Towards an Inclusive Energy Transition: More Women for More Energy Innovation

Climate change is a global crisis. Unfortunately, a large chunk of the population remains on the margin of the global dialogue. The vivid debates around diversity ahead of the COP26 Summit highlight once again that women are underrepresented and brings us to question: Where are women in the energy industry? How can we achieve an inclusive energy transition? What impact can an inclusive energy transition have on innovation?

Gender & Energy Transition

How inclusive is the energy transition?

In 2020, women represented around 39% of the global workforce. Nevertheless, they are still underrepresented in some fields including in the energy sector.

In 2019, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) revealed in a report that women represented 32% of employees in the renewable energy sector. This is a substantially higher number than the 22% average in the global oil and gas industry.

While this is an improvement, there are still large opportunities to women participation, in particular when it comes to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). For instance, as displayed in the graphic below, only 28% of women workers held a job  in STEM within the renewable energy sector, compared to 45% in administration.

Graph Women in Energy: 28% STEM jobs, 35% non-STEM technical jobs, 48% Administrative jobs
Source: IRENA online gender survey, 2018.

The diversity problem also impacts innovation in energy more than in other sectors. Women in energy represent merely 11% of all founders compared to 20% across all sectors, thus depriving itself of diverse creative ideas that could help boost the transition.

Why is important to have more women in energy?

First of all, women and minorities have played, are playing and will play a key role in getting policy and actions in place within communities. Since women tend to be more affected by climate change in large parts of the world, women have developed strong skills and knowledge related to natural resource management. They are also first responders when it comes to reacting to natural disasters and contribute greatly to the resilience of their communities.

Furthermore, supporting women and diversity in general leads to more innovation. Inclusive teams think less homogeneously which allows them to come up with innovative ideas and bring diverse solutions to diverse problems. A Harvard study cited that companies with a diversity above-average had 19% higher innovation revenues (which would be one of the many great outcomes from the fight against climate change).

How has this evolved?

In the past years, the share of women within the energy sector has increased, especially in the renewable sector. In their 2018 Women in Energy Report, GWNET showed that 48% of women respondents joined the sector within the past 5 years.

Graph Women in Energy: Oil and gas industry versus renewables.
Source: GWNET/EJL Women in Energy Global Study, 2018.

The number of women-led energy start-ups nearly doubled from 5,8% in 2000 to about 11% in 2019 (IEA). We also observe this phenomenon through our yearly competition, the SET Award. Women-led start-ups still showed a very low participation rate at the SET Award in 2020.

In order to close the gap, the UN created the Sustainable Development Goals 7 (affordable, reliable and sustainable energy) and 5 (gender equality). However, the implementation of these SDGs has proven slow. If we want to achieve an inclusive energy transition by 2030, both the public and private sector must accelerate the implementation of these goals.

Incentivising inclusivity in the energy transition

Inclusion is necessary if we want a rapid, global and fair transition. For that, governmental policies can play a big role in filling the gender gap, also in the energy sector. Policies could encourage getting girls into STEM programmes and entrepreneurship from an early-age.

But apart from policies, companies, investors and women-entrepreneurs can also leverage inclusion at different levels to contribute to a diverse energy transition.

As a company

In 2021, women still face obstacles in their careers, with the energy sector included. Fortunately, companies can help to alleviate barriers to entry and advancement for women. Here are some suggestions provided by GWNET:

1 – Set quotas: There is a famous quote saying that you can’t be what you can’t see. Thanks to quotas, a company is able to make women visible in position of leadership or STEM positions. This can inspire many other women and influence their choice of career;

2 – Install inclusive recruitment practice;

3 – Provide childcare and medical care (maternity and paternity leaves);

4 – Allow flexible working hours;

5 – Provide return-to-work programmes for parents;

6 – Give mentors to both men and women;

7 – Provide diversity and inclusion trainings.

Furthermore, companies can engage with the HeForShe movement created by UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. This initiative invites men and people of all genders to stand up for gender equality by becoming change agents and creating a united force.

As an investor

Investors also have a key role to play. In 2019, women-led businesses received 2.8% of VC funding and dropped to 2.3% in 2020, making it harder for women to scale their innovative solutions. If you are an investor and you want to have a positive impact towards inclusion, you could:

1 – Get some women on board: women partners are twice as likely to invest in women-led-businesses;

2 – Make sure to support women and non-binary-led start-ups yourself. Getting rid of the pitching phase could help you do so for example. Indeed, an Harvard study showed that gender bias influencing the decision-making happened mostly during pitching.

3 – Create a dedicated investment programme aiming to support gender diversity.

4- Be aware of industry gender biases and be open to learning.

As a women-entrepreneur

If you are a woman and still thinking of starting your own energy business: take a leap into entrepreneurship! The energy transition can only benefit from your creative and innovative ideas.

If you already found yours, here is how you could leverage your impact:

1 – Don’t hesitate to network to find and give support: there are great energy networks all around the world;

2 – Find yourself a mentor in the energy field to help you overcome some of the obstacles;

2 – Ask for financing: women-entrepreneur tend to ask less for financing than men and get offered smaller loans than men do. Don’t be afraid to strive for more;

3 – Apply to the SET Award! Join us, we would be delighted to welcome more amazing women to our community! You can also have a look at other great initiatives such as the EU Prize for Women Innovators.

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