The Crisis of Gender Diversity in the Energy Sector

I’m lucky to celebrate my birthday on International Woman’s Day. Birthdays generally spark self-reflection on one’s impact in the world, and sharing my birthday with International Woman’s Day has made me think of gender diversity, and my responsibilities. This year more than ever, I am feeling the drive to move beyond gestures of allyship to something that is more authentic and lasting. The COVID-19 pandemic and movements such as #MeToo and #BLM has brought the importance of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) to the forefront.

The answer to why we should take up this call to action is obvious to many, but it is helpful to see tangible statistics, especially in the business world. Higher representation of women in C-suite level positions results in 34% greater returns to shareholders[i]. Organizations with above-average gender diversity and levels of employee engagement outperform companies with below-average diversity and engagement by 46% to 58%[ii].

I came across this quote from the Centre for Creative Leadership, and it really resonated with me. “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is facedJames Baldwin[iii].

We have to face our increasing gender diversity gap

Focusing just on gender diversity, we have to face the fact that we have a dire problem on our hands. Shockingly, McKinsey’s renowned Women in the Workplace Report concluded that progress on gender diversity has stalled. What’s worse is that it has regressed in the wake of COVID-19. One in four women are thinking about downshifting their careers and leaving the workforce. Additionally, “women — especially women of color — are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 crisis” [iv]. The pandemic has shone a light on how much a woman needs to do to manage a career. Gender diversity is taking a hard stumble and is something we all seriously need to address.

While businesses are making some strides in cultural diversity, women are still being left behind. Looking around the offices of where I work (Peak Power) I cannot help but notice and celebrate our cultural diversity. For many in the innovation sector, we recognize that diversity and creativity go hand-in-hand and are key ingredients to our success. Companies with diversity are 75% more likely to get innovative ideas to market[v].

In a recent internal staff survey at Peak Power, a majority of our staff (greater than 60%) represent visible minorities. While our pre-COVID-19 potlucks represented an inspiring array of international flavours, we have still been struggling with equal gender representation. At this time, 31% of our staff is represented by people who identify as female, compared to 48% of the global work force. Being a technology company (with an engineering desk and operating in the energy sector), we have been told we aren’t doing so bad, but to me, this is not enough.

Ontario’s energy sector is slipping in gender diversity inclusion

I was curious to know how we compared with the rest of the industry. I did some secondary research, an internal survey, and canvassed Local Distribution Companies (LDC’s) in Ontario. I was sad to learn that despite my company’s cultural diversity, we are only ‘in line’ with what is out there for gender diversity.

Senior female representation in Ontario’s energy sector is above average but we are slipping. According to the International Energy Administration (IEA), senior female representation in leadership in extractive industries (including energy) is less than 15%[vi]. Alternatively, in primary research I conducted canvassing 364 Board Member profiles in 60 LDC’s in Ontario, I found only 24% (86 Board Members) represented women. While Ontario is above average compared to the IEA’s statistic, it is worth noting that when I did a similar LDC study in 2010, I found that female representation of Board Members in the LDC space made up ~30% (a surprising 6% decline over one decade).

Globally, the energy sector is unattractive to our future leaders, particularly females

In a 2017 Ernst and Young survey of 1,200 North Americans, 62% of the respondents said that a career in oil and gas was unattractive. For those that found the sector appealing, only 24% represented women[vii]. In contrast however, the Renewable Energy sector was appealing to more than 2/3rds of the same survey respondents, with no significant difference in gender!

The renewable energy and clean technology sectors are doing better than average

According the International Renewables Energy Agency (IRENA), women represent 32% of the renewable energy sector globally, which is higher than the traditional energy sector (22%)[viii].

Innovation leads to change in all aspects

In the energy sector, we know that the representation of women in renewables and clean technology is ahead of industry averages. The energy sector today is undergoing a rapid transition. Supporting innovation is a step in the right direction. Energy leaders can make tangible progress in clean energy and gender parity at the same time.

But is it as simple as investing in innovation? We have been trying to address gender diversity for decades[ix]. The lack of progress is often attributed to a disregard of issues within our own spaces (commonly referred to as ‘gender fatigue’[x]).

Where to start: identify the barriers in your space

All my research points to one thing as a first step — self-awareness. It is important to take stock of yourself and your leadership team. We all start with different personal biases and thoughts on social identities, and this can get even more complex taking into account different leadership styles. Knowing yourself allows you to compare differences amongst the team, identify gaps, and prioritize dimensions[xi].

The Centre of Global Innovation defines diversity as ‘the similarities and differences among people’. This can be in various dimensions such as gender, gender identity, ethnicity, race, native or indigenous origin, age, generation, sexual orientation, culture, religion, belief system, marital status, parental status, socio-economic difference, appearance, language and accent, disability, mental health, education, geography, nationality, work style, work experience, job role and function, thinking style, and personality type. This list is not exhaustive, but it reflects that nature of our human understanding is expanding. Our goals are to create behaviours and structures that create equity. Equity requires recognizing that one size doesn’t fit all (assumed equality). A variety of tools must be created so that diversity can be leveraged[xii].

After education and self-awareness comes action. My journey is just beginning, and I hope that you’ll share yours with me. But more than anything, I’m hoping that we can move the needle on this together.

The 50–30 Challenge[xiii] is an example of a meaningful and measurable change, and crosses all industries and businesses. I’m now working to make this a pledge within my company.

Join me. We have to do something meaningful now. It’s our responsibility.

[i] https://hrexecutive.com/how-the-worlds-most-admired-companies-drive-diversity-and-inclusion/

[ii] https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2019-10-30-gartner-says-diversity-and-inclusion-are-the-no--1-ta

[iii]https://event.on24.com/eventRegistration/console/EventConsoleApollo.jsp?&eventid=2827911&sessionid=1&username=&partnerref=&format=fhvideo1&mobile=&flashsupportedmobiledevice=&helpcenter=&key=3374F88CD2D09A3E702C3094C32707A7&newConsole=true&nxChe=true&newTabCon=true&text_language_id=en&playerwidth=748&playerheight=526&eventuserid=419313121&contenttype=A&mediametricsessionid=360742950&mediametricid=3970004&usercd=419313121&mode=launch

[iv] https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/women-in-the-workplace

[v] https://www.ey.com/en_gl/women-power-utilities/could-gender-equality-be-the-innovation-boost-utilities-need

[vi] https://www.iea.org/commentaries/gender-diversity-in-energy-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-know

[vii] https://www.iea.org/commentaries/addressing-the-diversity-challenge-in-energy-sector-recruitment

[viii] https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/Renewable-Energy-A-Gender-Perspective#:~:text=January%202019&text=Renewable%20energy%20employs%20about%2032,in%20the%20energy%20sector%20overall.

[ix] https://hbr.org/2020/12/why-arent-we-making-more-progress-towards-gender-equity

[x] https://hbr.org/2020/12/why-arent-we-making-more-progress-towards-gender-equity

[xi] https://www.ccl.org/webinars/introspection-into-action-becoming-an-ally-in-a-time-of-racial-unrest/

[xii] https://www.wraltechwire.com/event/launch-n-learn-with-dr-dennis-john-of-without-exception/

[xiii] https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/icgc.nsf/eng/07706.html