Gender balance and net zero must have equal parity

Jonathan Brearley, Chief Executive of Ofgem



We are delighted to publish a guest blog this month from Ofgem’s Jonathan Brearley. Jonathan spoke at our Annual State of the Nation 2021 event in May, and here he shares further thoughts on the importance of diversity and inclusion for the energy transition, Ofgem’s own ambition to increase representation of women and the practical steps it is taking, and the role of the regulator in encouraging accelerated action within the industry. 




Diversity and Inclusion


We were late to the table when it came to diversity and inclusion.


It’s not that we didn’t take diversity and inclusion seriously before. But when we published our first diversity and inclusion strategy back in 2019, we truly recognised how much more we needed to do. We’re now over two years into our strategy so will be reviewing our progress and how we can improve further.


We’ve always wanted to demonstrate our ambition to champion equal representation in the energy industry. And we’ve always been determined to make sure that Ofgem is a great place to work where everyone feels valued and respected irrespective of, but not limited to, race, gender, sexual orientation or disability status.


One of the ways we are demonstrating our commitment to D&I is by making a POWERful Women pledge and committing to achieve 50% women and 9% BAME women across our senior management and senior leadership positions by 2025.


The entire energy sector, including Ofgem, needs to transform. That means diverse views are inherently represented and embraced and are designed into all policy making, corporate processes and the way we communicate inside and outside our organisations.


Increasing diversity is crucial if we are to meet our net zero targets too. A study in the US found that women may be overlooked in electric vehicle and charging infrastructure design, as it’s a system predominately designed by men for men. This could lead to slower development and up take in the electric vehicle market.


This isn’t new. In the 1960s African American women, immortalised in the recent film ‘Hidden Figures’, were instrumental in helping NASA succeed in getting astronauts into space, but their role wasn’t recognised for decades in an industry where white men dominated.


We need to transform as a whole industry to meet ambitious net zero targets to tackle climate change. This will ensure that we serve all the needs of different customers as effectively as possible.


Put simply, we’re missing a sizeable chunk of opportunities, considerations and innovations, if only half the population are involved in the conversation.



How well is the industry performing?


The energy industry is far from meeting its targets and performing well – it needs to accomplish more and now.

We have a big task on our hands with energy holding the key to decarbonising other sectors, such as the electrification of transport, buildings and industry, which will touch upon every person across Great Britain.


The POWERful Women and PwC UK recent audit of the energy sector showed that there are still no or low numbers of women in senior roles across the board and that women with an ethnic minority background are even less well represented. This is shocking, 50% of the population is not represented on these boards. We have to do better than this as an industry.


If we don’t change this, we will not be able to best represent women in society today. It could see women continue to be left out of inputting into future policies, frameworks and infrastructure design like the EV study above, so being left behind as we transition to net zero.


Some energy companies have met POWERful Women’s 2030 target to have women make up 30% of executive director roles. But most companies still have a way to go in meeting this target.


There’s also a clear positive impact on bottom line – companies with more female executives perform better and are more profitable than those that don’t, according to research by The Pipeline. Leadership teams with a diverse range of people are also more likely to challenge, have more discussions and debates leading to better decision-making.


At the heart of our work as the energy regulator, is a duty to ensure that those we regulate operate as effectively as they can, for the benefit of consumers. As a result, it is right that we ask whether companies have enough diversity of thought and leadership to deliver the best service for consumers.


We recognise the need for opening a discussion on the clear goals that we share and how we are going to hold ourselves to account for achieving them.


It’s also why I’m personally committed to POWERful Women’s Energy Leaders’ Coalition to act as an ambassador for better balance and meeting with my counterparts across the sector to tackle the challenges together.  



So what has Ofgem been doing?


We’ve been working to create buy-in and ownership of diversity and inclusion across our organisation, striving to make it part of Ofgem’s everyday conversations. We’ve changed how we operate as an organisation to be more diverse and inclusive, such as:


  • Introducing anonymised recruitment and more diverse panels
  • Reaching out to new generations of talented women through schools and universities
  • Running a women’s mentoring and career development programme
  • And, taking a much firmer stance on not participating in events with all white / all male speaker lists.


Ofgem has promoted more women to senior roles over the past two years, and our new executive team are now 45% women. At the same time, we’ve also introduced a range of flexible working patterns and one executive job share. Moreover, we’ve stepped up and challenged ourselves publicly by pledging targets to achieve true diversity and equality, especially at leadership levels.


For us at Ofgem, we want to increase women in senior roles by a third (from 37% to 50%) by 2025. Additionally, we’re making changes to make sure more women – including those in STEM fields – are attracted to join Ofgem and are promoted. And we’re setting targets to achieve equality in external representation through the BBC’s 50/50 project.


We have launched an internal programme to support women in Ofgem to develop their careers, which supplements the great schemes like the mentoring programme already run by our active Women’s Network.


We are set to champion diversity in the workforce, by listening to our staff and those across the industry, whilst sharing and implementing best practice through channels like the recently held joint diversity event with EnergyUK.



So what next…


Although we are making progress as a sector it is nowhere near where we need to be.


We will continue the ongoing discussion with the energy sector and trade associations over the coming months on diversity and inclusion targets and data.


But right now, there is plenty that can be done. We would like to see all companies make a POWERful Women pledge on better gender representation, as well as signing up to external initiatives like the BBC’s 50/50 project.


It is clear the energy sector has a very long way to go and standing still is not an option.


We as a whole sector will not meet the climate challenge or be able to fully serve consumers if we do not change now and at speed to become more diverse.




You can watch a recording of the discussion at our Annual State of the Nation 2021 launch in May, featuring Jonathan Brearley, Dr Andy Samuel of OGA and Juliet Davenport, Founder of Good Energy, here.