Why the global energy transition must work for women

By Rebecca Ponton
Despite making up 48% of the global labour force, women only account for 22% of the traditional energy sector

An incredible 30 million jobs worldwide are predicted to be created by 2030 with the global energy transition as the driving force.

However, a disconcerting trend is emerging – one which we have seen before in the fossil fuel sector. The proportion of women expected to work in the clean energy sector is actually set to decrease as subsectors, like construction, fuelling this job creation demonstrate the lowest representation of women. 

Despite making up 48% of the global labour force, women only account for 22% of the traditional energy sector. The number drops to a staggering 14% for women who make up senior management in the industry (including utilities), and the downward trajectory continues with women holding only 3.6% of CEO roles.

To succeed, the energy transition must be diverse, it must be inclusive, and it must be equitable. As a growing number of companies announce climate commitments on a large-scale, there is an opportunity to recognise the intersection of gender and climate, and raise ambitions for women’s economic empowerment along with environmental targets. 

How can the energy transition ensure more opportunities for women and enable a just, sustainable, and inclusive transition? 

First and foremost, the industry must position reskilling and re-educating at the centre of the energy agenda. The skilling of women in the STEM fields is critical, given that most renewable energy jobs require expertise in those areas. And their implementation can be achieved through a multi-step effort focused on training, retaining and incentivising women in STEM, including but not limited to adequate trainings, certifications, and skill programmes.  

On top of reskilling, company cultures need to be reshaped so that they foster gender-responsive working. Today, many in the sector continue to cite a toxic work environment as the decisive driver in leaving their current job and the industry’s reputation puts off young talent from choosing a career in energy.

Adopting effective strategies that promote gender equality and ensure inclusivity across the company, either through hiring policies, mentorships, or employee resource groups (ERGs), will play a significant role in building a diverse, inclusive, and equitable industry. 

Beyond that, we must continue to empower women with new economic opportunities. These strategies will yield more opportunities for women as they generate new sources of income and means of financial independence. 

In Yemen, for example, a group of women have set up a private solar microgrid near the frontlines of the conflict, bringing critical access to electricity while earning a steady source of income.

Similar initiatives have been seen in India, where women entrepreneurs have produced face masks and feminine hygiene products with the support of solar-powered electric sewing machines. These efforts are a glimpse into how clean energy accessibility can transform an entire community, if not the world. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, sustainable energy for all can only be achieved when women are put at the heart of the conversation. For change to happen, women need to lead the conversation about women’s future – and be in the room where it happens.

One prime example will be Gastech, the world’s largest confere​nce for the natural gas, LNG, and hydrogen industries, and one of the most hotly anticipated forums of the year as the industry grapples with the demands of a ‘just’ transition ahead of COP27 in November.

Leaders across the energy value chain will attend to drive the agenda on building a gender-inclusive and diverse workforce as they look to adapt to a changing energy landscape. Women everywhere will be watching closely to see how we are represented in this pivotal moment in energy.  

Ultimately, an absence of diversity is a business impediment – and this is relevant across all sectors. However, the challenges of the energy world are more pressing as the industry undergoes a process of rapid transformation; clean energy transitions will require innovative solutions and business models to be adopted.

Above all, they will require greater participation from a richly diverse talent pool.  

To prevent the status quo from prevailing, especially as we move forward into the energy transition, decisive action must be taken. The urgency of reaching net zero necessitates including voices that, until now, have gone unheard. In the words of the former Irish president and UN climate envoy, Mary Robinson, “Climate change is a man-made problem with a feminist solution.” 

Rebecca Ponton is Editor-in-Chief @oilwomanmag, and author of Breaking the GAS Ceiling: Women in the Offshore Oil & Gas Industry

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