Female representation at the top of the energy sector: energy leaders Q&A

Female representation at the top of the energy sector: energy leaders Q&A


In June this year we published our ‘Annual State of the Nation’ on gender diversity at the top of the UK energy sector.  

The data, compiled with PwC, revealed that women occupy only 15% of executive director and 29% of the leadership pipeline. Almost a quarter of companies still have all-male boards and three-quarters have no female executive directors.  The full sets of stats, including a table of companies’ data, can be found here.




In this follow-up piece, we have asked a selection of energy leaders – some of whom spoke at our State of the Nation launch – why representation of women at the top remains so poor, and what priority action we should take to speed up progress.


  1. What was your immediate reaction when you saw this year’s statistics from PfW and PwC? 


Katie Jackson, Chair of PfW and Exec VP at Shell: I was shocked both at the overall low representation, especially in terms of executive directors, and even more so by the glacial pace of change. It is also depressing to see our sector lagging the FTSE250 on board representation. 


Sinead Murray, General Counsel, Ofgem: It good to see some positive progress since last year on some targets but I was shocked to see that for many companies there are still no female board members or executive directors. This is 50% of the population that is not represented on these boards. It is clear the energy sector still has a long way to go and we have to do better as an industry, especially if we are to meet the PfW targets for the sector. 


Rubina Singh, Head of Ideation Delivery at British Gas and PfW Board Member: It is disheartening to see that this year we went backwards on a key statistic – only 14% of companies achieved PfW’s target of 30% women in executive board positions this year compared to 19% in 2021. We cannot afford to leave out the large pool of female talent. We know that a diverse workforce is critical to representing the consumers that we serve, for improving business performance and increasing innovation for driving the energy transformation.


Duncan Clark, Head of Region, Ørsted UK, and member of PfW’s Energy Leaders’ Coalition: This year’s statistics show there is still a great deal to do, especially in executive director roles, and that overall progress in the year to Spring 2022 has been disappointingly slow.  It also stands out that this challenge is more acute in in certain sub-sectors of energy.   


Nick Wayth, CEO of the Energy Institute and PfW Board Member:  Whilst we should celebrate progress, the simple truth is that we are not moving fast enough on gender diversity in the energy sector.  We need to drive a step change in progress if we are serious. It is very disappointing that more than 20% of companies still have no female Board representation.


Juliet Davenport, Founder of Good Energy:  My reaction was that there has been slow progress, and it would be good to have a view of the some of the other trends in the industry related to gender.  There has been significant work across the board and the industry has taken it very seriously and upped their efforts in the last three years. 


Elisabeth Hunt, Partner, PwC UK: Work still needs to be done and further support is clearly needed to tackle the numerous challenges the sector is facing.


  1. Why do you think that progress remains so slow and there is still under-representation at all levels? 


JD: I think the industry needs more visibility as a good employer, and an interesting career choice.  You don’t have to wear a hard hat to be part of the transformation of energy. 


SM: There are a variety of factors. Firstly, D&I often falls down the priority list – it needs to be a business priority. In particular, we need to proactively engage and focus much more effort on developing the diversity of our talent pipeline.  Secondly, unconscious or not, we need to ensure we are not recruiting people in our own image or who think the same. A diverse board or ExCo is more effective.  Finally, there are problems with under-representation in the STEM pipeline and I am not sure women see the energy sector as a place for them – which means we are not promoting it well enough.


KJ: As an industry we have a problem attracting talent in general, which is concerning given how central energy and the energy transition is to our economy and standard of living. We struggle even more to attract and hold onto diverse talent, despite having had visible senior commitment and policies in place for many years. I think we have to take an honest look at the culture within the industry and whether we can improve this. Stronger leadership commitment and more visible role models are also important steps.


RS: Progress remains slow for three main reasons.  We aren’t being ambitious enough in setting targets for improving diversity – should we be striving for anything short of gender parity across all levels? Secondly, the large and important segment of middle management, where a lot of the senior talent pipeline will come from, has been largely under-served until now. Thirdly, our recent study shows that while D&I policies and initiatives are in place, there is a delivery gap inhibiting us from achieving the positive impact we need to make. 


EH: Unfortunately this is one of many pressing challenges that companies have to face both in this sector and in others. The key is ensuring that there is the right support at the outset for women to join and then providing support as their careers progress. For those that choose to have children there is still quite a large proportion that then often choose not to return to work or on a part time basis. Unfortunately Covid hasn’t helped where universally we saw a drop in women in employment often having to juggle the challenges of childcare alongside a career. This year, PwC’s Women in Work Index fell for the first time in its 10 year history. After a decade of slow but steady improvement in women’s employment outcomes, the COVID-19 pandemic set back progress towards gender equality in work by at least two years across OECD countries. This was due to higher female unemployment and a greater proportion of women than men leaving the labour market during the pandemic.


DC: Each company has its own particular set of factors, but we also see common themes.  One of these is a long-standing under-representation in major job types that are key to the sector, such as many technical and field-based roles, starting at early career levels and feeding through over time to the most senior positions.  This makes clear the importance of doing better at encouraging more women to join the energy sector, and then developing, inspiring and retaining them.


NW: There is still a large gap in creating the enabling environment for both those women already in the sector to develop and be promoted and for attracting new female talent to the sector. We need to see far more senior female role models and male allies to break the status quo.


  1. What do we focus on as a priority over the next year in order to address this? What’s next?


KJ: First, let’s keep the diverse talent we have – the new post-pandemic flexibility around ways of working is a great opportunity to encourage everyone, men as well as women, to take up policies on offer to those with young families, which is often the point at which women leave our industry. Second, we need continued leadership commitment, creating a more supportive culture, promoting diversity and ensuring visible role models of women progressing and succeeding in senior roles. 


EH: In addressing the current recruitment and retention issues, companies should look to see if they can think differently and innovate in how they fill roles and create pipeline of talent in their organisations. For example engaging early with the community locally and with university programmes to generate interest early on. Supporting women to access the opportunities through the application process and providing the right level of coaching and support. 


NW: We need to drive a step change in the culture that still pervades the energy sector. We need strong leadership from everyone, but particularly those at the very top to role model the values and behaviours required to make a difference on all forms of diversity, each and every day. We should view this effort as not only the right thing to do, but critical to delivering a net zero future.


JD: For me the focus has to be on middle management and senior leadership pipeline to really support this and show what an attractive career path this is for a woman.  And I would also like to see more effort going into STEM subjects and their connection to the energy sector.  We need to compete for what will be a scare resource in the future.


SM: Organisations can start by setting themselves challenging, evidenced targets based on good data – the new TIDE industry taskforce will be focusing on this. We should also think about how we brand ourselves as inclusive employers in the energy sector. The net zero challenge is a great opportunity to look at how we recruit and retain diverse talent by attracting people to innovative areas and creating exciting career pathways.


RS: We need to strive for a remarkable change in female representation at senior levels and not just incremental change.  This will help highlight relatable female role models, which our recent study shows will address one of the key barriers that women told us they are facing. Secondly, in addition to targets, policies and initiatives, we absolutely need to drive cultural change to embed diversity and true inclusion. Finally, the role of line managers in women’s retention and progress is essential. For this we need to empower management at all levels to ask the right questions and shift from hunting talent to cultivating diverse female talent.


DC: As well as bespoke responses to tackle specific challenges in individual companies, the Energy Leaders’ Coalition has chosen two specific areas for collective focus this year.  Firstly, the mid-career stage where despite generally improving company policies (for example, around parenting, caring and flexible working), the reported experiences of women in middle management is that the policy implementation is not effective enough.   Secondly, a joint campaign to showcase our sector to those at career entry level – such as late stage secondary and tertiary education – as fantastically exciting and diverse, where you can be at the centre of an incredibly important global mission that is transformational for our societies and our planet, and with superb personal growth prospects over the coming decades.  We need to help get that message out to the talent that our industry needs in order to deliver on its ambition to transform the sector.  


A big thank you to all our contributors. Let us know what you think!  Comment on LinkedIn or Twitteror email us info@powerfulwomen.org