Experts insist that the lack of female workers in energy firms is causing the move towards a cleaner future to slow down. This gender imbalance, explains Catherine Mitchell, a professor of energy policy at the University of Exeter, means that the energy industry is less open-minded and less willing to explore new ideas.
Mitchell continues her statement by targeting old white men as being a main source of the problem. She says that the industry is dominated by this demographic and that is slowing down the energy transition at a time when we cannot afford to be wasting a single second. Mitchell’s credentials are hugely impressive with over 30 years of experience advising governments, regulators and businesses on energy issues.
Next month, an energy conference is being hosted, which will include women-only panels designed to address the issue of low numbers of females working in the energy sector. Mitchell is helping to organise the event and is hopeful that allowing these women to get together and speak will be helpful in pushing the energy industry towards better gender equality.
Of course, it is not a hard and fast rule that women are more progressive than men when it comes to energy. However, there is evidence that the conventional parts of the industry – fossil fuel power generation for example – are far more male dominated than more innovative, green companies.
Mitchell warns of the dangers Britain will face if it does not get its act together and start moving in the right direction – towards a fully renewable energy network. She believes that old-fashioned attitudes will be fatal to the movement if we don’t check them.
It is not just Mitchell that takes this stance on the lack of women in the energy sector. Juliet Davenport, chief executive of Good Energy said that there was certainly some weight behind the argument. She noted that the energy sector is trailing behind other industries when it comes to workplace diversity. She also pointed out that sustainable energy businesses have a much better balance, leading to the plausible conclusion that better diversity means a more concerted effort in the right direction.
Of the 89 top energy companies in the UK, it is an appalling fact that around two thirds do not have a single woman sitting on their board. Meanwhile, at energy industry events, it is not unusual to see panels filled exclusively with men, or featuring just one woman.
The idea of being the only woman in the room can be understandably intimidating and this alone can put women off working in the energy sector. One female executive said she has been in this position before at a meeting with an influential male government adviser.
Furthermore, the energy industry is no stranger to sexual harassment – nor is any male-dominated sector for that matter. Tales of groping and other misbehaviours are alarmingly frequent. And, if it’s not sexual harassment, it is awkward faux pas that make women feel uncomfortable. One female partner at an energy storage consultancy recounted a tale of how she was asked for a coffee refill after being mistaken as a member of the catering team.
However, there is hope for the energy industry yet. The big six lobby group Energy UK has put an end to male-only panels at its events. It believes that this will help the energy industry in its transition towards a better gender balance.