At a recent conference in the Saudi coastal city of Dhahran, I was heartened to see both women and men in the audience and thought: this is what the future of energy needs to look more like.
As things stand, there are simply not enough women in the sector. Worldwide, we make up only about 22 per cent of the oil and gas industry. The higher in the ranks you look, the lower those numbers fall. Arab nations, especially, have some way to go. The American thinktank Atlantic Council found the percentage lower in these countries than the global average.
I have long been proud of the energy sector’s work. But the climate crisis makes clear that both men and women must produce energy in new ways. It will take bold leadership to bridge us into a sustainable era, in which oil and gas companies move more of their operations into renewable energy. We must make sure women play an equal role in that.
All talented, creative people who can innovate, collaborate, who are capable of good ideas and have leadership abilities must be summoned and their skills tapped into – which means women as well as men who can contribute to this end.
As the US Agency for International Development wrote in a report, “Integrating women into all levels of the energy value chain will lead to more effective and efficient clean energy initiatives, unleash greater return on investments and expand emission reduction opportunities.”
There is however some good news. Women around the world, including in Arab Gulf nations, are overcoming cultural challenges that make it tougher to enter the energy field. But there is a long way to go.
In 2016, more than 20 oil and gas companies at the World Economic Forum issued a joint call to action to end the gender gap. To which end, lots can be done to integrate women into the sector.
Rather than paying lip service to diversity, corporations do better when they offer numeric goals, such as “by 2025, our workforce will be 30 per cent women and our managerial ranks will be at least 25 per cent women; by 2030, both those figures will be at 40 per cent.” Leaders then become accountable to stakeholders.
Companies should report the specific steps take in recruiting and promoting gender diversity. A simple process like updates sought multiple times a year will help quantify progress towards the diversity metrics. This goes a long way to ensure the goal of more women at work and if efforts are falling short, annual reports should include an honest look at where and why.
Another important way to develop and enhance workplace skills of men and women is through guidance, mentorship and one-on-one experiences with employees who have expertise.
Traditionally, men have benefited from social relationships with male leaders at work with women too often left out. In order to create a level playing field, women need to be coached and mentored too and corporations should take that responsibility and develop programs that support women. Group mentoring circles can be helpful for women to share their experiences and ideas with each other.
Tackling this problem of gender imbalance and inadequate women in the energy sector requires not just short-term actions but a generational view. To build a future for gender equality and diversity, and for the sake of a talent pipeline, energy companies should invest in Stem programs for girls as well as boys. It is important starting from the earliest school years that girls and boys are both taught engineering and data science. Children must be introduced to the idea that there are a variety of jobs in the energy sector that are inclusive to both genders.
We must make sure that girls are not discouraged from pursuing math and science studies. Girls must learn that they are perfectly capable of physical work – in mines, oil fields and so on. When they grow up viewing this work as an option, they will be more likely to pursue careers in the field.
I also believe companies should tap into – rather than run away from – the passion of young climate activists like Greta Thunberg. Energy companies, including those focused primarily on fossil fuels, should meet with and hire such activists. Harnessing their energy and inviting them to help lead the transition into renewables will be a big draw in attracting talent and setting an example of career possibilities.
Attracting young women and men to oil and gas companies will build a better world and boost bottom lines. A Credit Suisse study found that companies with more women leaders have “higher returns on equity, while running more conservative balance sheets.”
If ever there was a reason for men and women to work together to tackle the energy challenge that could be it.
Katie Mehnert is founder and CEO of Pink Petro, and author of Grow With the Flow: Embrace Difference, Overcome Fear, and Progress with Purpose