19 Aug ‘Is the Energy Transition the time for women to shine?’
POWERful Connections Breakfast with Colette Cohen OBE
In July, we were delighted to host another of our popular POWERful Connections Breakfasts with PfW Ambassador and Mentor Colette Cohen OBE, Chief Executive of the Net Zero Technology Centre (formerly OGTC).
This blog is a based on the conversation at the Breakfast, the advice and insights Colette shared from her own career experience and the questions raised by the group.
It was a pleasure to meet and engage with eight aspiring – and inspiring – women from energy at a recent POWERful Connections mentoring breakfast. From economists to geologists, these women were at critical points in their professional and personal lives and seeking guidance on next steps in their careers, at what is also a pivotal moment for our sector as it undergoes a green transformation.
Massive opportunities are presented by the energy transition, not least a predicted increase in global energy jobs from 11 million to 42 million. As we sit at the cusp of this growth and start to bring in a whole new generation of people – engineers, scientists, economists, commercial and HR specialists, etc – this is our chance to ensure we have the diversity of skills and perspectives that will ensure success. That means more women, as well as other under-represented groups. As the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal no.5 sets out, gender equality underpins a green and just transition.
We are not delivering on diversity
The energy sector is failing to make fast enough progress on gender diversity, equality and inclusion. We need to change our approach to be much more intentional.
In the COVID-19 pandemic, 54% of those impacted globally by loss of work were women, when we only make up 39% of the workforce. Changes to the way we work – such as more flexible working and better approaches to parental care – can make a big difference to female progression but we need an evolution in attitudes and behaviours at the top, which will only happen when we get more women into senior roles.
A spotlight on diversity data
We also need to hold organisations to account when it comes to their performance. Let’s shine a spotlight on the number of women on the board, on executive committees and in the leadership pipeline. In oil and gas, we have a 30% entry rate for women but only 10% make it to the C-suite – in other words, men come in at 70% and end up at 90% at the top.
Some practical actions companies can take
So there are clearly barriers that need addressing. But there are also effective ways to overcome them.
- Greater clarity in the language that advertises roles – this can prevent women being discouraged from applying
- Diverse selection panels for all jobs as a requirement. I have seen how this leads to different and better conversations about candidates when they leave the room.
- A better approach to personal development training.What has made someone a super successful engineer isn’t going to make them a super-successful executive – people need different tools in their toolbox for leadership.
- And a better approach to mentoring programmes, where female role models act as champions to ‘pull’ aspiring women into the right roles using their network. We know that women are less likely to seek out mentors than men – when our technology centre ran a mentoring programme the number of men applying was virtually 10 to 1 vs the women.
- Targets for monitoring and delivering visible change in an organisation are required – what we measure we deliver. I used to be suspicious of quotas but now I’m a convert, as we have failed to deliver the change we need without them so far. In this new emerging energy sector is it even more important that we set expectations and targets to ensure we deliver diverse teams.
- We also need to change our approach to investment in the energy sector and start backing a lot more female-led companies if we are to make a real difference. We need to see the change throughout our supply chain.
How to become more intentional in your career development – three steps
So what can you do for yourself? I believe the key for anyone aspiring to new and higher roles is to be intentional in how you plan and control your journey. And this intent is even more important for women than men.
- Owning your career
Be clear on what you want and why. Early in my career, I went on a course on supervisory skills and was asked to align my personal goals with my career goals over the coming years. For the first time, my partner and I thought about work in relation to the lifestyle and personal growth we wanted (what house, car, holiday, learning a language, etc). It ensured that the job we did was complimentary to the life we wanted to lead, from location to hours. The introduction of that annual conversation changed our lives and helped focus our energies at work and play on the things that mattered most to us. It also allowed us to plan how we wanted our careers to evolve over time.
So planning is important, and then so is acting on it. I have always done my research for my next move and actively sought out the types of roles I wanted. A very busy recruitment manager at bp told me that the more specific I could be, the more likely I was to get the next role. He jokingly said: “if you can tell me which office you want … it would really help” – the best piece of career advice I ever received!
It’s true that pitching for a job can be daunting, but the best thing is to put yourself in their shoes. What are their challenges and what do they need from the person in that role? Find out what’s important to them, rather than what’s important to you, and then show the impact you’ll bring and how you can help them.
- Leveraging your network
Next, proactively seek out a mentor who will use their network and knowledge to connect you with people and ‘pull’ you into the roles they know you want. True mentoring helps you develop a career plan, it’s not a nice cup of coffee. You need to know who makes the decision on who gets that job. Then work with your mentor and your network, get to know the decision-makers and ensure they know about you and why you’d be a great fit.
I was asked at the breakfast if women are over-mentored and under-sponsored, which is an interesting dynamic. And perhaps true, as we don’t need fixing but we do need to be more intentional about our aspirations.
- Moving on to new challenges
And don’t limit your network to your own company. Learn from others in different industries and different companies. So attend events and meet new people. When it comes to applying for roles outside your company or even sector, building an external network is key.
Networking in the time of Covid is obviously a challenge. Some of the social networking elements of online conferences and speed dating type platforms can be great. But it can still be hard to connect with the people you want to connect to. So, if you’ve identified someone useful to your career, find out who in your network knows them and just ask to be introduced. People generally like to help. Six degrees of separation is a real thing!
When you’ve identified an organisation or a role, research who is at the top and who is doing the recruiting and understand what the company’s core values and messages are. Use that information as you do your interviews or connect with the team in the company.
If you are interested in board roles, do your research and identify the companies you want to work with. Also understand what you could bring to the board, to the discussion and to their stated goals and aspirations. It’s important that the board reflects your own values – for me, it’s a commitment to the net zero transition and to diversity and inclusion, so I’m interested in companies on that journey.
In the early stages of your career, when you have less of a track record, getting onto the boards of local charities, for example, can provide fantastic experience.
Your future is here
The energy transition is offering incredibly exciting career opportunities. Not just in renewables but within the large incumbent oil and gas companies who have a passion for the net zero transition and within the new emerging companies that will be hiring. You can make a real difference helping an existing company change or a new company grow.
If you are thinking about a career move, then look at your own skills base, what’s relevant and what’s transferable. But also ask yourself what you really enjoy doing. It’s an opportunity to reinvent yourself and focus on what makes you happy.
The energy transition really is the time for women to shine.
Colette’s recommended reads and listens:
- Women in Sustainable Energy – Global Women’s Network for the Energy Transition,
- This is How Women Can Power the Green Transition – World Economic Forum
- The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels – Michael D Watkins (essential for anyone preparing for an interview or for the first few months in the job)
- Start With Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action – Simon Sinek
- Outrage + Optimism podcasts – hosted by Christiana Figureres (interesting on the just transition)
- Any TED talk– just to expand your mind and inspire you!
Colette Cohen OBE is Chief Executive of the Net Zero Technology Centre (formerly OGTC), an organisation committed to the research and development of technology to accelerate the oil and gas industry’s transition to an affordable net zero future. She has worked in the industry for more than 25 years, both in the UK and internationally for BP, ConocoPhillips & Centrica E&P, is Chair of the National Composites Centre, sits on the boards of OPITO, NORECO and DeepOcean, and is a Just Transition Commissioner for Scotland.
Stay tuned for our next POWERful Connections Breakfast, taking place in December. If you are interested in becoming a mentor or being mentored, find out more about our POWERful Connections programme here.