The energy industry is booming, and it’s likely to stay that way as it evolves over the coming decades. This is good news for women, who make up a small percentage of workers in the sector: That means there’s plenty of room for growth.
As of 2019, women filled just 6% of executive seats on UK power company boards, and more than 42% of major energy firms there had no women on their boards. In the U.S., a recent report found that women represented less than one-third (32%) of the electric power generation workforce, and only 36% said they’d been encouraged to apply for career advancement opportunities.
But the sector is changing. As Ripple Energy founder and CEO Sarah Merrick pointed out in an interview with The Guardian, those changes involve a pivot toward greener energy and away from the “old boys’ club” culture that dominated the fossil fuel industry—which means an opportunity for more diversity.
It’s time for women in the power industry to tap into that. Here are a few tips to do just that.
Seek Out Opportunities
One example is the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) Engendering Utilities program, a 12-month program that works with 29 water and energy utilities in 21 countries to create economic opportunities for women. Thirty participants graduated from the program in March 2021, which has resulted in more than 400 women being hired and 370 being promoted into technical and leadership positions.
Chevron, BP, and Shell all launched “returnship” programs, designed for people who have taken a break from their careers and want to return to work. That description fits a lot of women, who may have taken time out to raise children or been forced to step away from their careers temporarily by the pandemic.
Another example is renewable energy: While just 22% of full-time oil and gas industry employees in a 2018 study were women, the figure was 32% for renewable energy. Neither one of those figures is high enough, but with renewable energy the wave of the future, the fact that a higher percentage of women are employed there is a hopeful sign.
Stereotypes are among the barriers that keep women from advancing in a number of industries, and the energy sector is no exception. The aforementioned 2018 study found evidence of a continuing bias against women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs, even within the renewable energy sector. The percentage of women in the sector’s administrative jobs was 45%, compared with 35% for non-STEM technical jobs and 28% for STEM jobs.
A more diverse and inclusive workforce benefits everyone. And, while it shouldn’t be up to women to challenge those stereotypes, it is necessary. Educate employers about the value of a workforce that reflects a diversity of ideas, talents, and perspectives. Enlist the help of allies, male and female. And when you do something well, don’t be afraid to celebrate it. You deserve it.
Focus on Growth Areas
Home in on areas of opportunity and growth. As mentioned, renewable energy is taking off, so that’s a great place to put your focus. (Despite a slowdown during the pandemic, experts are predicting a rebound.)
When you get in on the front end of emerging technologies, you’ll be the expert—which means you’ll be in demand: People will be coming to you. Understand how the energy sector interacts with other industries, such as architecture and construction. For example, architects are designing net-zero energy buildings to reduce consumption and emissions. Skilled positions related to this task will likely grow in the coming years, as the Paris Agreement conditions will require the building sector to meet a goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Efficiency and energy savings are in, and innovation to make that happen will be in demand. Consider how you might help meet that demand.
Consider Being a Consultant
Being traditionally employed isn’t the only way to go. Self-employment and consulting gigs can be lucrative if you’ve got technical knowledge and skills that are in demand. Oftentimes, these positions can pay more and offer more flexibility, which is a bonus for women who are looking for work-life balance.
If you go this route, you’ll need to have more than that, though. You’ll need to know how to market yourself and how to budget. You’ll also need good credit to operate your own business, and it can take three to six months before a credit score can be calculated, so if you’re just thinking about going this route, it’s a good idea to start now.
Reach Out to Other Women
Whether it’s in the form of networking or mentorships, seek out opportunities to make contact and work with other women. Sharing insights and leads can produce valuable outcomes, and while mentoring opportunities are scarce—63% of women say they’ve never had a formal mentor—they’re in high demand: 3 in 4 said they always accept mentoring opportunities. Overall, 76% of American workers believe mentorship is an important part of career development.
While the history of women in the energy sector has been one of underutilized and underappreciated talent, that’s starting to change. As a workshop at the 2019 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference made clear, new technologies and innovation will require a wider and deeper talent pool, as well as more diversity of ideas and perspectives. Women can and will provide those things.
—Jessica Larson is a “serial entrepreneur,” starting and running several successful businesses through the years including The Solopreneur Journal.