POWERful Women: Understanding the business case for diversity in energy

Ruth Cairnie's picture
Ruth Cairnie, Chair, POWERful Women
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Back in 2015 the paper ‘Igniting Change – Building the pipeline of female leaders in energy’ highlighted that only 5% of executive board seats within the top UK-based energy companies are held by women.

In an effort to diversify the industry, the POWERful Women Initiative has set the target of 40% of middle management and 30% of executive board positions to be female by 2030. To hear more about this incredible next step for the industry, Gastech Insights spoke to POWERful Women Chair, Ruth Cairnie.

Gastech Insights: Having held a senior position at Royal Dutch Shell, how has the energy industry changed in terms of diversity inclusion in the last decade?

Ruth Cairnie: It’s a mixed picture. Some companies have been working hard for many years to improve gender diversity and are making positive progress - although there is more to do.  At Shell, for example, women are now represented strongly at board level, making up 42% of director roles and 50% of executive director positions. But in its gender pay gap report the company acknowledges it still has challenges with female representation at senior levels,  with less than a quarter of people in their upper pay quartile being female.

Overall, across the UK energy sector, the situation is poor and progress is slow.  The latest statistics reveal a serious absence of women at the top, occupying only 13% of board positions. This is lower than the FTSE 350 across all sectors, at 28%.  And women still hold only 6% of executive board positions, with no meaningful change since 2015. The situation is effectively frozen in time.  

With half of the top 80 energy company boards having no women on them at all, it seems that many industry leaders do not yet understand the business case for diversity.

Gastech Insights: With all industries looking to evolve with the times, are there any recent developments that stand out when looking at closing the gender gap and opening up new pathways and perspectives in the energy industry?

Ruth Cairnie: Where sectors and companies are making more progress, the starting point is always leadership and commitment. When top leaders are clear on the importance they attach to improving gender balance and inclusion, make clear commitments and track progress, things start to happen.  A systemic approach is essential, addressing inclusion and culture, alongside ensuring that processes and policies support women through the pipeline.

POWERful Women has just launched the Energy Leaders’ Coalition which is eight top industry executives coming together to find ways to accelerate progress.  We are very excited about this initiative. The members are already strongly committed but recognise they have more to learn. By showing what good looks like and demonstrating the benefits to the business bottom line, they can set examples for other leaders to follow. 

Gastech Insights: You are currently on the POWERful Women board as Industry Chair. Could you tell us more about the initiative and your aims?

Ruth Cairnie: POWERful Women was established to advance gender diversity in the energy sector. Our aim is to be a catalyst to drive more progress faster, towards our goals of 30% executive board roles and 40% of middle management roles being filled by women by 2030. 

We work in three ways:  campaigning and reporting, such as publishing statistics and asking companies to make pledges (we believe that what gets measured gets managed); supporting women in their careers, such as through our mentoring scheme and networking events; and providing practical support, such as evidence, toolkits and tips. 

We see better diversity – of all kinds – as critical to the future success of the UK's energy sector as it undergoes major transition and transformation. The evidence is strong that those organisations with diverse boards will perform better. 

Gastech Insights: Do you have any motivational advice you can offer aspirational women wanting to join a predominately male-dominated industry?

Ruth Cairnie: Building on excellent advice offered to at our recent inaugural annual conference, held in collaboration with BEIS, I would say there are three key things. Firstly, have a career plan and be purposeful in implementing it, looking for and seizing opportunities; secondly, find and use a mentor and/or a sponsor; and, thirdly, build up your technical and digital knowledge - even a little helps distinguish you.

Gastech Insights: Why are events that promote and support diversity in energy so important to the industry?

Ruth Cairnie: There is a long way to go before it is just normal to have women in the top roles in our sector. Change won’t happen of its own accord; we need to keep up the focus and raise awareness, and events are an important way to do this.  And let’s get more women on event panels too!

To find out more about POWERful Women, take a look at their website here >> http://powerfulwomen.org.uk/

If you would like to hear more on diversity, register to attend Gastech 2018 taking place on 17-20th September. Do not miss out on the incredible 4-day event!