“By Brookings Institution’s count, the renewable power generation business is even less diverse than the fossil-fuel production industry, with women accounting for 13% of the U.S. workforce,” Bloomberg reports.
That’s already a low bar to fall beneath. I was interviewed for a CNBC story reporting that “15% of the oil and gas workforce is female.”
The lack of progress on this front is what led me to leave a career as an executive inside oil giants in Houston. I launched Pink Petro, an organization devoted to solving this problem, and Experience Energy, the ultimate jobs site helping people of all backgrounds find work in the sector.
As I explained in an interview, “There’s a perfect storm: a generational, gender, and reputation gap.” Previous generations didn’t do enough to address the lack of women in energy. Now, there’s a great deal of talk about achieving gender equality, but still not enough action.
The poor metrics also create a vicious cycle: many talented young people of diverse backgrounds, including women, don’t see the industry as welcoming. So the pipeline for our most important resource — qualified and capable workers — has been running dry.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Earlier this year, I was asked to speak at a Congressional hearing on “Clean Energy Infrastructure and the Workforce to Build It.” While the focus of this hearing was about “green jobs,” I also discussed jobs in oil and gas. After all, oil and gas companies are bridging into renewable energies and investing in them. Greater diversity and gender equality in the industry will speed up innovation and help battle climate change.
In my testimony, I discussed three crucial steps that businesses and professional organizations across the energy sector should take.
Make it desirable
First, we must showcase the industry as an exciting space for people of all backgrounds to join. Energy leaders should showcase how fulfilling this work can be. After all, energy underpins everything people do. There’s a strong correlation between human development and energy consumption, as the U.N. Development Program notes.
To attract women to the sector, we should also highlight the stories of women who have succeeded in the field. That’s why, for example, at our annual HERWorld Energy Forum, a global event, we hear from a vast array of women in the industry. They discuss the most pressing topics facing the industry and their own stories of succeeding.
The good news is that companies are starting to take action. When I launched Experience Energy, I found support from big energy companies like Halliburton (which was first to post its jobs on the site). Chevron recently posted about its “Welcome Back program” to help bring back people who dropped out of the sector — a description that often applies to women.
Create a skills pipeline
To have the greatest possible field of candidates for all sorts of jobs in energy, we need to make sure young people are learning the right skills. That’s why I encourage much more robust programs for women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). And these should not only been in universities. We need more in high schools and even elementary schools — to get girls like my daughter, and boys as well, interested early on.
We also need to expand the kinds of skills that kids are exposed to. For example, jobs in welding go unfilled because young people haven’t been learning this. Unfortunately, these and other technical jobs are often perceived as being lower status, so many kids are dissuaded from going in that direction. In reality, though, these jobs can produce very well paying careers.
The more we highlight the plethora of skills that energy companies need, the more diversity we’ll see.
Working together as a community
Finally, energy companies should come together to work on this as one — all energy companies. It’s a challenge we’re all facing, and we won’t be able to fix it one company at a time.
This is also why I encourage the entire sector, including oil and gas companies, to embrace climate activists like the young Greta Thunberg. People in renewable energies and, despite stereotypes, inside fossil fuel companies recognize that climate change is real. They want to tackle it. Let’s welcome these folks in and work together.
After all, the more energy leaders join together to modernize, diversify and bring gender equality to our industry, the more we all stand to gain.