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Why is the energy industry dominated by men?

Of all the important issues facing the energy industry, perhaps the deep chasm that exists between the percentage of its staff that are male and female is not the biggest of its problems. After all, the contribution of the energy industry to greenhouse gas emissions rose at its highest point in a decade as a result of 2.9% increase in energy usage in 2018, and an increase in the usage of coal - one of the dirtiest sources of power.

 

But with countries across the world increasingly awake to the gross imbalances that exist in their societies and economies, it remains an important and pertinent question. Much of the debate around gender equality has focused, understandably, around the differences in the rates of pay of men and women and the representation of women in elected office, leaving the deep divide in the economy’s foundations unaddressed.

 

Despite years long efforts to tackle the perception that certain subjects and schools, and, later, certain jobs are for one gender or another, many industries remain dominated by a single gender. The gap between the number of men and women employed in the energy industry is the third largest in the UK at a whopping 79% to 21% in favour of men. So, before you dismiss this as a non-issue, let’s establish why it’s a problem you should care about and why this deep divide exists.

Why it matters

This is a problem worth thinking about for a number of reasons. The first is that if these numbers have come about artificially, as a result of stereotypes and early socialisation, rather than just being the outcome of un-manipulated free choice, then it means that the opportunities of girls and women to go into a career they might want is being stunted by societal factors. The denial of important opportunities to people on account of their gender as a result of outdated attitudes and teaching is clearly unfair.

 

Beyond that, the gender divide in who is doing what jobs is having a clear societal impact. For instance, the gender pay gap comes about, in part, because of the sorts of jobs men and women are doing. If we seriously tackle the idea of “male” and “female” jobs and close the big gap then that might dent the pay gap too. Similarly, it will be easier to satisfy skills shortages in the industry with a wider pool of staff.

So, what’s going on?

A lot of it is because of stereotyping - specifically, the issue is that many energy related jobs have traditionally been done by men. Many of these jobs are either labour intensive or engineering based. The former was long seen as a no-go for women as these were very masculine jobs that required the strength of a man, while the latter were seen as too “sciency” for women.


There has been some progress, not just in the energy industry but across Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) areas, with a government target of a 30% rate of female employment across these industries by 2030. The figure is currently just 11% across all areas. There is still a long way to go but it should now be clear that this is an issue that energy industry professionals should be talking about and looking to address going forward.

Morgan Franklin's picture

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 5, 2019 3:05 pm GMT

A critical issue, and one I thank you for speaking up on, Morgan. I'd definitely say a huge part of this starts at the educational levels and how encouraged (or not) each gender is to pursue STEM studies. Luckily we've started to see a real groundswell of support to get more young girls invested in these topics-- unfortunately, though, it'll take years before the generation of young women who have received such encouragement will enter the workforce so it'll be a while before we truly see results. But hopefully there will be steps along the way indicating progress-- how many women enter STEM fields in college, for example, after receiving said encouragement and exposure in early education. 

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