In business in general, and in the energy sector specifically, women are like oxygen – the higher you go, the less you find. Since before the pandemic, renewable and sustainable energy has been the fastest growing sector in the energy industry, but employs far fewer women than men. Although women make up half of the larger workforce, they account for less than a third of energy industry positions, and less than a quarter of leadership roles.
According to a 2019 assessment of 799 energy companies conducted by S&P Global Market Intelligence, women occupy less than one in five senior leadership roles across the energy sector, and US companies perform slightly worse than the global average.
Along with the struggle to gain representation in leadership roles, women are losing jobs across the economy, too. In December 2020, the US economy lost 140,000 jobs, and women accounted for all of them. That seems staggering, but women lost 156,000 jobs last month, while men actually gained 16,000. The losses were overwhelmingly borne by women of color, an already underemployed, underpaid, and underrepresented group in employment statistics. During 2020, women lost one million more jobs than men (5.4 million jobs lost since February, compared to 4.4 million for men over the same time period), wiping out years of gains toward gender parity in the workplace. This is an enormous setback for gender equality in the workplace, and a troubling prospect for the energy industry, which has historically struggled with representation.
The lack of representation is disappointing, but not necessarily surprising. Studies show that the gender disparities start early – although girls and boys take and excel in advanced STEM classes in high school equally, by college, far fewer women pursue STEM degrees. Those who do enter the workplace in traditionally male-dominated industries like energy find fewer female mentors and few examples of women in senior leadership roles to emulate.
Smaller companies often fare even worse, because they tend to offer fewer benefits like flexible schedules and paid maternity leave. Smaller companies also face less visibility and public expectations than their publicly-traded counterparts, which may be subject to representation requirements at the board level, like those in California, which mandates publicly traded companies in the state include at least two women board members.
Metrus is working to combat the underrepresentation of women, both in its own leadership and in the industry. Women occupy three out of our four C-suite positions, heading our Finance, Legal, and Sales teams, and make up half of our staff. We are working to bring that parity to the sustainable energy sector through support and participation in organizations dedicated to promoting gender parity in the energy sector like Women in Cleantech and Sustainability and Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy. And the numbers are improving – more women are starting companies, joining boards and moving up in leadership than ever before, and research shows that is good for business – improving business success rates and overall profitability.