Unlocking Europe’s talent pool to foster the transition to a climate neutral economy

Lights on Women joins forces with the WECS Foundation to foster gender equality in the EU's energy sector, launching an article series to address three crucial objectives for Europe: green recovery, the transition to a climate-neutral economy and gender equality.

In this article, Gokce Mete (Head of Research and Academic Engagement) and Daria Nochevnik (Co-Founder) of the Women in Energy, Climate and Sustainability (WECS) Foundation, discuss the importance of unlocking Europe’s talent pool to navigate the disruption across the economy, support green recovery and accelerate the pace of the transition to a climate-neutral economy in Europe and globally.

This article is the first in a new series by Lights on Women initiative and the WECS Foundation as we join forces to promote gender equality in the EU’s energy sector. 

“Gender equality is a core principle of the European Union, but it is not yet a reality. In business, politics and society as a whole, we can only reach our full potential if we use all of our talent and diversity. Using only half of the population, half of the ideas or half of the energy is not good enough”
– Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President

The status quo of gender representation in the energy sector

It is not a secret that women are largely underrepresented in the energy industry at the executive level in particular, as well as in energy and climate decision making in Europe and at the global level.

To put things in perspective, the total share of women representatives at board level across the energy industry is no more than 7%, compared to 21% participation in finance and communications companies. Turning to the public sector, according to a study which covered 72 countries across the globe, women represent only 6% of ministerial positions responsible for national energy policies and programs. In Europe, women hold about 25,6% of high-level decision-making positions in the environment, transport, and energy sectors.

Looking at the specific sectors in the energy industry, women represent about 32% of the workforce in the renewables industry. This percentage is only slightly higher compared to the traditional oil and gas industry, where women account for 22% of the workforce. However, it is not only about the number of jobs held by women in the sector, but also the quality of employment, i.e. the types of professions occupied and the remuneration received by women in the field. Research carried out by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) offers good insights into this issue – it shows that women in the renewables industry are more likely to be employed in lower-paid, non-technical and administrative positions than in technical, managerial or policy-making roles.

Clean energy innovation constitutes another illustrative example: currently, women are listed in less than 11% of patent applications related to solutions fostering decarbonisation.

What you see above is a snapshot of facts and figures picturing the status quo of gender representation. But behind these numbers, there are talented women trying to break the glass ceiling in the energy industry, as well as talented women who do not even see themselves pursuing a career in the field due to such factors as inter alia the perceived lack of diversity and inclusion in the industry.

Unlocking Europe’s talent pool to foster green recovery and the transition to a climate-neutral economy

Why does gender equality in the energy sector matter? To echo the words of European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen, using only half of the population, half of the ideas or half of the energy is simply not good enough. This certainly applies to the energy industry and the energy, climate and sustainability ecosystems in Europe.

The energy sector has been undergoing a profound transformation for years now, but today the tectonic shifts within the sector are coupled with the pressure to adapt to a new business environment in times of an unprecedented social and economic crisis and a prolonged period of uncertainly. The ripple effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on our societies and economy have been dramatic, and there is clear evidence that the current crisis is exacerbating gender inequality in the labour force in Europe and across the world.

Today, more than ever we need to work on developing and harnessing talent in Europe in order to navigate the disruption across the economy, support green recovery and accelerate the pace of the transition to a climate-neutral economy in Europe and globally.

Leading academics in the field point to the “enduring legacies of women’s traditional exclusion from the energy sector,” such as lack of equal access to information about employment and industry trends. Addressing the barriers that women in the sector face across the areas of employment, leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship will require action across the public sector, businesses and academia. This includes boosting top leadership commitment to gender equality and equal professional opportunities, as well as mentoring and pay equity.

Unlocking Europe’s talent pool and promoting women in energy climate and sustainability requires a joint effort between the public sector, businesses, academia and civil society organisations.

Universities and executive education providers also have a key role to play in addressing the gender equality gap in the sector. They are the ones preparing and encouraging women to become innovative entrepreneurs driving the energy businesses of tomorrow, as well as encouraging women to engage in energy and climate decision making, and ultimately to contribute to Europe’s transition to net zero.

Lights on Women and the WECS Foundation join forces 

In the framework of the collaboration between Lights on Women and the WECS Foundation, we are launching an article series, addressing each of the three crucial objectives for Europe: green recovery, the transition to a climate-neutral economy and gender equality.

This article series will inform our audience about the relevant issues in the energy sector and energy and climate policy in Europe. Secondly, each article or interview will feature a reflection of the contributors to the challenges and opportunities for improving gender equality and diversity in the field.

To kick off the collaboration, FSR Lights on Women initiative and the WECS Foundation are holding a special online event on 9 February at 13:30 PM CET to discuss synergies between the European Green Deal and European Gender Strategy.

 

Watch the Recording! 

About the Women in Energy, Climate and Sustainability (WECS) foundation

Women in Energy, Climate and Sustainability (WECS) is a public foundation established to promote gender equality as an enabler of the transition towards a climate-neutral economy in Europe and worldwide. WECS objective is to facilitate gender diversity and women empowerment in the fields of energy, climate and sustainability. Follow WECS on Twitter!

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