Women’s inclusion and participation in the energy industry has come a long way since the days when up-and-comer Pat Nelson, who would become Alberta’s first female Minister of Energy, wasn’t allowed membership at the Petroleum Club in the 1980s (Glenbow Archives, 2012). Strides have been made towards gender equity in our industry, but there’s still a long way to go to achieve balance. Recent surveys suggest the energy industry employs a lower percentage of women than any other industry (Catalyst, 2016), and the gender pay gap is broader in Alberta than anywhere else in the country (Parkland Institute, 2015). Women still don’t have a seat at the boardroom table either. At the top 200 power and utility companies, only 5% of executive board members are women (Catalyst, 2016). And, why should this matter to businesses? As it turns out, it has an impact on the bottom line.
Diversity studies conducted by McKinsey show companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to financially outperform industry medians. Their research also found that, in the UK, every 10% increase in a company’s gender diversity on their senior executive team increases earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) by 3.5% (McKinsey & Company, 2015). If the pursuit of gender equity in the industry as a means to achieve social and economic equality isn’t a compelling enough reason, the tangible financial benefits make a good case for making progress a priority.
However, the reasons for ongoing gender imbalance and the ways to overcome it are complex and nuanced. Corporate policy, legislation, and social momentum all need to converge to achieve gender equity. In the short term, grassroots organizations are making efforts to narrow that gap. Organizations such as Young Women in Energy (YWE) exist to help advance the interests of women in the industry by providing women early in their careers with personal and professional development opportunities, as well by ensuring there’s sponsorship and support for their development from their leaders and peers (including, perhaps most critically, men). A core objective of YWE is to foster a network of ambitious and like-minded women who are working their way up the corporate ladder and pulling the next round of women up with them.
The idea “you can’t be what you can’t see” means if women can’t see what opportunities lie ahead in their careers they aren’t able to design that future for themselves. Making women’s roles and accomplishments in the industry visible is an important and meaningful way to ensure women can establish goals to work towards. If they can see similarities between themselves and the women who are being recognized, it’s even better.
Corporate policy, legislation, and social momentum all need to converge to achieve gender equity.
Although we’re proud of this program, we certainly don’t have a monopoly on the market of recognizing and highlighting women’s accomplishments. Consider the women you work with and how you can help them identify with what their future in the industry could look like. How can you help them see what their path could be, and how can you highlight the successes other women have had?
Recognizing the contributions all staff make, regardless of gender, is an important way to ensure employee engagement and retention. It just so happens it may have additional benefits for young women in the industry. And, if that isn’t reason enough, it may just improve your bottom line.