An incredible 30 million jobs worldwide are predicted to be created by 2030 with the energy transition as the driving force, according to the IEA’s 2021 special report: Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector. However, a disconcerting trend is emerging – one which we have seen before in the fossil fuel sector. The proportion of women expected to work in the clean energy sector is actually set to decrease as subsectors, like construction, fueling this job creation demonstrate the lowest representation of women.
Despite making up 48 percent of the global labor force, women only account for 22 percent of the traditional energy sector. The number drops to a staggering 14 percent for women who make up senior management in the industry (including utilities), and the downward trajectory continues with women holding only 3.6 percent of CEO roles. To succeed, the energy transition must be diverse, it must be inclusive, and it must be equitable. As a growing number of companies announce climate commitments on a large-scale, there is an opportunity to recognize the intersection of gender and climate, and raise ambitions for women’s economic empowerment along with environmental targets.
How can the energy transition ensure more opportunities for women and enable a just, sustainable and inclusive transition?
First and foremost, the industry must position reskilling and re-educating at the center of the energy agenda. The skilling of women in the STEM fields is critical, given that most renewable energy jobs require expertise in those areas. And their implementation can be achieved through a multi-step effort focused on training, retaining and incentivizing women in STEM, including but not limited to adequate training, certifications and skills programs.
On top of reskilling, company culture needs to be reshaped so that it fosters gender-responsive working. Today, many in the sector continue to cite a toxic work environment as the decisive driver in leaving their current job and the industry’s reputation puts off young talent from choosing a career in energy. Adopting effective strategies that promote gender equality and ensure inclusivity across the company, either through hiring policies, mentorships or employee resource groups (ERGs), will play a significant role in building a diverse, inclusive and equitable industry.
Beyond that, we must continue to empower women with new economic opportunities. These strategies will yield more opportunities for women as they generate new sources of income and means of financial independence. In Yemen, for example, a group of women have set up a private solar microgrid near the frontlines of the conflict, bringing critical access to electricity while earning a steady source of income. Similar initiatives have been seen in India, where women entrepreneurs have produced face masks and feminine hygiene products with the support of solar-powered electric sewing machines. These efforts are a glimpse at how clean energy accessibility can transform an entire community, if not the world.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, sustainable energy for all can only be achieved when women are put at the heart of the conversation. For change to happen, women need to lead the conversation about women’s future – and be in the room where it happens. Gastech, the world’s largest conference for the natural gas, LNG and hydrogen industries, is one of the most hotly anticipated forums of the year as the industry grapples with the demands of a “just” transition ahead of COP27 in November. Leaders across the energy value chain will drive the agenda on building a gender-inclusive and diverse workforce as they look to adapt to a changing energy landscape. Women everywhere will be watching closely to see how we are represented in this pivotal moment in energy.
Ultimately, an absence of diversity is a business impediment – and this is relevant across all sectors. However, the challenges of the energy world are more pressing as the industry undergoes a process of rapid transformation; clean energy transitions will require innovative solutions and business models to be adopted. Above all, they will require greater participation from a richly diverse talent pool.
To prevent the status quo from prevailing, especially as we move forward into the energy transition, decisive action must be taken. The urgency of reaching net zero necessitates including voices that, until now, have gone unheard. In the words of the former Irish president and UN climate envoy, Mary Robinson, “Climate change is a man-made problem with a feminist solution.”
Rebecca Ponton has been a journalist for 25+ years and is also a petroleum landman. Her book, Breaking the GAS Ceiling: Women in the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry (Modern History Press), was released in May 2019. For more info, go to www.breakingthegasceiling.com.
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