While noticeable progress has been made for women’s careers and representation in the energy market, additional ground still needs to be gained to make the Net Zero 2050 goal beneficial for all.
Could you name a woman or women who has/have inspired you, both in your work and personal life, and explain why?
My inspiration comes from my mother, an incredibly strong woman with firm convictions around the importance of economic independence and achieving things for yourself and by yourself, all the while being kind and compassionate towards others. I am also inspired by women who, rather than letting their circumstances defeat them, use them to their advantage and come out stronger. I have also had the privilege of working with someone who I consider to be a gem in the international energy industry. A woman with incredible professional integrity and a kind heart whose actions speak louder than words – forever my role model, Rachel Bonfante.
Do you think any specific types of roles or departments need particular focus to improve women’s representation?
I think women are underrepresented in this industry both at leadership level and in technical roles traditionally occupied by men. This is not surprising from a historically heavy engineering-led sector. I would say better gender balance is needed not only from a career progression perspective but also in engineering and technical fields, which will drive change in our sector. I think certain preconceived notions of our role in society still undermine women. Though we have come a long way, I believe real change is yet to be seen.
What does your ideal energy industry look like in terms of the mix of people, programmes and technologies delivering net zero?
Lack of diversity in the energy market is costing the energy market money – research by McKinsey has found that companies in the top quartile for diversity are 35% more likely to have above-average financial returns. My ideal energy industry encourages intersectional diversity (across class, age, race, gender, sexuality, urban/suburban), because the benefits of gender diversity are lessened significantly if the parties in question are from the same background. This is not just the right thing for the businesses in the energy market, but consumers as well.
Net Zero 2050 objectives will require a complete redesign of almost every sector, not just the energy market. I believe it important to ensure that everyone’s needs are included to ensure that the market is redesigned with inclusivity in mind.
Lack of diversity is already affecting the Net Zero programme; for example, some roadside EV chargepoints make it impossible to use the pavement as a wheelchair user, whilst quieter EV engines make it difficult for individuals with visual impairments to know when a car is coming. Each of these issues are being rectified after their implementation, requiring rework and additional costs; however, if we had more diversity in the workplace, I suspect these issues would have been caught sooner and built into the planning.
Whilst there are laws to stop companies deliberately excluding individuals based on their sex/gender/class/disability, it is important to understand why there is lack of diversity in the workplace and, therefore, decision-making. In the first instance, simple changes could make the energy market more inclusive – such as avoiding offices without wheelchair accessibility and encouraging the use of braille or sign language across industry events and documentation.
How well do you think the energy industry is doing in terms of improving women’s representation and closing the gender pay gap?
I feel lucky at ElectraLink. I feel lucky because my gender has not stopped me progressing at work, I feel lucky that I have some incredible women in the Executive Team to look up to, and I feel lucky that we have a female Board member.
Whilst I should not feel lucky, I do. The energy market is one of the worst sectors in terms of gender representation, according to the IEA: “Despite making up 48% of the global labour force – women only account for 22% of the traditional energy sector. For management levels the numbers are even lower.” There are not many companies in the energy market without a gender pay gap either, so whilst representation is improving, we need to do better.
For too long, women have been turning up to meetings with only men in the room – I have sat in a room with four people called Mark and no other women. It is not always obvious why women are not in certain sectors in the workplace – it could be lack of STEM education or simply the environment (frequently cited as ‘banter’) failing to create an inclusive workplace. Encouraging discourse is key to understanding what barriers are discouraging active engagement and inclusion in the workplace. We are not going to solve the intrinsic sexism within our society; but, hopefully, we can end up improving our understanding of the female experience and encouraging the changes that make the work environment a welcoming place for everyone.
What is the best thing about working in the energy sector?
The industry is in a constant state of evolution. The pace of innovation, combined with the complexity of the market, means it is impossible to be bored.
I have known some people who get frustrated, feeling that the goalposts are constantly being moved. But when the industry is tasked with tackling climate change while keeping our family and neighbours warm and safe, we cannot afford to be rigid.
What barriers do you believe still exist in improving women’s representation and experiences in the energy sector?
I will start with the good news: it has been a while since I was the only woman in a room of 15 people, and I can’t remember the last time someone looked at me as though I was a particularly impressive specimen with an interest in engineering.
The bad news is that the most exciting work is mostly the preserve of people from certain backgrounds. It can be difficult to imagine all the ways opportunity is hidden from working class women, but as an industry we do a very bad job of tapping into the talent that exists outside of the South East of England or doesn’t come via a specific university-educated pipeline.
I am disappointed that we seem to be heading backwards. The future of the energy industry affects everyone in this country, and decisions cannot just be left to people with means and access.
With challenge comes change, and we at ElectraLink are challenging ourselves and the energy market to ensure the progress of women’s empowerment in the sector. Challenge stereotypes, call out assumptions and fight for equality.
Happy International Women’s Day from ElectraLink.