Opinion: Time the wind industry found its ambition on gender diversity

The wind and wider renewables industry knows the value – and sometimes the challenges – of demonstrating a social licence to operate but it’s not just about engaging with community stakeholders around the development of projects.

Being better than the wider energy sector on diversity is not enough for the renewables industry - it must go further, faster, argues Katie Jackson

How representative the company is of the diversity of that community; its customers and wider society, will also affect trust and engagement – and is central to the achievement of business and sustainability goals.

Sustainable development goals

As UN Member States work towards delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the renewable energy industry will play a pivotal role in countries achieving SDG 7, ‘Access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy’, through increasing the share of wind and other clean energy generation in the global energy mix. 

But it makes sense for companies to pay attention too to SDG 5: to ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’. 

Evidence continues to show that increasing the representation of women on corporate boards and in leadership positions is good for business and profitability.  

Investor pressure is also growing to improve diversity at leadership level for better governance and performance against the SDGs. In early 2023, according to S&P Global, gender diversity was one of three top shareholder topics. 

Renewables out-perform energy on diversity

Typically, the renewable energy sector performs better than energy as a whole when it comes to female representation across all levels. 

The most comprehensive analysis to date, by IRENA, showed that 32% of the global renewable energy workforce were women in 2019.  

A subsequent report focussing just on women working in the wind energy value chain revealed a substantially lower average (21%).

It’s clear that therefore that there is no room for complacency, borne out by Powerful Women’s latest annual statistics, released today on women in the UK energy sector.  

Now read: Which UK wind companies are making progress on gender diversity at board level?

Slow progress 

Progress continues to be slow when it comes to female representation at the top of the whole sector.  

The UK government’s offshore wind sector deal of 2019 represented a positive step forward on diversity in the industry when it included a commitment to at least 33% female representation by 2030. 

Looking at statistics for just those companies with a wind interest, we can see some progress is being made at board level with eight companies achieving rough gender parity, but there has been very little change since 2022 on women in executive board positions. 

‘Unsupportive cultures’

We know that women are highly motivated by the green agenda and attracted to working on solutions to climate change. 

It’s also right that women are part of climate-mitigation strategies and initiatives, given they are disproportionately impacted by climate change. 

The door is open to attract and retain talented, engaged people. But the latest data suggests that they are not being given equal opportunity to participate.  

Our own research has shown that even once they are working in the industry, many women face career barriers and unsupportive cultures that prevent them thriving or progressing to leadership roles. 

Diversity and the skills gap

It's time to change. With a huge drive to increase the UK energy workforce to deliver net zero, this lack of representation and equal opportunity should be a concern.  

National Grid estimates almost half a million people are needed into the industry to achieve net zero by 2050. The offshore wind industry alone needs 70,000 skilled workers in the coming years. 

So the challenge to the industry is to not just keep on track with gender diversity, but to go further, faster. 

Diversity drives innovation

Because it’s not just the number of people that matters, but who they are.  

Diverse experience, backgrounds and strengths will drive innovation and ensure the leadership is there to grow businesses and deliver more renewables capacity.  

And it will do so in a way that is inclusive of communities and trusted by stakeholders – from customers to governments.

Path to progress on diversity

How do we get there?  It starts with strong and visible leadership, making public commitments, setting targets and capturing and reporting data effectively to monitor progress.  

We would like to see women in at least 40% of middle management and leadership roles by 2030.

The industry needs to step up efforts to attract more women into the sector at early career stage.

It can do this by building an attractive value proposition and marketing the industry to young women, focussing on those major technical and field-based roles where there has been long-standing under-representation but which are key to the sector.

Recruit and retain

But we also need to do better to retain the female talent we already have. The new post-pandemic flexibility around ways of working is a great opportunity to encourage everyone, men as well as women, to take up policies on offer to those with young families, which is often the point at which women leave our industry. 

We need leaders to set the tone and create a supportive workplace culture, free from bias, where policies are implemented, monitored and delivered effectively to help women progress. 

Time’s up for gender imbalance on boards

So when it comes to ambitions; doing better than other parts of the industry just isn’t enough. It’s time the renewable energy sector had equal female representation on boards. 

Gender balance isn’t much to ask – the FTSE 350 is heading there and the energy sector needs to catch up. 

For a successful energy transition, for innovation and profitability, and for an enduring social licence to operate, we’d love to see the renewables sector leading the way. 

Katie Jackson is chair of Powerful Women