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Why the triple energy crisis means we need a step change on gender diversity


4 min read

Head and shoulders image of Katie Jackson Photo: Katie Jackson
Katie Jackson, Chair of POWERful Women and Executive Vice President for Acquisition, Divestment and New Business Development at Shell

Photo: Katie Jackson

Katie Jackson, Chair of POWERful Women and Executive Vice President for Acquisition, Divestment and New Business Development at Shell, discusses the gender inequality that still prevails in the energy industry.

As a woman who has spent her whole career in energy – from starting as a roughneck on oil rigs in the Dutch North Sea in 1994, through a variety of international roles to my current one at Shell – diversity and inclusion have always been very close to my heart. But during that time, the landscape in terms of gender diversity hasn’t fundamentally changed as much as I thought it would.


I always presumed that by this stage in my career we would naturally have moved much closer to a 50:50 workforce. As the latest statistics from POWERful Women and PwC revealed last week, we still have a long way to go to achieve gender balance in our sector.  


The statistics
Since 2015, POWERful Women’s annual ‘State of the Nation’ has been benchmarking the top 80 UK energy companies on the number of women at their top tables and, more recently, in the leadership pipeline.


Disappointingly, this year’s statistics revealed that representation remains low. Women occupy just 15% of executive director roles, a minuscule rise of 1% on last year’s figures. When it comes to all board seats, executive and non-executive, 27% are held by women which, while up 3% on 2021, is still some way off the 33% target already met by the FTSE350 two years ago.  


In addition, three-quarters of UK energy companies still have no female executive directors – a shocking figure in 2022. This rises to 87% in the oil and gas sector. As Joanna Whittington, Director General of Energy and Security at the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), commented at our State of the Nation launch, what must it be like to work in a company with no women on the board?


While there are organisations like BEIS, Ofgem and a number of energy companies currently role modelling good practice, the energy sector as a whole is lagging behind precisely at the time when it needs the very best talent and innovation for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.  


The importance of diversity and inclusion
We are living through a period of unprecedented volatility and energy is right at the heart of that. We are experiencing a triple crisis of affordability, security and climate change. But this should not be seen as an excuse for not focusing on diversity and inclusion. Quite the opposite – solving all of these challenges will require the very best talent available and an energy sector truly representative of the society we serve.


Not only is greater gender diversity proven to improve profitability and performance, it will also provide innovation, resilience and greater engagement with customers.


Most companies understand this; the challenge is how do we get there? The first step is knowing where you are starting from so you can measure where you are going. Collecting and publishing data – like we do with the annual board statistics – and monitoring progress against targets drives transparency, leadership accountability and tangible progress.


Targets, like POWERful Women’s 30% by 2030 for women in executive director roles, are valuable. But as Juliet Davenport, Founder of Good Energy, said at our launch, perhaps we should make diversity part of internal performance targets linked to bonuses too, then companies might get more serious about allocating time to it.


A focus on building the pipeline of women to senior roles is also vital and I was pleased to see this year’s statistics showing that women now make up nearly 30% of roles on UK energy executive committees and their direct reports.


We also want to see 40% of middle management roles in energy held by women by 2030 and, following our research with Bain & Company in April on the barriers women are facing mid-career, we are focusing on how companies can plug the diversity policy delivery gap and create more inclusive cultures to cultivate female talent. Asking tough questions and truly listening to what women need demonstrates good leadership.


Success in this space
I’m pleased to say that, while too few companies still meet the 30% target, there is a core of the largest employers who have made important public commitments to better their diversity and inclusion, and who share and learn good practice from each other. POWERful Women’s Energy Leaders’ Coalition – the heads of 16 companies and the regulators Ofgem and North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) – meet regularly to discuss what’s working and what isn’t, from fairer recruitment (like a ban on all-male shortlists) to effective development programmes and flexible working policies.


They and we recognise that without diversity of thought, skills and experience, we won't achieve a successful energy transition to net zero or a modern, secure and consumer-focused sector. I hope that all companies will examine their own data and think about what they can do to truly benefit from the widest pool of talent available. POWERful Women is here to help support the step change our industry needs.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author only and are not necessarily given or endorsed by or on behalf of the Energy Institute.