Gender diversity in renewable energy: A female CEO's perspective

By Anne O'Donnell

In January 2019, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) published their first report on diversity – “Renewable Energy: A gender perspective”.

The report featured a survey combined with in-depth research on the role of women in renewable energy. Not only does it look at the number of women in renewable roles, but also the type of roles and how these vary in different industries in the sector.

A key finding was that women represent just 32% of the renewable energy workforce.

Further shocking findings in the report include women are more likely to be employed in lower-paid non-technical, administrative and public relations positions (46%) than in technical (28%), managerial or policy-making positions (32%). This contrasts sharply with the fact that women represent more than 50% of university students, and almost half the labour force in these countries.

Why is this the case and what is required to help improve gender diversity in the renewable energy sector?

Increasing flexibility in jobs

A key finding from the report was the need for flexibility in roles for females. Being able to balance life and work is incredibly important, especially when many women face balancing work with a family and household. A way in which this could be helped would be to enable roles incorporating flexitime and part-time employment. These were among the most-favoured options suggested by survey respondents for increasing flexibility.

In many jobs, remote working is now the new normal due to the pandemic. As a result, the ability to increase flexibility in some roles should be less of a challenge than it would have been even a year ago. So, we would hope to see this increase and see more women joining the renewable energy workforce.

Challenging social and cultural norms

As much as many don’t like to admit, despite being 2020 and the age of ‘gender equality’, social and cultural norms for both genders are still very much present. The perceptions of what women are expected to do and their capabilities in a role are still ingrained in society and literature.

For example, when it comes to technical roles, there is often an assumption that they adhere to a certain male stereotype. Therefore, when it comes to STEM subjects, these misconceptions are reflected, which could result in less girls taking up the subjects.

A way to overcome this problem is to strengthen the visibility of the diverse roles’ women are undertaking in the energy transition. Education establishments and workplaces need to encourage women into the workforce through case studies and role models. This will help increase awareness and encourage gender diversity in the renewable energy sector. Bringing female role models into schools and universities can help dissolve misconceptions and provide a more accurate depiction of working in the renewable energy sector as a female.

Currently, I believe there is a stark contrast between assumptions of what working in the sector brings and the realities. Through education and role models, this gap can be bridged.

Education of workplace benefits that come from increased diversity

From a recruitment perspective, there is a clear lack of awareness of the benefits brought about by a diverse workforce.

Studies have shown a diverse workforce has the potential to improve an organisation’s entire value chain. From the decision making process, to innovation and market growth, gender diversity helps organisation’s leadership perform better overall. Females in the workforce help bring new perspectives and are more likely to encourage collaboration. Therefore, alongside just filling the roles, women help improve organisations employee satisfaction and help foster positive attitudes and behaviours.

What is the future looking like?

Worldwide, there is an increasing skills gap in the renewable energy sector. As countries race to reach net zero targets and energy industries are transformed, more skills and an increase workforce is required to deliver these projects.

I believe that as the sector continues to grow, transparency regarding the realities of working in the sector will become clearer, helping to bring more females into roles.

From a recruitment perspective, my role will be continuing to educate businesses on the importance and benefits of hiring women. As an organisation, Gibson Watts will help promote the importance of gender diversity in the industry across all aspects of the value chain. 

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