There is a long list of issues that we can turn into opportunities when we start talking about attracting more women into the energy industry – and those issues and opportunities aren’t just for the UK. Earlier this month, I was delighted to welcome Dr Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary, to the Energy Institute who co-chaired with me a round table event on the importance of women in the energy industry. Men and women from the industry had gathered via the POWERful Women network to represent organisations promoting positive change to the situation today where women are significantly under-represented, especially in STEM-based roles.
There were many highlights but what struck me was the degree of system-based challenges that we face. What do I mean by that? Well, start with education…you have unconscious (and conscious) bias in the way some subjects are structured and promoted to steer boys and girls in different directions. Then you have a combination of subject choices being made very early – too early many say – and poor (diabolical?) careers guidance to boot. Parents and teachers are still the main career influencers in the absence of other sources, so we are stuck when it comes to broadening the options available to a child – unless we change the system. If women make it to a STEM-based work environment, they can come up against very macho cultures which are driven by a value system that they don’t readily relate to and actually would choose not to be part of. It’s not the fault of men – simply a reflection that men have been dominant in the workplaces we have the opportunities to reshape. We need to work with and support men to make these changes – not criticise them for the current imbalance. In fact, the sustainable energy business of the future will need us to succeed together on all these fronts.