The BIEE is an organisation very close to my heart. I have been attending BIEE events since the early 1990s. In my view, it is the only organisation in Britain which brings together such a wide range of energy actors – whether from business, Government, academia and so on; with such a diversity of ages – from students through to eminent, retired people; in such a range of informal settings in a non-profit manner. Thus, BIEE allows young people to be able to meet well-known energy people, who usually only attend expensive commercial meetings. The mixing of such a diverse set of people and the attendant distribution of knowledge is a wonderful defining characteristic of the BIEE. It is because of this that I have stayed involved, and will continue to do so. In 30 years the BIEE has had two female Chairs, of which I was one. The following article, written for my IGov blog, reflects on an aspect of the energy industry that has not kept up with the times.
A recent Ernst and Young report has shown that only 4% of executive board members of the top 100 utility companies is female. Not only does the sector have minimal women, but it is also primarily older and white in character – with 60% of its management over 40. The report argues that this is worrying in terms of diversity of thinking given that the current big kit, centralised energy model is in the middle of fundamental disruptive change and needs new and innovative thinking and practices.
The E&Y report focuses on business but there are similar problems across the energy public policy interface, whether in Government, civil service, the Regulator, NGOs, academia and so on. The outright daily sexism of energy in the 1980’s and 1990’s – which I endured – has been replaced with a much less obvious version – but it is still very powerfully there.
Look at any ‘mainstream’ energy conference and the routinely male speakers. There are numerous as-well qualified women around but they are often not chosen. One example of the mind-set of energy which has to be overcome is illuminated by an International Women’s Day Conference I organised in 2012. It was not marketed as a women’s conference. The only difference between it and the numerous, other, very well-attended conferences I have organised was that 100% of the speakers were women. Although the topic of the day was very relevant; the women top-notch and interesting; very few men attended. This despite the fact that women routinely attend meetings where all the speakers are men, or where some of the male speakers have less merit than themselves.
Gender issues are complex – as is energy. With apologies for the simplicity of the sweeping statement, on the whole, industries with money are dominated by men. ‘Successful’ women tend to manage to make it first in sectors where the pay or societal kudos is less. I have always thought that Brenda Boardman and I were only able to get into energy academia in the way we did back in the late 1980’s / early 1990’s because we worked on renewable energy and energy efficiency respectively – something which was very uninteresting and unimportant to the general energy world at the time. Nor is it a coincidence that she ran, and I run, a group with many women members.
Some countries and some energy industry structures are better than others. For example, if the industry structure is made up of a few large companies, in a centralised system (as it is in GB) then there is less opportunity for new entrants of any description. More devolved, decentralised political systems – such as the US system with 50 States or the German system with Lander – again provides more opportunities because there are more jobs to be filled. Googling ‘women in energy’ does bring up many support groups, but interestingly the first page of links are all in the US or Canada.
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