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Sustainability for all: gender diversity in the renewable energy industry

12/02/2020
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“Women make up 21% of the global wind energy workforce and 65% of them perceive gender-related barriers in the sector” - IRENA

The global renewable energy industry is growing at a faster rate than ever, creating more and more jobs throughout its supply chain requiring a diverse range of skills and experiences. Yet despite the industry being considered progressive in many ways, renewable energy - like many other sectors - still appears to have a problem with gender diversity in its workforce. 

So how extensive is the problem, and what measures are being taken to rectify it?

Gender diversity is a problem for many industries, including renewable energy

The Facts

In January 2019, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) published their first report on diversity - “Renewable Energy: A Gender Perspective”. The report featured what they called “a ground-breaking, first-of-its-kind online survey combined with in-depth research” on the role of women in renewable energy, encompassing a global survey and literature review.

They found that, as of 2019, women represented just 32% of the global renewable energy workforce.

This is actually higher than the average for engineering sectors (as we’ll discuss further below) but it is still significantly less than an even gender split. In fact it is still below the average global labour force, in which women account for 39% - and as much as 46% in the US and EU (according to a 2019 report from the World Bank Databank). 

On average women have a 32% share in the renewable workforce
(Image via IRENA)

What is further revealing is the types of jobs that are currently done by women. IRENA’s report broke down the data and noted that women are more likely to be employed in lower-paid non-technical, administrative and public relations positions (46%) than in technical (28%), managerial or policy-making positions (32%) - despite making up more than 50% of STEM university students in the 144 countries surveyed.

Though deeper information is relatively scarce, the report did bring to light particular sectors and geographies of note. For example, by reviewing data from the National Solar Jobs Census in the US, they discovered that of approximately 250,000 jobs created by the solar industry, only 27% of these were given to women (though they acknowledged this was a significant rise from just 19% in 2013). From the same data they also discovered that 36% of white men were likely to be in the highest wage bracket (USD 75/hour or more), while only 21% of white women were likely to earn as much, with the figure dropping to a shocking 4% for women of colour.

IRENA followed up their report in January 2020 with the publication of “Wind Energy: A Gender Perspective”. By focusing solely on wind power this time, they were able to zero in on the fastest growing industry within the renewable energy sector - one in which jobs had grown from 750,000 in 2012 to 1.16 million in 2019.

The results were less positive even than the first report. A year after showing a 32% workforce share in the overall renewable energy sector, IRENA revealed that in wind power just 21% of jobs are being held by women.

The wind energy report did break down its results to show some regional variations. Europe and North America were slightly higher than average with a 26% workforce share, with Latin America and the Caribbean at 19%, Asia-Pacific at 15% and Africa reporting just 8% of its wind-energy workforce being represented by women.

Once again, the report also looked at specific types of roles, with women holding 35% of administrative jobs, 20% of Non-STEM jobs, 14% of STEM jobs, 13% of Management Jobs and just 8% of Senior Management jobs.

Shares of women by role in the wind energy sector, by region
(Image via IRENA)

What is further enlightening was the perception of gender barriers in the sector. When asked “Do you perceive that women working in the modern renewable energy sector or seeking such work face gender-related barriers?”, 75% of female respondents said “Yes”.

Only 40% of male respondents said the same.

The renewable energy industry is fast growing and increasingly important
(Image via Karsten Wurth, Unsplash)

Why are we talking about Renewable energy?

The sector is one of the fastest growing. Following years of calls for reform by scientists and activists, governments are finally starting to make real changes to their energy policies, establishing a large-scale shift towards clean, sustainable energy. Improvements in technology bringing the costs of construction and installation down also allows more companies to implement larger and more advanced systems.

Whether renewables will ever fully take over as a primary energy source (and with growing demand, new deepwater discoveries, enhanced technology and a global growth of LNG, it’s extremely unlikely that the Oil & Gas industry is going to give up its dominant market share any time soon), the trends suggest that the sector will continue to grow rapidly in the coming years, with new projects creating a wider range of jobs.

According to research from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), global employment in the renewable energy sector grew by nearly 4 million jobs in six years, from 7.1 million in 2012 to 11 million in 2018. The agency predicts that by 2050, employment in the sector will almost triple to 42 million.

If true, this of course means that demand for skilled, experienced workers is only going to go up, which is why it is essential for the industry to embrace diversity from this early stage.

Renewables have a better record for gender diversity than other industries, including technology, but remain far below true equality

(Image via Christina, Unsplash)

How does the industry compare to other sectors?

It will come as little surprise that traditionally engineering jobs have been largely dominated by men.

According to the Royal Academy of Engineering, in 2015 women made up 21% of the UK engineering workforce, and only accounted for 13% of those in engineering occupations. Comparatively, 47% of the UK’s overall workforce are women.

Renewable energy is still more diverse than Oil & Gas
(Image via IRENA)

In the Oil & Gas industry, women account for just 22% of the global labour market, according to IRENA. And they hold just 17% of jobs in the technology sector, according to Women in Tech.

Back to the Royal Academy of Engineering: in the same year that they looked at the UK engineering workforce, the academy reported that only 15.1% of first year students enrolled on first degree engineering and technology undergraduate courses were women. And demonstrating that gender has no effect on capability in this field, 74.7% of these students would go on to obtain a first/2:1.

So although a labour share of 32% puts the renewable industry ahead of other engineering industries for diversity, it still falls behind the 50:50 target for true gender equality.

Falling behind on diversity is a serious problem for these industries. It has been proven time and again that diverse companies are better at implementing innovation and efficiency processes, allowing them to introduce new concepts and grow faster. Surely a necessity for an modern and rapidly expanding industry like renewable energy.

Wind power is the fastest growing sector of renewable energy
(Image via Dan Meyers, Unsplash)

A study from the University of Columbia, for example, studied 15 years of data on public US corporations to prove that female representation in top management improved a firm’s performance by facilitating an environment that leads to more innovative thinking and signalling competency to investors and workers alike.

Another study from the Peterson Institute for International Economics in 2016 analysed a global survey of 21,980 firms from 91 countries and proved that the presence of women in corporate leadership positions correlated to improvements in a firm’s performance.

Diversity is also important for other workers. Reports from Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) show that “a better gender balance in male-dominated professions contributes to the improvement of working conditions for both men and women, with positive effects on well-being, work culture and productivity”.

Better representation of women in large firms has a positive effect on business
(Image via Christina, Unsplash)

And  the career site Glassdoor found from one of its surveys that 67% of job seekers look at workforce diversity when evaluating an offer, and 61% of women look at the gender diversity of the employer’s leadership team when deciding where to work.

It’s clear that the renewable energy industry will benefit from a more diverse workforce, and as it continues to grow, creating thousands of new jobs and transforming the wider energy market, the value of this must be realised.

As Jovana Filipovic, Senior Offshore Analyst of LM Wind Power put it:

“A diverse workforce will be imperative to find effective and creative solutions to secure sustainable, clean and affordable energy for all.”

Perceived barriers to entry for women in wind energy, ranked in order of importance to IRENA respondents
(Image via IRENA)

What steps are being taken?

Within IRENA’s 2019 report, Renewable Energy: A Gender Perspective, Acting Director of Knowledge, Policy and Finance, Rabia Ferroukhi claimed that “women are increasingly attracted to renewables” but “still encounter numerous obstacles, from the lack of equal access to education, training mentoring, professional networks and finance, to the glass-ceiling in companies or institutions.”

Participants of IRENA’s wind energy report were surveyed on their perception of gender-related barriers in the sector, and 65% of women answered that they believe these barriers do exist (it should probably be noted that only 34% of men said the same).

When these women were asked about these perceived barriers, the two most common responses related to perceptions of gender roles and the persistence of certain cultural and social norms.

Tally of women's responses to questions on barriers to the renewable energy workforce
(Image via IRENA)

The bad news is that as social perceptions, these challenges are prevalent across all industries and can not easily be solved by individual companies alone. Changes in attitudes on such a large scale are inherently slow. But the good news is that a number of organisations are creating discussion opportunities that are beginning to lead this change.

Many of the women surveyed highlighted the need for support networking, mentoring, training and opportunities for sharing work experiences as solutions to breaking the cultural perceptions. Communities such as WRISE (Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy) are doing this by promoting the successes of women throughout the sector in the USA while also bringing together those who work within the wind and renewable energy industry to encourage them to support each other in their work.

In the UK, the POWERful Women initiative has been promoting gender diversity in the energy sector since 2014, and provide support for companies to make changes in their recruitment process to remove bias and increase the opportunities for women across the industry.

And the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) and the Global Women’s Network for the Energy Transition (GWNET) held their first joint Women in Wind Global Leadership Programme in 2019, and are currently taking applications for their 2020 programme, in which 12-15 participants across all disciplines of the wind energy sector from or based in emerging markets (including Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Egypt) will be supported in their pathway to leadership positions and encouraged to foster a global network of mentorship, knowledge-sharing and empowerment.

“As the wind energy sector takes a leading role in the energy transition, gender equality should be at the top of our sector's priority list, in order to attract the talent and skills needed to scale up wind power globally,” said GWEC policy and operations director Joyce Lee.

“The results of the IRENA report show that we still have a long way to go. Nonetheless, we are confident that the Women in Wind initiative can work to empower more women in the industry, drive the next generation of energy leaders and inspire companies to build a more sustainable and equitable wind energy industry."

It may not come as a surprise to see that men are less likely to perceive gender barriers for women

Several companies within the industry are also doing their part to spark conversations and take steps towards breaking these attitudes.

LM Wind Power - a Danish supplier of rotor blades to the wind industry - have launched formal initiatives, targets and examples from the top of the business down, to increase their number of female employees. Benchmarking targets included a 5% increase in female employees by the end of the year, 50% of trainees to be female and at least one woman in the running for every open position - with more ambitious targets set to be implemented in the coming years. They’ve also promoted the importance of diversity in events including introducing activities such as a quiz on common myths and facts about diversity that is being shared with other companies for their own use - a simple idea that engages people while educating them and shifting their perceptions.

Many organisations are launching initiatives to improve equality in the renewable energy workforce
(Image via Nicholas Doherty, Unsplash)

Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas have similarly introduced plans to increase focus on diversity and inclusion, committing to increase the number of females in leadership positions to 25% by 2025 and 30% by 2030. They are also launching a “female role models” campaign to create more awareness of opportunities available to women within the company.

“At Vestas, we believe a lack of diversity is a loss of talent. Younger generations gravitate towards companies that align with their own purpose-driven values. To remain attractive, we must prove that we share these values,” said Chief Financial Officer Marika Fredriksson.

“At Vestas, we view the energy transition as an opportunity to change diversity-related barriers in the workplace. It is our duty as a leader in sustainable energy to ensure that the energy transition benefits everyone, not just the few”.

Many other companies are launching similar initiatives and engaging in open discussions about the need for greater diversity and solutions to overcome barriers, not just in renewables but in the broader engineering world. Just over a year ago, Fircroft partnered with Premier Oil to convene a roundtable discussion of gender parity in engineering and promote further solutions.

“The answer lies in making leaders directly responsible for gender and other diversity targets as part of their performance reviews and appraisals. By setting tangible targets, the culture will change” said Dame Sue Owen, then Permanent Secretary for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, speaking at Fircroft’s roundtable.

Diversity is an important issue in every global workplace, but as a future-focused industry that is seeing its reputation and opportunities growing in the very near future, renewable energy is one area that should be showing a rapid change in attitudes and opportunities. Though significant steps are being taken to remove barriers and allow the sector to benefit from a more diverse workforce, there is still much more to be done.

Diversity remains a serious topic for industries, but reports like those published by IRENA will help to change the labour landscape
(Image via Christina, Unsplash)

Make a change to the global energy market

Fircroft recruits engineering and technical professionals around the globe for jobs on major renewable energy projects. If you’re looking for a job in this growing industry, view all our available opportunities. Or register your CV with Fircroft today to keep up with the latest jobs suited to your skills.

Recent Comments
Dont worry too much about gender diversity in renewable energy industries; the sad fact is that regardless of what gender you are, what sexual orientation you are, what color you are, what education experiences you have: - if you are over 50 years of age; then the renewable energy industry does not want you around or value your contribution. Entrenched age discrimination is the issue we should all be addressing throughout the world, rather than the side issues of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or political persuasion. Surely as thinking people we can realize this is going to happen to us all eventually, not just diversified groups. Vive la Revolution!
Iain Scott, 12 February 2020
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Sustainability for all: gender diversity in the renewable energy industry - Time to read 13 min
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