Investing in Diverse Talent for the Race to Net Zero
The messages coming out of COP28 this month are loud and clear. We must transition to a clean, secure and affordable energy system to overcome the alarming impacts of climate change and to reap the benefits of a green energy future.
But that won’t be achieved with the same approaches, skills or groupthink. National Grid has estimated that the UK’s Net Zero workforce will expand to almost half a million jobs by 2050 – and it’s essential that those people have a diverse mix of skills, ideas and backgrounds, or the energy industry won’t have the innovation and leadership it needs. The sector must also become more representative of the customers it serves if it is to build trust and bring the public along on the Net Zero journey.
Better diversity is better for business
Research also shows that diversity is good for business performance in general too. Most recently, Blackrock revealed that companies with the most diverse workforces outperformed their country and industry peers in terms of return on assets by 29% a year over the last decade. Returns were also higher in companies that have higher female representation, women in middle management, female CEOs and higher average maternity leave taken.
Are we leaving women behind?
Since 2014, POWERful Women has been championing women in the energy industry. Last year we upped our ambition, with a new goal to see women in at least 40% of leadership and middle management roles in the UK energy sector by 2030. As well as supporting and connecting women and companies, we continually challenge organisations on their progress.
We know that the majority of leaders get the ‘why’ of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) – and many have made welcome public commitments. But our Annual Conference 2023 last month was an opportunity to challenge the continued slow progress and ask: are we investing enough in the diverse skills, strengths and talent we need for our energy future?
Source: POWERful Women
The latest stats suggest not. Our Chair Katie Jackson reminded delegates that, while progress is being made, it’s startling that today over one-fifth of UK energy companies still have no women on their board. Energy is lagging the FTSE 350 for women on boards and low down the league table of all business sectors for overall female representation, at 29% for both. Our research has revealed ongoing career barriers for women in the industry.
What can we do?
Opening with a call to action from Energy Minister Amanda Solloway MP, our conference brought together speakers from government, business leaders, DEI experts and women working across the industry to explore what we can do to accelerate our efforts to attract and retain more female talent and improve DEI more widely.
The role of leadership
Chris O’Shea, CEO of Centrica, launched the 2023 report of the Energy Leaders’ Coalition (ELC), of which he is this year’s Chair. The ELC is a unique group of the heads of 16 of the UK’s largest energy employers and two regulators, who have made a public commitment to improving gender diversity in their own companies and the wider industry. With welcome transparency, they have published their own gender data and discuss challenges in an honest way.
The Coalition’s 2023 achievements include a first-of-its-kind joint campaign to attract young women into energy and the report features a suite of good practice case studies on effective DEI initiatives – useful reading for any organisation.
What’s working and what’s not – lessons for everyone
Panel discussions kicked off with David Hunt of Hyperion Executive Search asking Cordi O’Hara of National Grid why we are still even having this conversation a quarter of the way through the 21st Century – a question prompted by his daughter. Cordi, who is President of UK Electricity Distribution and in the industry for 27 years, said that progress has happened but we are at a critical point in the race to Net Zero with huge change, greater complexity and more customer expectation – all of which needs new people and new approaches. In one of the stand-out insights of the day, she noted that “diversity is counting heads, and inclusion is making heads count”.
In the panel debates that followed, leaders and DEI experts from energy, banking, pharmaceuticals, retail and tech shared inspiring advice on how businesses can help women to thrive, including:
- be an inclusive leader;
- give access to networking and female role models;
- provide professional development;
- measure and build genuine inclusion, including safe spaces for conversations;
- address the opportunity gap (because there is no ambition gap!);
- up-skill male managers and build allies;
- promote women returning from maternity leave;
- create employee resource groups;
- implement small changes that make a big difference, such as in recruitment practice; and
- remember that data matters!
A highlight was the rallying cry from Eleanor Mills of Noon to stop overlooking ‘Queenagers’, the pioneering generation of women aged over 40 who have enormous collateral in society as consumers and bring value to the workplace, but are being lost. Top tips for all aspiring women were to get a cheerleader, sponsor or mentor, and to network, network, network!
Source: POWERful Women
The practical learning continued after lunch with four interactive workshops. Two were aimed at supporting women in their careers, the first hosted by Alla Levadnaya to look at the role of ‘psychological flexibility’ in improving performance through better adaptability and decision-making confidence. A second from Enact Solutions used scenarios to develop effective strategies for asking for recognition and reward.
Another two workshops were for DEI professionals, with Just Add Water exploring ‘belonging’ and how to create a culture for engagement and Edit Development looking at how to have honest conversations as an ally in the workplace, a topic of great interest to our network, both men and women. We were pleased to see better gender balance in our audience this year and plans to focus on reaching ‘the majority’ next year.
So, is the energy industry investing enough time and resources in accelerating DEI for the challenges of the energy transition? The answer is not yet, but we are on the right track. Let’s keep talking, learning and driving harder to get diversity off the sidelines and into the mainstream.