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New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

Is our energy industry workplace inclusive?


4 min read

Head and shoulders photo of Damian Dowling Photo: D Dowling
Damian Dowling, BD (Energy Flexibility) Manager at Enel X, an Ambassador for the TIDE (Tackling Inclusion and Diversity in Energy) taskforce, and member of the Pride in Energy committee

Photo: D Dowling

National Inclusion Week (25 Sept–1 Oct) is fast approaching – a week dedicated to creating inclusive workplaces. So, armed with the latest Pride in Energy survey results, Damian Dowling, BD (Energy Flexibility) Manager at Enel X, asks us to question whether our energy industry workplace is inclusive.

Sitting on both the Pride in Energy committee and the Tackling Inclusion and Diversity in Energy (TIDE) taskforce, with 16 years’ energy industry experience and a background in science and psychology, I would like to frame the titular question through an equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) lens.


First, the Pride in Energy network was created in response to a need for UK organisations to address LGBTQI+ issues within the energy industry. Despite this sector representing 619,000 jobs it has fallen behind other equivalent sectors in key indices such as the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.


In the same geographical region, across all workplaces, a BBC survey in 2017 found that half of British women and a fifth of men have been sexually harassed at work or a place of study. Looking closer, 63% of the women said they didn't report it to anyone, and 79% of the men kept it to themselves. We may think that this was 2017 but instead of improving with time, we find that there is much work to do.


Looking at Pride in Energy’s 2022 survey results, we found that 14% of respondents have witnessed or experienced discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation – an increase from 10% in 2021. To ‘discriminate’ (from the Latin ‘discriminare’) – a verb that concentrates on ‘difference’, on ‘sorting out’, and that’s really what our brain is doing when we discriminate – we’re building a bias that will allow us to sort the information our senses receive.


In context, our brain can receive 11 million bits of data per second, but our conscious minds can only process 50 bits. Hence, it becomes easy to understand why our brain needs to build shortcuts, but what’s important to realise is that those shortcuts are autopiloted through our unconscious mind. It’s when that autopilot starts to encompass groups of people that we find our workplace stagnates and becomes much less inclusive.


In fact, our third Pride in Energy survey (2023) revealed a series of red flags for employers in the UK energy sector:

  • Only 21% rate the sector as a whole, highly for inclusion.
  • 24% have no visible senior role models or allies at work.


While individual respondents highlighted how this bias manifests in their day-to-day:

  • ‘A perception from senior leadership that field employees and engineers ("the guys in the field") would react negatively to a Pride campaign.’
  • ‘The energy industry can feel like an all men’s “mates club” sometimes, with the same people (usually white men) put up for all the opportunities.’


This highlights the need for collaboration, because a large part of the autopilot battle is visibility – bias can be successfully challenged when communication is prioritised.


One such concern that was raised in our survey is the difficulty of working in an international industry with operations in places where LGBTQI+ rights aren’t protected. This is a concern for individuals who may feel that raising such a concern could restrict their professional development. It is important to understand that even something as simple as a flight stopover in certain countries can be a criminal offence for matters such as medication and identity.


However, educational initiatives and opening channels to share concerns can make a huge difference.


One such concern that was raised in our survey, is the difficulty of working in an international industry with operations in places where LGBTQI+ rights aren’t protected.


A further point from our 2022 survey is the observable disparity between individuals’ perceptions of their own companies, 90% considering their employers provide an inclusive environment compared to just 57% thinking the same of the wider sector. Not only does this impact career mobility, but it may hint at the need for greater broadcasting outside of your company walls.


As a call to action, the TIDE taskforce will be discussing the importance of employee networks throughout November. The goal is to bring together network leaders in order to strengthen EDI as a whole within our industry. Alongside this positive initiative there was some great news in Pride in Energy’s 2023 survey:

  • 63% of respondents said there is an LGBTQI+ network in their company.
  • 76% do have visible LGBTQI+ people or allies in their senior teams or management.


I’m sure we all agree that it’s important to finish on a mental health note. We’re working with companies to make everyone visible – to make sure that we’re all accepted as our genuine selves.


This isn’t instant and, even in a busy workplace, we know that you may still feel alone. Someone once wrote that: ‘Worries are the only things you can make heavier simply by thinking about them.’ So, please do reach out if there are concerns – apart from being included in a growing community, there are a number of confidential resources we can share.


For true EDI, we must have intersectionality – inclusion for all groups – so that no one feels left out. When we stop expending energy hiding parts of ourselves, we can bring all of our focus to accelerating the energy transition. 


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.