Energy transitions are underway globally and locally – guided by the threefold objective of SDG 7 – to provide universal access to modern energy services, to double the uptake of renewables and to increase the efficiency improvement rates.
A sustainable energy sector is emerging and projected to grow significantly, from a current 11 million to 42 million employees in 2050. For the energy transitions to be scaled up and accelerated as required to meet agreed climate goals and to overcome extreme poverty, sustainable energy needs to harness talent in all its forms and foster innovation across a vast array of skills, applications and specialisations.
The global energy transition – in addition to changing energy systems – offers a chance for deep societal transformation; it is an opportunity to transition to a more inclusive workforce and to societies that leave no one behind.
The Women for Sustainable Energy – Strategies to Foster Women’s Talent for Transformational Change study was commissioned to to answer the question “What can we do to increase women’s employment in sustainable energy?”
Gender in the Sustainable Energy Sector
- 22% of Women in the traditional energy sector workforce
- 78% of Men in the traditional energy sector workforce
- 32% of Women in the renewable energy workforce
- 68% of Men in the renewable energy workforce
The diversity of value chains in sustainable energy makes it clear that not all roles in the future sustainable energy sector will require formal or higher education and of those that do, not all will require engineering or STEM-related education.
However, it is true that, to a large extent, existing roles within the sustainable energy sector are occupied by men with engineering and STEM-related qualifications, and if women are to have a fair chance at occupying those roles in the future, they must also have greater access and incentive to enrol in engineering and STEM-related subjects. Thus, the under-representation in STEM subjects deserves investigation.
STEM = science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Industrialised vs Emerging Economies
Industrialised and emerging economies face sustainable energy challenges of very different kinds, including how countries approach the energy transition and what importance they give to gender equality in this context.
Opportunities for women and gender diversity in developing states may be more common, where national policy exists for socio-economic justice, inclusion and equality based on a strong national human rights agenda, and embedded with the just transition.
Priorities for the energy transition may also be different in industrialised and emerging countries. In industrialised countries sustainable energy may be seen sometimes mainly as a necessary retrofit – for an existing complex socio-economic machinery – primarily in order to achieve carbon reduction objectives; in emerging economies, sustainable energy might be seen as one dimension of a multi-faceted development strategy to bring about socio-economic transformation, including gender equality and inclusion.
Employment creation and the goal of leaving no-one behind, however, are imperatives that both industrialised and emerging countries pursue as they embark on energy transitions.
“…developing countries and emerging economies are, broadly speaking, creating much larger volumes of employment for women, even if the jobs created are poorly paid and unstable. On the other hand, in many industrialized countries, such as Canada, there is a lot of attention paid to RE technology and financing, but very little to employment equity.”
The Value of Diversity and Gender Equality in the Workplace
The value of women’s inclusion in the global workforce, at all levels, and under the right circumstances (equitable, inclusive, safe and flexible workplace practices), has demonstrable benefits to women, their families and communities and to their national economies.
Gender equality and diversity in the workplace has been shown to:
- Reduce corporate risk & improve governance
- Improve a company’s ability to survive financial shocks
- Increase innovation
- Demonstrate greater corporate responsibility
- Increase return on assets
- Improve corporate performance
- Improve team leadership, motivation and performance
- Improve use of available talent
“What’s the key driver of the renewable energy sector? Innovation. Innovation requires diversity…[Women’s] thought process, ideas, and feelings may be different from those of men. That is exactly what a workplace needs: a wide range of views.”
Yisha He, Chairwoman of UNISUN Energy Group
Barriers to Equal Participation of Women in the Energy Sector
The evidence shows the immense benefits of the inclusion of women and people of diverse ethnicities and gender identities, despite this, barriers to the employment, advancement, and retention of women still persist.
In order to address women’s inclusion in the workforce, solutions and strategies must be applied at every level from the individual, to the working and home environment and through to the structures where national policy and governments converge. The lack of gender inclusion action within the sector demands a multi-level strategy based on deconstructing the barrier and promoting the enabler to achieve the goal – practical actions related to women’s employment journeys into sustainable energy.
Strategies for Inclusion and Women’s Empowerment
Given the evidence of the uneven playing field and barriers to women’s equitable advancement, how do we fix it?
“Advancing equality and diversity in the energy sector is a compelling proposition. Establishing gender as a pillar of energy strategies will produce a swifter and more inclusive transition while accelerating the attainment of multiple Sustainable Development Goals.”
Dr Rabia Ferroukhi, Director of the Knowledge, Policy and Finance division at IRENA
What Can Be Done to Support Women Engaged in Sustainable Energy?
- Revisiting and upgrading gender policy and implementation;
- leadership/C-Suite to consistently reiterate commitment to gender equality and diversity through communication and messaging; and
- creating a no tolerance campaign for sexual harassment and discrimination and enforcing it.
- Forming and supporting women in renewable energy/energy efficiency associations (national and international networks) – including financial support;
- promoting networking face-to-face and electronically among women in sustainable energy and support organisations that facilitate such networking;
- making existing female excellence in sustainable energy more visible through tools such as the Women in Energy Expert Platform, led by GWNET;
- featuring achievements of women in energy in mainstream and specialised media;
- supporting and designing workshops or conference events specifically targeted at women in sustainable energy; or
- insisting on inclusiveness in panels at conferences and seminars, in selection committees for industry awards and the like.
- Investing in training for public speaking opportunities and creating mentorship programmes within the company or organisation or with partnering organisations; or
- developing and offering refresher/re-training modules specific to the sustainable energy sector (policy updates, technology trends etc.).
- Developing return to work schemes including elements of continued education, market related and current events training, ‘returnships’ or mentorships for returning employees;
- implementing organisational parental policy including flexible working & family support;
- redefining roles and expected outputs of new parents so they can continue to add value to the company and organisations;
- offering flexible working patterns/job sharing etc. for both men and women; and
- enabling men to take on more care responsibilities.
- Supporting women owned small and medium sized enterprises and entrepreneurship;
- creating cheaper debt and insurance options aimed at encouraging increased women’s participation, such as low interest capital investment loans; or
- developing investment opportunities specifically for women to be shareholders and to raise capital.
- Creating policies for recruitment – with the involvement of all concerned – that make a conscious attempt to eliminate bias (e.g. by using of gender neutral language in advertising, standardised interviews, reporting methods and ranking systems, diverse panels);
- posting all policies publicly so no one has to ask;
- holding everyone accountable for implementing these policies;
- using 360 degree performance reviews as widely as possible;
- creating transparent and publicly available information about career paths and salary potential within the company and organisation.
- Setting targets to increase the number of women at all levels and in all areas of the organisation, including on boards and at managerial level, over a given time period;
- considering establishing mandatory quota;
- coaching women and men on unconscious bias at the workplace;
- communicating on the benefits of diversity in the workforce at all levels through appropriate channels, including social campaigns;
- creating pipelines of women within the organisation and groom individuals for leadership (e.g. through rotational programmes, transfers to other companies for skills development); and
- establishing regular and transparent reporting routines
to document progress towards the goals set.
Call to Action
Energy transitions are underway globally in different shapes and forms, all with a common vision for cleaner, efficient and more sustainable energy systems. This is paving the way for a growing sustainable energy sector, still a relatively new and undefined area of the economy. It is a young sector, without the deep historical roots that bind other sectors to outmoded traditional cultures.
There are many opportunities to embed gender inclusion and diversity within the energy transition, and sustainable energy lies at the heart of that. The energy transition cannot be decoupled from human rights and social justice and therefore the authentic inclusion of all people.
This transition will not just ‘happen’ organically, leadership and decision-makers and people themselves must choose this path; they have to ask the right questions, take concerted action, and implement relevant strategies and plans.