Climate change presents perhaps the greatest challenge facing humans now. The stakes are colossal and the risks and uncertainties severe. The social problem‐solving mechanisms in place were not designed to cope with anything like the set of problems of this scale and complexity. There are no precedents. Scientists and policymakers are currently advocating technological and policy innovations to cut carbon emissions as the destructive effects of climate change become increasingly severe. Crucial to this is the transition from fossil fuel-based energy systems to renewable-based energy generation. This change is also an opportunity to develop more localised, equitable, and democratic energy systems. However, so far, we have failed to address the challenge adequately. As we try to prevent and adapt to the consequences of climate change problems continue to manifest themselves. Therefore, one of the central social, political, and economic questions of the century is: how do we act?
First of all, as a society we will have to learn how to better respond to the climate change and our reactions will be shaped by the socially-constructed gender roles. Research has revealed, that women are more likely to be green than men and global warming denial is mostly propagated by elderly men with influential positions in the society. A 2014 paper in the International Journal for Masculinity Studies found that majority of climate skeptics were men as for them “it was not the environment that was threatened; it was a certain kind of modern industrial society built and dominated by their form of masculinity” that was at risk. As Martin Gelin highlighted in The New Republic last year, the world’s highest-profile climate campaigners are both young women, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Greta Thunberg, and it is mainly older conservative men shouting them down. Research has found that women tend to be more altruistic, prosocial and empathetic, as they display a stronger care ethic and a future-focused perspective. The research suggests they possess higher levels of socialisation, are socially responsible and care about others. Women care about environmental problems and are willing to adopt environmental behaviours. Female environmentalists talk about ensuring the future of generations, protecting children, preserving family life, maintaining everyone’s health and securing the quality of life of people in their communities. As a result, women are more likely to champion environmental action and sustainability. Therefore, having more women in leadership positions in academia, large private companies and governments, would lead to an increase in investments in renewable energy solutions and higher focus on reducing our carbon footprint on the planet. The fact that still today women are underrepresented in many places where important decisions are being made hinders their ability to influence the energy transition process. According to Catherine Mitchell, a professor of energy policy at the University of Exeter, poor gender diversity means the energy industry is more closed to new ideas, especially the move to a lower-carbon system. Mitchell, who has worked on energy issues for more than 30 years and advises the government, regulators and businesses, said: “I absolutely do think that the fact that the industry is so dominated by men and particularly older white men, it is slowing down the energy transition.” Women could play an important role in the energy industry, but the sector is lagging behind other industries in gender diversity. This is holding back its efforts to take action and tackle climate change.
There are many well-documented benefits that can be gained from hiring and retaining women in the sector. Firms that invest in women and have gender-diverse teams have been found to be not only more innovative, but also better at producing more revenue growth. Groups with greater gender parity are also linked to more effective inclusive results in their decision making. There have been remarkable efforts all over the globe towards creating greater gender equality and empowering women across industries, the energy sector is no exception. However, there is still a lot to be done. The energy industry is starting from a very low base when it comes to women’s participation, and that base dwindles even more in higher senior positions. For example, in 2016, U.S. licensed electricians were 97.9% male and 83.2% white. It was also estimated that 60% of males who held leadership positions in the electricity sector were within five years of retirement. The transition from fossil-fueled to renewable energy generation is creating new job opportunities and new possibilities to shape the work environment in the energy sector. Because producing and distributing clean energy is more labour intensive than for most fossil fuel-based systems and the number of renewable generators is growing (by 2050 over 80% of the UK’s electricity could come from wind and solar power), the sector is finding it difficult to keep pace as it struggles with current skills shortages in engineering. Women can fill the skills gap. However, various difficulties have stopped them from studying engineering and other STEM disciplines, thus from working in cleantech and the energy sector. Some are structural barriers that women as a whole experience in the workplace, such as difficulties in fitting work around childcare responsibilities and a lack of female role models, while others are specific to working in a male-dominated field. What are these barriers and what can we do to finally remove them?
1. Address gender bias and stop patronizing
Gender bias is particularly visible when women are hired, interviewed and promoted in the workplace, and also when funding is provided to female-led startups. Women frequently feel undermined or patronised, even if they are considered to be experts in their fields. Research shows that as many as 41% of British women face patronising comments or behaviour in the workplace. For women business owners gender bias can be frequently observed during startup pitching events when male investors direct their questions to male staff rather than the female founder. Moreover, women who ask for money are twice as likely to be treated negatively by the investors who will also tend to focus more on risk when reviewing female-led businesses instead on rewards as they do when reviewing male startups.Startups run by women frequently have to hire a male employee who can open doors for them and be the person that the investors can talk to. In an interview with an Asian startup, the female founders explained that they had to hire a male CEO as it was the only way for them to navigate the gender bias in China, as he would speak on their behalf at investor meetings. Usually, however, it is enough to change the introductory language and habits. It helps to introduce the female founder as the business owner as this helps to establish authority and clear up any confusion about the role. Moreover, taking action during pith events to reframe any risk-related questions about the startup can refocus the investors on the opportunities presented by the venture.
In the workplace women and men are often evaluated differently when it comes to promotion and so are the words that are used to describe their negative and positive traits. Researchers recently examined objective and subjective performance measures by analysing a big military dataset (with more than 4,000 participants and 81,000 evaluations). This included a list of 89 positive and negative leadership attributes which were utilised to assess people’s leadership performance in a military leadership scenario. The researchers found there were significant gender differences in the use of negative attributes when men and women were evaluated, even though their performances were the same when more objective measures (fitness scores, grades, etc.) were used. Women were generally assigned significantly more negative attributes, with inept being the most frequently used.
What can we do to get rid of this bias? We can learn how to recognise our predisposition to certain beliefs with the right training. This can help us to reflect on how our ability to maintain an open mind enables us to assess data without being initially judgmental about it. Some of us, however, doubt whether humans can conduct this kind of de-biasing, and even if we could, whether it would be sufficient to have an effect. With help come dedicated software solutions and AI-based technologies. After all machines should be gender neutral, right? Sadly, first experimental hiring tool created by Amazon learned a biased view of women from the data it was fed, it did not like women and thought male candidates were the preferred option. When it rated candidates for technical jobs, CVs including the word “women’s”, such “women’s chess club captain”, were penalised. It also downgraded all-women’s college graduates. AI systems could potentially improve HR practices hugely but developers have to ensure that the algorithms’ recommendations are not discriminatory. As a result, a lot of developers are looking closely at different bias mitigation approaches.
2. Develop support systems that will help women fit in
According to the World Economic Forum, the energy sector has one of the lowest women participation rates in the world. It is just 25% (including mining) and this figure drops with rising seniority. In 2012, the energy industry had the least number of women board members in any sector. In fact, 61% of energy companies in the US had no female board members at all. While in the UK, women hold just 5% of executive board seats and a worrying62% of top 89 UK headquartered energy firms have no women at all on the board. The lack of visible female role models in the tech and energy industries causes many women to second-guess their ability to successfully fit in. As a result, women who consider joining a tech or energy company frequently ask themselves if it can offer the support they need, as well as the inclusive environment and equal development opportunities required. Women launching a cleantech business face similar concerns - lack of clients, the fear of isolation, concern about not fitting in, and an inability to attract finance. More visible female role models are undoubtedly required to reassure them and address these concerns.
In addition, bold and transparent leadership targets are needed that are supported by a range of internal policies and programmes. For example, introducing flexible working hours or inclusive recruitment practices could help to remove biases from the workplace. When internal initiatives are done correctly they can greatly improve a company’s culture for women. Instead, it is common, that they focus only on educating men about unconscious bias and training women to adopt traditionally masculine leadership styles. This approach is not working, in spite of increase in leadership programmes, female representation in leadership positions remains low. The current approach is far too focused on ‘fixing’ women that ‘hold themselves back’ . As a result, organisations often focus on teaching women how to become men 2.0 and end up thinking and acting like men. What’s needed instead is focus on fostering female perspective and leadership style by going beyond structured programmes. To eradicate the cultural bias embedded in the company structure we need to look into changing everyday, often unfair, organisational practices and focus on creating inclusive environment for female leaders to thrive. Such reforms would also improve company diversity, culture and revenue.
Companies could contribute to this change by making sure they improve their internal and external communication so that it features diverse models, avoids gender stereotypes and uses gender-neutral language. Every department could also contribute by attending events that feature women or by hosting their own recruitment events. In addition, companies should implement clear hiring and leadership performance criteria, which are transparent and measurable, and ensure that recognition is allocated fairly. Increased accountability and transparency in both pay and promotion decisions is also recommended.
A strong support network is crucial for the success of any entrepreneur or professional. Women especially benefit from having a supportive network of friends, mentors and people to confide in or consult during their professional journey that in a male-dominated industries can often be a lonely one. The absence of a strong support system frequently proves to be an obstacle that stops a woman from owning a business or making progress in her career. Consequently, there are a number of institutions focused on connecting mentors with mentees and helping women to build their networks. Among them is the National Association of Women Business Owners, which regularly hosts events so that female founders can meet, and the She Leads Company platform, which matches female founders with female consultants and mentors. It is worth mentioning that having mentors of either gender will provide positive benefits to women. Social media platforms like LinkedIn are a great place to look for mentors and build business relationship with inspiring leaders.
An important piece of the puzzle to increasing number of female founders, workers and leaders in tech industries is linked to the difficulty of getting females into STEM-related studies. There are fewer girls taking part in the STEM fields because of social pressures, including a lack of encouragement, negative peer pressure, harassment and a lack of role models. If we are to motivate girls to choose STEM education and female professionals to follow a career in the energy sector, a way must be found to make women more visible in STEM. Mentoring and networking is the key as this creates a stimulating peer-learning environment and supportive community for women. We can provide our own support, as industry professionals, by encouraging women to join and contribute to the field and then supporting them. This could involve participating in networking events, acting as a role model, speaking about women’s achievements in the energy sector or signing up to be a mentor. These are all great ways to encourage girls and women to choose to pursue a career in STEM. The aim must be to create a society that views women engineers as both role models and sources of inspiration.
3. Using gender-neutral language
One of the most effective ways to improve gender equality is through language. Research has shown how gender neutrality is vital when we are writing and speaking about people. Not only is it more accurate, it is also consistent with the values of equality. Therefore, removing gender-biased terms and symbols from both written and verbal communication can make the work environment more welcoming and appealing to women. The language used today frequently excludes women and, as a result, treats women and men unequally. The male is seen as the ‘norm’, and the female as the ‘other’, which makes our use of language unjust to women. Generic terms like ‘he’ or ‘man’ are the most obvious examples.
It has been demonstrated that language is integral to the practice of power in technological fields, so the status of language practices within the STEM professions needs to be consciously questioned. The UK government has acknowledged this by announcing a trial of gender-neutral language to define STEM apprenticeships. A pilot will apply gender-neutral language to 12 apprenticeship standards and the aim is to encourage more women to apply.
A recent study has shown why gender-neutral language also needs to be used in all STEM publications and during class. The research reveals that gender-biased language is used in engineering classrooms and literature, although this is often not done deliberately. Researchers collected evidence in an engineering design classroom of mild but persistent profanity and semi-sexual, double entendres by male students. It was found this behaviour along with the male lecturer’s use of images from military and hunter/warrior traditions, affected the classroom, creating an environment where women’s social worth became undermined. A change in language needs to be considered for STEM to be more welcoming to females and become a genderless discipline. In the energy industry the male dominance also transpires through both the written and verbal communication used in marketing, internal documentation, HR materials and everyday business life. Male-centric lingo derived from war, sports and machinery only reinforce the idea that the workplace is (or should be) a man cave with water coolers. Similarly, terms such as, fintech, cleantech and accelerators are often used in the startup ecosystem that do not sound appealing to women. Using gender-neutral language that is more balanced could attract more women to study and work in the sector.
Finally, HR communication, especially the wording of job adverts frequently displays significant male bias. Job descriptions often use two methods of communicating. Communal language that is mainly applied to women and agentic language that is applied to men. Former aims to invoke stereotypical female traits, such as showing warmth, being supportive and helping the team. Contrarily, latter is more about taking charge, getting the job done, and being independent. For example, male-gendered job descriptions might describe a company as ‘a dominant engineering firm that boasts many clients’, whereas a female-gendered version could state ‘we are a community of engineers who have effective relationships with many satisfied clients’. In most cases, the use of masculine, agentic language that appeal to men will repel women and vice versa. The need to deal with women and men equally highlights just how desirable the use of gender-neutral language is.
4. Boost STEM education
STEM is an integral part of the growing field of clean-tech and an area where more top talent is required. It is vital that more girls take STEM subjects at school years and female talent is attracted to STEM careers. Currently, the female representation remains very low. When PwC carried out research into this issue with over 2,000 A-Level and university students, they found that the gender gap in technology begins at school and continues throughout women’s lives. Just 27% of the female students surveyed said they would consider following a career in technology, compared to 61% of the male students. There is a need for a conscious proactive strategy in schools and universities to firstly, encourage women to start considering STEM subjects as a degree, and secondly, raise awareness of female role models. Women need to be given the opportunity to experience life as a STEM student and an energy professional and the best way of achieving this is to debunk any misconceptions that STEM is a ‘boy’s only area’. Making girls and women aware of the great opportunities available in the fields of engineering and sustainability is a major communication challenge that needs to be addressed.
There are a number of actions we should take to improve diversity, both globally and locally, within the energy industry, such as ensuring that female speakers feature at cleantech events, showcasing the successes of female cleantech leaders, and creating a culture which promotes and rewards inclusive behaviours. It is vital to keep promoting and supporting STEM in the long term as this will improve the pipeline. As females have extra responsibilities assigned to their roles they should be getting greater recognition, more investment, and increased support. Movements like Women in Tech and She Leads Company are dedicated to supporting the cause and can help put a spotlight on more women in working in tech.
5. Improve access to finance for female-led startups
Female-led startup companies receive only 10% of venture capital investment, and less than 1% of UK venture funding goes to all-female teams. It’s not only female leadership that is putting investors off, it’s the mere presence of a woman. Shockingly, the report reveals that having a woman on your pitch team means you will receive a skimpy tenth of funding compared to those without. Female founders ask for outside funding less frequently than males do, and when they do request cash, they generally get less than men do as the investors tend to focus on risk when they review female-led businesses and focus on rewards when reviewing male startups. Each risk-related question a woman is asked equates, on average, to about $3.8 million less in funding. Investors fears however seem to be unjustified. Studies show that, despite getting less funding than men, female founders greatly outperform all-men teams. In fact, women-led technology companies achieve a 35% higher return on investment, according to research from the Kauffman Foundation in the US. In addition, a recent study from the BI Norwegian Business School showed that women are better suited to leadership than men.
In spite of the facts, All Raise’s research finds that the growth rate of funding injected into female-founded companies has leveled off over recent years as the biases and prejudices of investors prevent them from seeing clearly. Therefore, much-needed changes are needed in the investing industry to stop this damaging trend of undervaluing female-led businesses. As women investors are more likely to invest in female founders, changes in the VC ranks are required. If the backers, including state pension funds and insurers, demanded that VC firms employed more female executives and invested in more female founders, the funds would listen.
To summarize, women, just the same as men, need to invest in marketing and research and development, as well as hire staff to build a business. But their ability to succeed is severely hampered by the fact they raise less money. More female-founder friendly VCs are therefore required, as well as increased support for women during every stage of the investing process.
Speaking on diversity in general, it is important to recognize that change doesn’t happen overnight. However, there are actions that can be taken that we know can speed up the transformation. At She Leads Company (https://sheleadscompany.com), we believe that the world needs more female leaders, investors and more female-led startups. Our mission is to close the gender gap in business and access to finance for women. By working with investors, VC funds, banks, startups and corporates, we strive to bring more investment, more recognition, and more support to women fintech and energy tech.