Power and renewables

Energizing the diversity debate

Welcome to Face the Facts – the new current affairs podcast from DNV GL Talks Energy, where the world’s leading energy experts share their insights on the most important global news stories about the energy transition.

Energizing the Diversity Debate
The renewable energy sector is undoubtedly modern. It’s powered by the latest technology and good for the planet. It’s also a source of a significant number of jobs. But, how is it performing in terms of diversity?

Katy Briggs, Global Service Area Leader for Renewable Advisory Services at DNV GL, energizes the diversity debate by discussing her own experiences in the industry – casting an expert eye over the opportunities for women working in, or trying to get into, the renewable energy sector.

In the latest episode of this new series, Face the Facts, Katy shares her opinion and insight on the most recent major global news stories about diversity and the energy transition.

In Africa and Asia, new census data shows that rural electrification using distributed renewable energy is going to create a significant number of new jobs by 2023. However, women are filling just one-fourth of these jobs, while in the US, women make up only 13% of the non-fossil power sector workforce. With the issue of diversity dominating headlines and becoming a global talking point for communities, business leaders and governments, it’s time to face the facts.

Read the transcription of this episode here

Transcript:
Transcript:
NARRATOR 1 Welcome to the DNV GL Talks Energy podcast series. Electrification, rise of renewables and new technologies - supported by more data and IT systems, are transforming the power system. Join us each week as we discuss these changes with guests from around the industry.
Transcript:
NARRATOR 2 Hello, you’re listening to ‘Face the Facts’, the new current affairs podcast from DNV GL Talks Energy, where the world’s leading energy experts share their insights on the most important global news stories about the energy transition.

Recent news highlights that the rise of renewables is providing a significant global source of jobs, particularly for youth in Africa and Asia, as rural electrification using distributed renewable energy is adopted. However, women are filling just one-fourth of these jobs, while in the US, women make up only 13% of the renewable energy workforce.

In this episode, Katy Briggs, Global Service Area Leader for Renewable Advisory Services at DNV GL, energizes the diversity debate by discussing her own experiences in the industry – casting an expert eye over the opportunities for women working in, or trying to get into, the renewable energy sector.
Transcript:
KATY BRIGGS In the news there are a lot of articles about the rise of renewables. Some of the common themes we see in these articles is the role of renewables and decarbonization, declining costs for solar and wind power and the transition to subsidy free renewables. But the topic I want to focus on today is how the rise of renewables is a significant source of jobs.

Let me give you a few examples. A recent Forbes article discusses how decentralized power systems and distributed renewable energy is playing a notable role today in employment in Africa and Asia, and this workforce is expected to only grow significantly. For example, in Kenya, nearly as many people are employed by renewable energy companies as there are employed in the state utility. This is expected to grow by 70 per cent in the next three to four years.

The same article also noted an estimate that by 2022, three years from now, there will be 1.3 million full time jobs in the off grid solar sector alone, not including mini grids that enables some of this technology. It’s just three years from now, that we can see 1.3 million full time jobs in off grid solar.

Taking a look at the United States, solar installer and wind turbine technician are the fastest growing professions and expected to be so for the next seven years, and today solar itself employs more Americans, specifically twice as many Americans as the coal industry. These are big employment numbers we’re talking about and they’re only expected to get bigger. So, these are just a few examples of the significant growth around the world of renewable energy.

With all this employment, who is filling these jobs? New census data from ‘Power for All’ shows that rural electrification using renewable energy is creating jobs in Africa and Asia, in particular for youth. Specifically, the census showed that 40 per cent of these distributed energy jobs are filled by youth. However, the census also showed that women account for just one fourth of these jobs, a lower percentage than the global renewable energy sector.

Gender imbalance is observed in other parts of the world. A recent Bloomberg article comments on how women are missing out in one of the largest employment booms and it compares renewable industry to the fossil fuel industry. First sentence is actually quite notable and it says, ‘Clean energy has a dirty secret’, referring to the analysis by the Brooking Institute which found that renewable power generation has less diversity than fossil fuel production, with women accounting for 13 per cent of the US workforce. At first, this surprised me but thinking about it a bit more, I have experienced lack of diversity in certain parts of the industry.

Just this year I was a panelist at two operations and maintenance conferences for the wind energy industry. From the stage, you can see and count who is representing the industry. So, I counted. I counted 13 women out of about 120 people, that’s about 11 per cent. You can also estimate the racial and ethnic diversity, or lack thereof, at these conferences.

Diversity in the industry does not represent the diversity available in the workforce of these countries. Not all parts of the renewable energy industry have such low diversity stats. If you look at these industries as a whole, things look a little bit different.

IRENA, the international renewable energy agency, found that women make up 32 per cent of the global renewable energy workforce compared to 22 per cent in oil and gas, but which industry is doing better or worse is not really the point. Neither industry is going home with the trophy right now. Neither is close to the 50 per cent goal, nor the goal of better representing the diversity that exist in the world.

Why is this a problem and why are we striving for more diversity in our workforce? Because it makes business sense. This is not a charity project. I’m not asking for charity. It’s been shown that companies with more diverse executive teams are more likely to experience above average profits, for example. In this McKinsey study, companies with more gender diversity in the leadership were 21 per cent more likely to outperform the industry average profit and ethnically diverse companies were 33 per cent more likely to outperform the average. 

If there’s a way to increase your odds of good performance by 33 per cent, I think we would do that and that’s what I’m saying we should do in this industry. But also, diversity is important because renewable energy is growing rapidly, as I discussed previously. If we’re not welcoming in promoting all the potential talent out there, we will be stifling our industries' growth and its impact. It will be harder for us to be truly innovative, to have successful companies and to meet the decarbonization cause we wish to achieve.

So, what can we do about this? I’d like to say, “don’t worry about it”, “we’re on track” because I have seen a lot of good progress and a lot of great people that have really made a difference. But, when I saw the numbers and the trends, I realized that change is actually quite slow. It really hit me a few years ago when I read that at the going rate it would be 276 years before we saw an equal number of men and women CEO’s in the Fortune 500 … 276 years, that is not in my lifetime, that’s generations away.

So, what can we do? How can we make change and more rapid change? I think it will take more awareness and more intentional actions by all of us, in particular by men, to be honest. It will continue to be a slow change if women and minorities are doing the majority of the work when it comes to diversity.

So, here are a few things you can do. There are a lot of campaigns and organizations that are really making a difference, so start checking them out and getting involved.

Here are just two examples that I personally like. There’s the ‘HeForShe’ campaign and also you can get involved in a diversity organization in an industry, for example WRISE, which stands for ‘Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy’. So, men and women can get involved in these organizations.

But, to make it even easier, here’s one thing you could do just today, and it only takes a couple of minutes. Take a look at your work, your organization and observe or think about, you know, how many women and how many men attend the meetings you’re involved in. Who gets invited to meetings and which meetings do they get invited to? Amongst peers, who takes on the majority of the note taking and the other meeting housekeeping and who does not? Who is speaking? How much are they speaking? And who is actually being heard? 

So, that’s the awareness part. From these observations, what do you see? Then start thinking about what should change and what could you do to start influencing that change. If you like this exercise, you can take it further and ask more questions. Things like: How many women speak at the conferences you attend? Who does your company send to the conferences? Who gets high visibility work projects? Who gets more supportive tasks? Who sees your company’s job postings? And here’s another thing you can do. Start talking about it. What do you observe? What actions are really making a difference? What things have you tried? 

Why? Because I look forward to the day when more men are covering this topic, because, to be honest, I would much rather be doing podcasts on trends and technology, on operational strategies, on predictive analytics, on innovation in the renewables industry. Those are the things that I focus my work on, that’s what I would like to be talking about, but a more diverse workforce is just as important to the success of the renewable industry as those topics I mentioned. So, I’m happy to be discussing it here, but I recognize others could also be discussing this.

Another reason why I’d like to pass this work on to others is that I’d like to be seen doing more of my true renewables job, being a technical person, being a leader and showing that role to others around me, so that I can be a role model because role models matter. Role models are the reason my degrees are in physics, my older sister has a degree in physics and a PhD in engineering. Role models are the reason why I am in this industry to begin with. The first person I met in renewables was a woman I could relate to. I left a more male dominated industry to try this out and I have had no regrets. Role models, both men and women, are the reason I’ve been in this industry and my company for 12 years.

So, to summarize, there has been and will continue to be, significant growth in the renewables workforce. Building more diverse workforce will enable us to achieve the rapid growth that we need and to have a bigger impact. To get there, it will take more awareness and more intentional actions from all of us.
Transcript:
NARRATOR 2  Thank you Katy for sharing such valuable insights. Today we heard three new unforgettable facts;

The renewable energy sector employs 11 million people globally. However, in the US, women currently account for just 13% of the renewable energy workforce.

Decentralized power systems and distributed renewable energy is bringing tens of thousands of new jobs to Africa and Asia, but women are filling just one-fourth of these.

Companies with more gender diversity in leadership were 21% more likely to outperform the industry average, while ethnically diverse companies were 33% more likely to outperform.

To hear more facts and opinions responding to the latest news from the global energy transition, listen again next week to DNV GL Talks Energy: Face the Facts.
Transcript:
NARRATOR 1 Thank you for listening to this DNV GL Talks Energy podcast.
Transcript:
To hear more podcasts in the series, please visit dnvgl.com/talksenergy.

Read the news articles cited in this episode here