Promoting Gender Diversity in Renewable Energy

An increasing number of clients are aware of the huge benefits of embracing gender diversity to build stronger, more rounded and more robust teams. In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a definite move away from all-male shortlists and we are working with our clients to promote as many females as we can.

An increasing number of clients are aware of the huge benefits of embracing gender diversity to build stronger, more rounded and more robust teams. In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a definite move away from all-male shortlists and we are working with our clients to promote as many females as we can.

Ever since I started in recruitment, 15 years ago, I’ve always been a champion of promoting women in the renewables industry. And since founding the company in 2009, I’ve experienced first-hand how important it is to have a mixed team with women in key roles at every level of the company. And when working on behalf of clients, we’ve always made it a policy to include female candidates in our shortlists.

Of course, we are eager to attract more females into wind and solar but, as an industry, we still have some challenges to overcome.

But we do have solutions.

The renewables industry is progressive by nature. Because it’s a younger industry, we’re hiring more new talent so we’re already ahead of the conventional energy industry. Still, there’s a long way to go and we all need to work together to materialise the benefits of a diverse culture.

We need to understand the value of a diverse workforce and promote the advantages that it brings. We also need to make sure that there’s a clear path for females to move into renewables and progress through the industry. And we need to remove the barriers to entry.

Why We Need to Value Diversity

It would be relatively easy to simply recruit more females into the industry but this is about much more than increasing the representation of women. Companies need to take a step back and ask how they can truly benefit from having a more diverse workplace. You need to understand the underlying fundamentals of why this matters.

The fact is, the best results come from having a very diverse group. Despite how open-minded you think you are, humans are prone to having a limited view of things. We’re full of cognitive biases that influence our decision-making and make us cluster into groups. But these groups or tribes of like-minded people results in homogenous thinking. For groups to be effective, you need to encourage different viewpoints and that comes from attracting people with differing backgrounds and experience with respect to cultural background, age and gender.

When you look for as many opinions as possible, you get a more complete picture.

Regarding gender, there’s a body of research on gender differences. We know, for example, that men and women tend to approach risk differently. It’s not that women shy away from risk, but that they tend to use more care and caution when weighing up the options. This has a massive benefit when managing health and safety of large infrastructural projects, or when considering finance and asset management.

If we surround ourselves with people that think like we do and act like we do, we tend to fall into certain rhythms or habits. We lose sight of the big picture. When we surround ourselves with people that are different, it makes you more conscious and receptive to other viewpoints.

We Need to Make STEM Education More Attractive

One of the biggest sticking points of the gender imbalance is the pipeline of talent coming through the University system. Science, technology, engineering and maths have always been a male-dominated space. Trying to encourage females to take up stem subjects has proven difficult. And when they do there is a lot of competition for those individuals.

Technical specialists also move into more strategic roles, leaving gaps that we need to fill from the next generation of talent.

There’s a lot of diversity in the types of work within the industries that we work with. There’s an outdated perception that building wind farms and solar farms is physically challenging. In reality, it’s a lot more to do with mental agility than physicality and there are roles that are open to everybody – financing, development, stakeholder management, and commercial negotiation.

We already have University programs dedicated to renewable energies and promoting a modern approach to engineering which is more attractive to women, whereas for classical engineering programs there’s still a huge majority of male students.

There’s no doubt that we are still lacking students in engineering professions. I’ve spoken to clients and others in the industry who have posted vacancies for engineering positions that have had exactly zero applications from women and that’s really sad.

We simply need more women in engineering, natural sciences, and maths and we need to encourage more girls to choose these studies.

There’s a similar imbalance in finance. Finance graduates are not aware of the diverse roles they can play in Investing and Asset Management. The renewable sector isn’t on their radar. We need to make these options visible to students.

Renewable energy is a captivating industry that’s trying to have a positive impact on our lives. It’s a great way for both female and male engineers to do meaningful work.

It’s a forward-thinking conscientious industry that’s engaged in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and ESG (Environmental, social and governance). Companies already share the same optimistic values as our young generation. We just need to highlight the connections. We need to make the link and foster curiosity as far back as primary education. We need a way for a 10-year old to make the connection that studying physics could one-day lead to them designing a wind farm.

Companies Need Proactive Training to Attract and Retain Talent

Wind and solar need a lot of specialist technical skills and a lot of the roles today didn’t exist 5 or 10 years ago. This isn’t restricted to females either.

Across the board, we need to find ways to identify talented engineering and finance graduates with more general skillsets. We can then develop and train them for the specialist roles that are hard to fill and have a high demand for talent.

This means placing more value on skills and experiences that might not be 100% related but can be enhanced and developed through mentoring and support. Companies with graduate training routes and apprenticeships can help engineers transition into renewables.

We Need More Female Role Models

The industry needs to foster a culture that embraces diversity and promote successful role models from the renewables sector. Whether we’ve personally worked together or not, we’re always eager to promote the work those role models do because it makes the whole industry stronger.

At a recent conference, I spoke with such a role model, who leads a team of around 70 technical staff in offshore wind. It’s a great example of a forward-thinking company giving a young female the opportunity to oversee a big engineering division.

She shared her experience of some of the challenges and solutions to gender diversity…

At University, I studied mathematics where there’s lots of prejudice. So, we encouraged others to join the field, especially girls but we kept it very broad. We wanted to showcase the different kinds of people studying (and loving) maths. It’s not just this one type that you have in your head. It’s open to everyone. We wanted to broaden people’s minds and show the full spectrum of people who could consider studying maths.

Once somebody can see the different career paths of successful people in business, it’s easier to visualise a way in. They see that it’s open and they can see themselves in that career.

Then we’ll see more ambitious young women studying STEM through high school and university.

These women can then rise in the industry and become the next generation of role models in a virtuous cycle. We just need to create the environment to get that flywheel going.

We Need to Promote Female Shortlists

I’m working with a few firms at the moment to put together all-female shortlists.

I’ve been going to industry conferences for the last 15 years and — in the wind energy sector especially — it’s been massively male-dominated. We really need this push to promote women.

But it’s not as straightforward as recruiting more females.

You need to strike the right balance for your company. If you have a shortlist that’s based on an objective scorecard, how do you positively discriminate for women who don’t have the same experience because they’ve been under-represented in the past?

Balancing diversity and traditional credentials is difficult, but not impossible.

At our company, we have a pre-requisite to include at least one female in every shortlist which means interviewing the entire field and putting the best of the female candidates forward. Because of the history (especially in construction and engineering related fields) where women have been under-represented in the past, we need to work with clients who are willing to change. To take on women and help develop them because they’ve been at a disadvantage in the past.

Unless there are clients out there that are willing to make an investment in people, things will take a lot longer to change.

I spoke to the HR Manager of a leading renewables investment firm about balancing meritocracy with diversity …

This is the crux of the issue. I don’t think anybody’s suggesting that we introduce quotas. Nobody wants to get a job because they’re a woman.

What we have to do is recognise that some of the skills that the woman brings are slightly different. We need to celebrate skills like diplomacy, negotiation and project management. And recognise that they are as valuable as knowing how a wind turbine works.

Being able to value these skills comes from not hiring in your own likeness. We need to look at the big picture.

We’re naturally prone to subconscious biases and we need to work to overcome them. Somebody might tick a lot of boxes on the surface – an Oxford degree, you’ve met them at conferences, you know them. But these are poor proxies and we need to step back and look at the whole picture.

Ultimately, you need to ask – Is this the right person for your organisation?

And you need to realise that the right person comes in different guises.

I’ve heard lots of arguments in favour of quotas and giving women a leg up and I’m still on the fence. But in an area where females have been under-represented in the past, we might need to do that to improve opportunities for women. Otherwise, it’ll take us another hundred years to get us to where we’re supposed to be.

We know that diversity is valuable, we know that having a range of skills is valuable. Now we need to make the opportunities more available. Organisations need the right people otherwise they won’t be successful, and that means having a mix.

At the end of the day, men and women are different. But men and men are different. And women and women are different. Yes, on average, women tend to be more risk-conscious than men. Men tend to be more decisive, whereas women tend to be reflective. But we’re all on a spectrum – a decisive woman will be more decisive than a reflective man. We need to value both approaches.

We Need to Hire for More Diverse Skills

On one hand, you might have a long list of candidates who meet the traditional criteria of the job specification and have a lot of direct experience in, for example, wind farms. On the other hand, you might miss out on some exceptional candidates who have less experience — because they weren’t given the opportunity before — but developed an amazing management style and organisational skills in another area.

You need to use a very objective scorecard to deliver search campaigns which means looking more closely at an individual’s skills and abilities regardless of their gender.

Take a step back and recognise those that haven’t had the opportunities before. They have other strengths that can add genuine value to the team.

The renewables industry is starting to understand the value of having a range of perspectives and opinions. A diverse team adds balance and makes the group more robust. As an industry, we need to think about the way we create mixed teams.

It’s up to everyone in a hiring position to remind yourself to keep an open mind. Look for people that are different from you and actively look for those who have a different outlook to you. Cherish diversity as a positive influence because nothing will ever change if we keep surrounding ourselves with people that are just like us.

The fact that women tend to be risk averse may even be a reason why they’re under-represented. 10 or 15 years ago, a career in a new industry like energy from waste was more of a gamble. Now that it’s a proven technology, it’s a legitimate career choice.

Wrapping up

We need more girls studying STEM subjects through high school and university. We need more graduates joining the renewable energy sector. And we need more women rising into senior positions.

Long-term, we need a multi-faceted approach to encourage females into the industry. Encouraging young females to follow a particular academic path is a 5 or 10 years project.

It starts with understanding that diversity leads to better decisions and a stronger business. Once the industry absorbs that into the culture, we can create paths in at each level.

That will only happen if female students have role models to follow in these fields.

The only way that can happen is if clients give those people a chance. Companies must support and develop the role models that will attract further female talent for these types of roles.

Renewables is exploding and will continue to do for the next 5, 10, 20 years. Competition for talent is already going to be challenging. Exacerbating that challenge by excluding people based on an X-chromosome is ludicrous. Otherwise, we’re missing out on a whole generation of talent.

Let’s talk

We work with companies every day who are adopting diversity policies and seeing the rewards. If you need help with building a stronger team or if you want to learn how to start out in the renewables industry, please get in touch.

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