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International Women’s Day: Empowering women in energy

Published by , Deputy Editor
Oilfield Technology,

Today, women in energy are embraced and empowered to make a difference to business, which is an encouraging step forward. However, there is still a long way to go to level the playing field.

Women only account for around 10% of the global energy workforce. This statistic was noted in the most recent Global Energy Talent Index (GETI), which surveyed more than 20 000 people across the oil and gas, renewables, petrochemical, power and nuclear sectors. To illustrate that further, the USA Bureau of Labor Statistics states that women are in 44% of all jobs, yet only 15% make up the employees in the architecture and engineering sector.

Gender inequality in the energy workforce is not new and the industry cannot afford to overlook half of the potential candidate pool. For example, the oil and gas downturn saw an exodus of around 450 000 employees, including many experienced staff taking early retirement. As business starts to ramp up again, talent holes are appearing. For the energy sector, especially in engineering, attracting and retaining talented, smart, exceptional women are a skills gap solution staring it in the face.

That is, if there were enough women in engineering to draw from. It is disheartening to read that the proportion of young women studying engineering and physics has remained virtually static since 2012, according to the Women’s Engineering Society. It is vital the industry does more to attract females to pursue a career in engineering, starting with a culture shift.

This cultural change begins at the top and is two-fold. Ernst and Young found that only 11% of the top global oil and gas executives are women. More women are needed at the executive level, so they can be role models to younger women everywhere, showing them it’s possible to break the glass ceiling.

Janette Marx has found that all too often especially in certain countries, male counterparts are surprised that she is the COO of billion-dollar workforce solutions provider, Airswift, an attitude which needs to change. If the top cannot lead by example, the energy sector will find itself with a limited approach to an executive talent pipeline. Women in renewables agree, as GETI revealed that 25% thought the gender gap was the biggest issue facing their sector.

Next, an inviting, open workforce needs to be created across all ‘typically’ male-dominated roles, like technical, offshore and international assignments. Lone women in a department of men feel like they stick out, which breeds extra pressure to perform. Women need senior sponsorship in these roles, so they are offered the same opportunities to advance. Getting this right could impede the number of women leaving the industry mid-way through their careers and build the pipeline of senior talent.

Cultural change can be complicated but utilising the softer benefits of digitalisation could allow companies to make quicker advancements when it comes to incentivising women to join and stay in the workforce. According to GETI, 40% of women in the oil and gas sector believe flexible working would help the industry attract and retain talent.

It is so important that women know they are welcome in the energy sector. More intelligent, brilliant women are needed across all levels the sector’s organizations in order to prosper. This includes making strategic decisions in the boardroom to designing new technology and maintaining it in the field. The industry needs to keep working toward a truly gender diverse sector until it becomes a reality.

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