Today, women in energy are embraced and empowered to make a difference to business. This is an encouraging step forward. However, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t excited and surprised when I recently saw a female engineer on-site in Baku.
There’s still a long way to go to level the playing field, as women only account for around 10 percent of the global energy workforce. This statistic was noted in our 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 percent of all jobs, yet only 15 percent make up the employees in the architecture and engineering sector.
Gender inequality in the energy workforce isn’t new and we can’t 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 is a skills gap solution staring it in the face.
That is, if we had enough women in engineering to draw from. It’s 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’s vital the industry does more to attract females to pursue a career in engineering, which starts with a culture shift.
This cultural change begins at the top and is two-fold. Ernst and Young found that only 11 percent of the top global oil and gas executives are women. We need more women at the executive level, so they can be role models to younger women everywhere, showing them it’s possible to break the glass ceiling.
All too often especially in certain countries, male counterparts are surprised that I’m the COO of billion-dollar workforce solutions provider, Airswift. Just like my surprise to see a woman engineer, this needs to change too. If we can’t lead from the top, the energy sector will find itself with a limited approach to an executive talent pipeline. Women in renewables agree, as GETI revealed that 25 percent thought the gender gap was the biggest issue facing their sector.
Next, we need to create an inviting, open workforce across typically male-dominated roles, like technical, offshore and international assignments. If you’re the lone woman in a department of men, you already feel like you stand out. That breeds extra pressure to perform. Women need senior sponsorship in these roles, so they’re 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 utilizing the softer benefits of digitalization could allow companies to make quicker advancements when it comes to incentivizing women to join and stay in the workforce. According to GETI, 40 percent of women in the oil and gas sector believe flexible working would help the industry attract and retain talent.
It’s so important that women know they are welcome in the energy sector. We need more intelligent, brilliant women across all levels of our organizations for the sector 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.
Janette Marx is the COO at Airswift.