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Empowering the future: attracting women into STEM for a diverse and sustainable tomorrow

7/2/2024

4 min read

Head and shoulders photo of Lauren Neal, Founder of consultancy Valued At Work Photo: L Neal
Lauren Neal, Founder of consultancy Valued At Work

Photo: L Neal

In the rapidly advancing landscape of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), the gender imbalance remains a persistent challenge. While strides have been made in recent years, women are still under-recognised in these fields, particularly in industries such as energy. Focusing on attracting and retaining women in STEM, particularly in roles related to renewable energy and decarbonisation, is not just a matter of equal opportunity; it’s a crucial step towards building a more diverse, innovative and sustainable future, writes energy industry veteran Lauren Neal, engineer and founder of consultancy Valued At Work.*

Historically, STEM fields have been dominated by men, creating a noticeable gender gap. According to Boston Consulting Group’s Untapped Reserves 3.0 report, women account for only 24% of the workforce in the energy sector. This gap becomes even more pronounced for women in technical and operational roles, where they represent 15% at mid-career and a mere 10% at executive level.

 

Breaking stereotypes
To attract more women into STEM, we must challenge stereotypes that persist from an early age. Encouraging girls to pursue interests in science and mathematics is crucial. Initiatives at the educational level, such as mentorship programmes, workshops and exposure to female role models in STEM can help promote gender acceptability in unbalanced industries.

 

Creating an inclusive environment within STEM education is essential. Educational institutions and programmes should actively work to highlight but also dismantle barriers that women may face in pursuing careers in STEM. This includes addressing unconscious biases, ensuring equitable opportunities, promoting inclusive workplace cultures and fostering a supportive community of allies and advocates.

 

Highlighting the achievements of women who have excelled in STEM fields can serve as inspiration for the next generation. Stories of successful women in renewable energy and decarbonisation breaking ground and making significant contributions can showcase diverse role models, making STEM careers more appealing and accessible to young women, or even those considering a career change in later life.

 

Direct connections are also possible. The energy sector, particularly in the realm of renewables and decarbonisation, can actively collaborate with educational institutions to provide mentorship programmes. Establishing connections between students and professionals in the field can offer valuable insights, guidance and encouragement, helping to bridge the gap between academic learning and practical application.

 

The benefits of diversity
There are clear benefits of creating an inclusive workplace with a diverse workforce. 

  • Innovation and creativity: Diverse teams bring a variety of perspectives and experiences, fostering innovation and creativity. In the fast-evolving field of renewable energy, where innovative solutions are crucial, diverse teams are better equipped to tackle complex challenges.
  • Enhanced problem-solving: Diverse teams tend to have better problem-solving capabilities. Women in STEM can contribute unique viewpoints, leading to more comprehensive and effective solutions in the energy sector’s transition to sustainability.
  • Reflecting user diversity: Creating technologies and solutions for a global population requires understanding the diverse needs and perspectives of users. A workforce that reflects this diversity is better positioned to develop inclusive and accessible innovations.
  • Increased productivity: Research indicates that diverse teams are more productive. Companies that actively promote diversity and inclusion often see improvements in employee engagement, satisfaction and overall productivity.
  • Economic impact: Empowering women in STEM has broader economic implications. A more diverse and skilled workforce can contribute significantly to economic growth, particularly in industries driving the transition to sustainable energy.

 

Best practice
Organisations are already taking steps to address the gender imbalance in STEM, especially in the energy sector. Initiatives include:

  • Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programmes prioritise diversity and inclusion, creating an environment where everyone feels valued and supported.
  • Flexible work policies can help address challenges women often face in balancing work and family responsibilities, making STEM careers more accessible and sustainable.
  • Targeted recruitment efforts that attract women into STEM roles, including partnerships with educational institutions, can help diversify talent pipelines.
  • Leadership development programmes that specifically tailor development for women in STEM can nurture and empower future leaders in the industry.

 

Attracting more women into STEM, particularly in the renewable energy and decarbonisation sectors, is not just a matter of social justice; it is a strategic imperative for a sustainable and resilient future. The energy industry, at the forefront of global challenges such as climate change, needs diverse perspectives and the best talent to drive innovation and effect meaningful change – beyond the boundaries of demographics.

 

By dismantling barriers, fostering inclusivity, and actively promoting diversity, we pave the way for a future where women play a central role in shaping the landscape of STEM industries and steering the world towards a more sustainable and equitable future.

 

*Valued At Work is also the name of Lauren Neal’s recently published book.

 

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.

 

Find out more about creating the diverse talent required for the energy transition – visit POWERful Women (PfW), a professional body for which the EI acts as the Secretariat, that is working with business leaders, diversity and inclusion experts, government, regulators and aspiring women to creating a gender-balanced, diverse and inclusive UK energy sector.