The need for diversity

A greener decade ahead means greater gender equality according to Joyce Lee

As we enter 2020, we leave behind a decade of successes and challenges in the clean energy transition.

In the first column, wind and solar energy now represent the lowest-cost option for power generation in markets where two-thirds of the global population live, according to BloombergNEF. Wind and other forms of renewable energy are on-track to generate around one-quarter of the world’s electricity by 2030, driven by national green deals and ambitious emission reduction targets from governments and corporates. The passage of the Paris Agreement represented a landmark moment in international co-operation on climate change, while grassroots campaigns for greater climate action have united students and citizens around the world.

The other column looks less rosy. While growth of global emissions has slowed down over the last decade, it continued to rise through 2019, according to the Global Carbon Project. Sea levels climbed steadily higher, as sea ice retreated. The release of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C was followed by a cascade of analysis which shows that a Paris-compliant pathway by 2030 will be out of reach if current patterns are maintained. The rates of change in energy demand, energy efficiency, electrification and decarbonisation are insufficient to reverse a course towards devastating climate change for many parts of the world. The raging bushfires that rang in 2020 in Australia are just one harbinger of the complex challenges to come.

Conditional optimism, then, as we look ahead. All told, expectations for renewable energy deployment have been smashed with remarkable speed and growth. Yet there is more urgency than ever to align political, financial, economic and social resources to create a greener world in the next ten years. A chief concern will be how to harness the skills and talent needed for this mission – and in so doing, make the global energy transition more gender-equitable.

A gender perspective of wind and renewable energy
The role of women in the energy sector should be highlighted for two main reasons: necessity and fairness. Women will be a transformative force in providing the labour and innovation required to upscale clean energy, supply skilled workforces in emerging markets and co-ordinate on international climate action. Meanwhile, the dividends of the energy transition – employment, capital, security, health and other social and economic benefits – should be distributed in an equitable way.

A 2019 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) showed that women represent around 32 per cent of the global renewable energy workforce. Respondents to a worldwide survey cited cultural and social norms and lack of gender-sensitive policies among the barriers to women’s participation in renewables.

A new report released in January 2020 by IRENA and the Women in Wind Global Leadership Program – jointly organised by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) and the Global Women’s Network for the Energy Transition (GWNET) – dives deeper into women’s representation in the wind sector, one of the fastest-growing renewable industries. Data from 71 countries shows that women represent only 21 per cent of the wind energy workforce – more or less on par with the share of women in the oil and gas industry.

Dissecting this data further finds that women in wind energy are generally more prevalent in administrative and non-STEM functions than in STEM and management roles. Notably, only eight per cent of senior management (owners or board members) in the wind sector were found to be women, according to the IRENA survey.

As in the global renewables sector, the majority of women working in wind energy perceive gender-related barriers from male-biased norms to prevailing hiring practices. Perception of a persistent gender pay gap is one of the key barriers to retention, as the largest wage inequities exist in executive roles. A whopping 54 per cent of female respondents believe that men are paid more than women for equivalent work in wind energy.

By 2050, IRENA forecasts the number of onshore and offshore wind energy jobs to rise from its current 1.16 million to more than six million. There are job opportunities for men and women across the wind energy value chain, including project management, manufacturing and a range of professional services like financing, legal advisory and IT. But workplaces and policies need to be designed to encourage inclusivity and neutrality, in order to enable greater access for women.

Paving the way for more women in wind energy
The data above tells a story of a clean energy workforce which is failing to deliver its full potential and leaving a vast pool of female skills and talent untapped. With rising emissions and urgent imperatives to scale up climate action, the wind and renewables sectors must do all they can to strengthen their appeal to attract and retain women.

There is no perfect formula for diversity, but helpful measures range from networking and mentoring opportunities to policies that encourage work-life balance and equal opportunities for professional development. Diversity initiatives must be monitored and reported as a priority to a company’s board and senior leadership. Women must be highlighted as thought leaders at internal and external events, in order to break unconscious biases and challenge existing gender norms.

A more sustainable world demands diverse and inclusive workforces. Ten years from now, as we tally wins and losses in the fight against climate change, the gender-inclusivity of our global efforts will not only be an item to highlight – it will determine how much we have achieved.

Joyce Lee is Policy and Operations Director at the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC). The Women in Wind Global Leadership Program was launched in 2019 by GWEC and Global Women’s Network for the Energy Transition (GWNET). Its mission is to advance the role of women as agents of change in the global energy transition, in line with SDGs 5 and 7, and contribute to a more just, innovative and prosperous society. As a multidimensional program including mentorship, learning and development, exclusive webinars, a study tour and an online storytelling campaign, Women in Wind is designed to accelerate the careers of women in wind power and foster a global network of knowledge-sharing, inclusion and empowerment.
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