Opinion: Lack of female leadership is an uncomfortable truth for the wind industry

Building a net zero workforce means a step change on the representation of women

Net zero will not be achieved without gender diversity, argues Katie Jackson
Net zero will not be achieved without gender diversity, argues Katie Jackson

It will come as a shock to many – as it did to me – that, in 2022, three-quarters of the UK’s energy companies have no female executive directors. Or indeed that any all-male company boards exist in our sector, when they have long since vanished from the FTSE350.

An uncomfortable truth

Yet this was an uncomfortable truth revealed in POWERful Women’s (PfW) annual board statistics published this week in partnership with PwC, which looked at gender diversity in the top c.80 energy employers, representing a workforce of more than 140,000 people. Equally disappointing is that little progress has been made in the number of women in executive director roles across the industry, with just a one per cent rise to 15% in the last 12 months. When it comes to all board roles – executive and non-executive – women still occupy just over a quarter of seats, some way off the 33% target already met by the FTSE in 2020.

PfW has been publishing this data since 2015, aiming to see at least 30% female executive directors by 2030. While there have been pockets of progress along the way, this year’s figures shows that gender diversity remains unacceptably low and has even gone backwards – the number of companies achieving our 30% target has fallen from 15 to 11 companies, or just 14% of the sector.

Achieving net zero

Why does this matter? Because diversity is at the heart of a successful energy transition. Not only has business performance been proven to increase when more women sit in leadership positions – with profitability rising by as much as 21% in one study – but we now face a triple energy crisis of security, cost and climate change. Now is precisely the time to be securing the very best talent. Without diversity, companies will be left behind, losing out on skills, innovation, and inclusive leadership, and unable to build customer trust.

For companies with interests in wind and renewables, the diversity challenge is just as critical. A breakdown of PfW’s board statistics by sub-sector showed power and utilities performing better than oil and gas. This reflects global statistics from IRENA that show renewables employing more women than the energy sector as a whole. And some international wind companies are setting welcome ambitions, such as Vestas aim to have women in 30% of leadership positions by 2025.

The skills gap

But it’s important not to be complacent. Figures for women in executive director roles in power and utilities in the UK remain static on last year, at below 20%. We know that the sector attracts passionate and driven people. Our own research on women in middle management, showed that the opportunity to work on climate solutions is a key factor in their enthusiasm for the industry.

But still they face career barriers and unsupportive cultures that put them off. This should be worrying for a sector that needs to build a net zero workforce. The offshore wind industry alone needs 70,000 skilled workers in the coming years and, through the sector deal, has committed to at least 33% female representation by 2030.

Addressing diversity

So the question is how do we turn commitments into reality? Firstly, targets and data remain key. Measuring and publishing progress encourages transparency and leadership accountability - and drives progress to company goals.

Learning and sharing good practice is also valuable. Part of the practical support we provide to companies is shining a light on the D&I policies and initiatives that are really delivering within companies – from talent development programmes and effective flexible working to unbiased recruitment advertising and a ban on all-male shortlists. But none of these will work without a truly inclusive and supportive workplace, something that our research shows make a huge difference in a company’s attractiveness to women.

Leadership matters

Leadership matters and I am encouraged by the public commitments made by the Energy Leaders’ Coalition – the heads of 16 companies, including many active in wind energy, such as Shell, BP, SSE, EDF, Engie UK, ScottishPower, Subsea 7, Ørsted, RWE and Wood, alongside the CEOs of Ofgem and North Sea Transition Authority.

But the latest data shows that we need to do more. The current energy crisis is a reason for faster, further progress on diversity, not for delay or complacency. Because only by addressing the underrepresentation of women and minority groups can we ensure that we are drawing on the very best talent for a sustainable, successful energy transition.

Katie Jackson is chair of POWERful women

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