POWERful Women: Bridging The Energy/Gender Divide

The UK energy industry is staring down the barrel of an endemic gender imbalance - especially at a senior management and executive levels. So what has led us to this imbalance? And how can we learn from the past to effect real change? It has struck me over the past decade that senior managers across the energy sector have tended to be engineers and have all tended to think about energy supply only in terms of the technology. They considered the meters, and not the people behind the meters. I have always taken a very different view. To me, what's exciting is what people do with energy. Energy is the magic within our society. It's the thing that allows us to do things we couldn't do otherwise. Engaging people with their energy is extremely powerful. Faced with that perception, any woman encountering the energy industry may feel that they too would need to look and think like the existing senior managers to be successful. I remember having that very conversation with someone from one of the big utility providers, who assumed she would need to completely change the way she worked to get ahead. I think what she meant by that is that she had a family, she needed flexibility, and her male co-workers didn't need that. They looked very different to her. We need to stop looking at jobs in terms of set boundaries, and instead look at the outcomes. This means each member of staff making sure they deliver what they need to; whether it's at home, at work; or out of hours when the children are in bed. As long as people are managing to get enough face time with their colleagues and prioritising their ongoing training and development, it shouldn't matter so much about working the traditional 9-5. The industry also needs more role models in senior positions who show that working flexibly can work. Until we're able to do that, it's going to be difficult to effect change. We need to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths to girls. I am a passionate scientist - I have loved science all my life. But what I find fascinating is the way we introduce science to girls in our society. Traditionally, it has been seen as a subject for boys, while arts and literature are promoted to girls. Most of our society is built around technology; which is changing all the time as electric cars, smart meters and smart home appliances come into play. Only 15% of the scientists behind these technologies were female, which has undoubtedly led to a bias. Encouraging more women into STEM careers will fundamentally change our capability as a country, bringing a different level of innovation and creativity to problems that we face as a society. I think one way of tackling this is to consider our spokespeople. Not only do we need more female spokespeople on radio and TV; but we need to make sure that they are encouraging and inspiring women, not patronising them. Another method is making science more interesting and more available to young girls. I'm proud to work closely with the STEMettes; a fantastic organisation that aims to inspire young women into STEM subjects by making them fun and food-fuelled. This may sound like an odd technique, but being rewarded by chocolate cake is the very reason I loved my physics lessons so much. Enthusiasm from an early age is crucial to making science something achievable for all. Companies must look at their gender diversity. They need to measure it and ensure people see and think about it. Until people make the effort to take a look at the raw figures, they just won't see the problems. They also need to overhaul their headhunting practices. I went to an event recently and met several headhunters who told me that women were less likely than men to return their call. Ultimately though, we need to hold headhunters to account and tell them that single gender short lists are not good enough. There is a lot of work to do before we can achieve a truly gender balanced energy industry. But, critically, there are things that we can start to change today, which is really empowering. It's as much an attitude change as anything else, and the more we raise it up as a priority, the more that will be done.