Should all-male boards put themselves on their own risk registers?

Louise Kingham OBE FEI, Chief Executive, Energy Institute

Louise Kingham OBE FEI, Chief Executive, Energy Institute

Louise Kingham OBE FEI, Chief Executive of the Energy Institute, surveys the Energy Barometer’s findings on sector diversity.

It would be strange for a business to needlessly surrender market share. Or cut into its profit margins for no good reason. But the evidence is stacking up that many of the biggest corporates in the UK energy sector are doing exactly that.

In January, research from McKinsey found that companies with the most gender diverse leadership teams are 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than their less diverse competitors.

Cue the POWERful Women initiative, which last month crunched the latest numbers and found that almost 9 in 10 board members at the UK’s top 80 energy firms are men. Half of those boards have no women on them at all.

Against this backdrop, the Energy Institute’s Energy Barometer, which provides a representative snapshot of opinion among energy professionals working in the UK, this week entered the debate.

The report found the benefits of a diverse workforce, in terms of gender as well as ethnicity and other measures, are understood by a healthy majority. Two thirds see it as important for the future success of their company or sector. This rises to more than three quarters among younger professionals in the first 5 years of their careers.

The main benefits identified by respondents are an increase in skills and capabilities, the introduction of a wider perspective and an increase in the ability to attract and retain staff. No doubt, these are precisely the factors that underpin McKinsey’s findings.
Now comes the but.

1 in 10 respondents to the Barometer survey continue to see diversity as unimportant and a further 16% are ambivalent. Furthermore, 30% of respondents do not believe there are any obstacles to diversity in their company or sector. This is either encouraging or rose-tinted.

Given POWERful Women’s findings, I find it hard to see it as anything other than a cause for continued concern and action. Ambivalence risks unconscious bias and this underscores why all companies in our sector should be upping their game to foster inclusive corporate cultures.

The evidence connecting diversity with financial performance and enhanced reputation is mounting such that if all-male boards do not correct this – perhaps by putting themselves on their own risk registers – their shareholders will surely intervene and do it for them.

All this talk of business benefits helps make the case. But let’s not lose sight of the reasons all of this ultimately matters.

First – if humankind as a whole is to rise to the twin challenges of climate change and global access to energy, we’re going to need every bit of talent available to us. Building a modern, diverse energy system demands a modern, diverse workforce.

And second – women have a right to play an equal part in an exciting sector of the economy, one that offers some of the most rewarding careers.

As tomorrow is International Women in Engineering Day, and during the Year of Engineering, I want to end with a special shout out to the women who are thriving in energy, helping to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges, and changing the sector for the better.

This blog first appeared as a blog post in Energy Live News on 22 June 2018.

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