Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Toward a Gender Diverse Workforce in the Renewable Energy Transition

Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Toward a Gender Diverse Workforce in the Renewable Energy Transition

Article excerpt

Introduction

Contemporary energy systems are in transition from predominantly fossil fuel-based infrastructures to more sustainable renewables-based systems. As this process continues, it is critical to consider that throughout the world women are less involved in the energy workforce and in energy-decision making than men. A gender imbalance within the energy sector is apparent to many observers, yet the role of women in the energy workforce is not being systematically characterized. Diversity and inclusion are critical in the renewable energy transition. If intentional consideration of gender diversity is not prioritized, the changes have potential to perpetuate and deepen, rather than reduce, gender inequality. Greater understanding of the gender gap in energy-related industries, as well as more widespread acknowledgement of the positive potential of gender diversity in this sector, would likely promote more sustainable energy practices, accelerate energy innovation, expand opportunities for women, and encourage greater social engagement in energy-system change.

In this Community Essay, we review what is known about the level and nature of women's participation in the energy workforce and highlight knowledge gaps. We also describe a broad range of potential benefits of gender diversity and conclude by highlighting the value of inclusivity and call for systematic data collection on and analysis of the energy workforce to support efforts to reduce the gender gap.

Gender diversity refers to the representation of women and men in a specific organization, sector, or community (Herring, 2009). While assessments of gender diversity, or gender balance, are designed to consider both women and men, we concentrate here on the role of women in the energy workforce and the potential for women's advancement despite persistent inequalities. Gender inequalities are apparent in many major business sectors, but industry analysis suggests that they are particularly acute within the energy sector (Ernst & Young, 2015; Herring, 2009; PWC, 2015).

Knowledge Gaps on Women's Participation in the Energy Workforce

Limited information about the level and nature of women's employment in the energy workforce presents a challenge to exploring the relationship between gender diversity in relevant industries involved in the renewable energy transition (Baruah, 2015). One recent assessment of gender-workforce imbalances suggests a larger gap in the energy sector than other major industries (Ernst & Young, 2015). Within energy organizations, gender diversity is found to be most advanced in consumer services and consumer goods, while power and utility entities are less gender diverse, and infrastructure entities lag the farthest (Ernst & Young, 2015). The energy industry has the lowest representation of women on boards of directors in the United States and a 2012 study of Russell 3000 companies headquartered in the United States found that 61% of energy companies in the country have no female representation on their board of directors (GMI Ratings, 2012). Only 20% of oil and gas extraction employees were women in the United States in 2013. The corresponding rate was 27% in Canada in 2006 while women's employment in coal mining was about 9% in the United States in 2013 and 12% in Canada in 2006 (Catalyst, 2012).

Women's employment rates in wind, solar, wave, and other renewable energies are generally estimated to be slightly higher than in the fossil and nuclear industries. A recent study prepared for the International Renewable Energy Association (IRENA) reported 33% female employment in the renewable workforce worldwide (Lallement, 2013). For industrialized countries, female employment in this sector is estimated to be 20-25%, mostly in administrative and public relations positions (IRENA, 2013). In the United States, women's employment in solar jobs rose from 18.7% to 21.6% between 2013 and 2014 (IRENA, 2015). …

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