a shame that there are not more women in energy management because it’s such a fulfilling job and you need to be multi-tasking all of the time and I think that women are particularly well-suited to that,” she added.

“We get as much out of the group as our mentees do. That’s why I love this job – there’s always something new to learn. My message for any woman entering the energy sector is to be confident and don’t take no for an answer.”

The podcast episode concludes with a trip to sustainable events agency The Bulb for an insightful discussion about women in sustainability with the organisation's co-founders Ruth Weldon and Selina Donald. 

LISTEN: Sustainable Business Covered podcast: Episode 22 - #BeBoldForChange on International Women's Day

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Luke Nicholls


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