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Fostering female talent in the clean energy sector

Following several years of growth, clean energy has now made its mark on the wider energy sector and it has become clear that it represents the future for the sector.

Indeed, transitioning to clean energy technologies will play a vital role in our struggle to combat climate change and demonstrate the road ahead both from an environmental and business standpoint. Clean energy is also, and will increasingly be, at the heart of adjacent industries such as construction, infrastructure and mining.

In short, the clean energy sector is of growing importance but, for the industry to truly prosper, all talents will need to be mobilised and this means attracting and retaining female talent as well as men. Overlooking half of the population’s talent is not only unjust but also absurd from a business perspective.

Countless studies have demonstrated that diversity is a benefit in the workplace, generating different ways of thinking and fresh perspectives which can in turn foster greater innovation and growth. The clean energy sector is too important to the future of our economy and planet to ignore the talent and skills that women have to offer. Indeed, recruiting talented women ought to be priority for the industry. Whilst more certainly needs to be done on this front, the good news is that women are already playing a key role in the development of the sector.

The part played by women in the industry is well-evidenced by the ‘Women in Energy Global Study conducted by Energy Job Line and NES Global Talent. The study is a survey of 1,200 female professionals in the energy sector – of these, 20% were UK-based. 19% of the UK’s respondents to the survey worked in clean energy, compared with an international average of 10%. Such data is encouraging and may indicate that the UK is ahead of the curve when it comes to hiring female talent.

It should not come as a surprise that the UK clean energy sector is able to attract professionals. Indeed, businesses and organisations working in clean energy have clear advantages when recruiting compared with competing sectors but these need to be better publicised and utilised.

One of the most important things professionals look for when choosing their career, and this is particularly true of graduates and young professionals, is engagement with meaningful work – that is, work that makes a difference to the world. This is reflected throughout the economy, with professionals increasingly taking note of prospective employers’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) credentials or standing on environmental issues.

From this perspective, the clean energy industry’s raison d’etre is a hugely useful asset in attracting talent, including women. The clean energy sector allows professionals to work on something that truly matters for the planet and humanity and that is at the top of the political agenda – the transition to a low-carbon economy and the fight against climate change. This is the sector’s unique selling point and should be used as a key differentiator against competing industries, such as mining, construction or infrastructure, when recruiting talent.

The idea of playing a leading role, at the forefront of a ground-breaking industry, should also be complemented by arguments about the fast-changing and challenging nature of the sector when recruiting bright young women looking to develop their careers. Indeed, clean energy is a diverse sector consisting of a variety of technologies in constant evolution (such as solar PV, onshore and offshore wind, or energy storage), providing professionals with the chance to be involved in diverse and innovative projects.

The ‘Women in Energy Global Study’ survey found that 84% of respondents (across all energy sectors) would encourage a family member or friend to pursue a career in energy, which is very encouraging. This finding is also reassuring from the point of view of talent retention but much more needs to be done to ensure that talented women choose to remain in the industry. Whilst the survey by Energy Job Line and NES Global Talent found that 55% of respondents working in clean energy were the primary wage earner for their families, indicating that the industry offers suitable financial incentives, the sector was found lacking in other areas.

43% of clean energy respondents viewed the sector as inclusive or very inclusive which, whilst not negligible, is not as high a figure as it could or should be. When women working throughout energy were asked about the biggest challenge of working in the sector, the most common answer given was the lack of suitable roles.

This must be remedied, especially considering how 31% of respondents answered ‘career development’ over ‘job security’ (16%) or ‘salary’ (14%) when asked what the most important options were when considering a new role. Career development must become a priority. The lack of mentorship and flexible working in the sector were also viewed as problems.

Given how the study also found that 66% of respondents would like to see more flexible working in the energy sector, and that flexible working practices are becoming increasingly widespread throughout the economy, this should also be an imperative. We now have the technological tools to make flexible working happen, helping to keep women in the workforce and preventing mothers from having to make the unnecessary choice between career development and family life.

These challenges are all interrelated and call for a bold plan of action. A concerted effort needs to be made to secure more opportunities for female leaders at the top end of the industry and to link-up female leaders and experienced professionals with women at the early or intermediate stages of their careers. This can be achieved through mentoring programmes and networks such as EWiRE.

This article first appeared in the EWiRE's paper, The role of women as drivers of change in the energy transition

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