Nina Axelson

Nina Axelson

Vice President – Public Relations

Women in Energy: Talent, Opportunity, Leadership

Industry demographics and the upward role of women in energy is a bit of a detour from our usual blog focus on advancing energy systems. However, March is Women’s History Month, so we are taking this moment to discuss women in energy and how integrating diverse perspectives is key to our future success.

A woman attending a session at an energy conference.
Photo courtesy of the International District Energy Association

When I started in this work 15 years ago, it was common to see more women represented in environmentally-directed forums on energy, but the utility and engineering spaces were mostly male. I once found myself as one of only six women at an industry conference with over 600 in attendance. Women were notably absent from most, if not all, of the technical and policy panels. My colleagues in this work were welcoming and for the most part, trying to be inclusive to me as a newcomer, but it was clear to me that there was something disconnecting women from being participatory in this sector.

Within Ever-Green, we have tried to lead by example. I am proud to be one of three women leading on our executive team. Through the women on our management team, and those identified as emerging leaders in the organization, we are empowering women to take on greater roles in this industry. This is important when we consider our current and future workforce. The potential workforce is 50% female, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, but women represent 32% of the workforce in renewable energy compared to 22% in traditional energy companies. In 2017, there were 10.3 million renewable energy jobs globally, with a predicted increase to 24 million by 2030. As the industry grows, we will be competing for this emerging talent.

As an organization, we also have a culture of strong female leadership on our boards of directors. This year the District Energy board of directors achieved a landmark milestone, with women making up 50% of the board and Kris Taylor recently appointed to board chair. For reference, the Ernst & Young annual Women in Power and Utilities Index states that women made up 17% of power and utility boards in 2017. According to the International Energy Agency, higher female involvement in board leadership shows “increased profitability, return on investment, and innovation.”

For Ever-Green, these workforce trends necessitate being more creative about seeking out talent, building strong networks, and supporting the pipeline of talented women entering this field. The industry will not change overnight, so we are working with partners to support and create new pathways for women in our field.

In 2018, a cohort of female leadership within the International District Energy Association (IDEA) launched the District Energy Women’s Initiative (DEWI). As the industry opportunities expand, we want to support women considering district energy as a career pathway, and make it easier for them to find a network of women to support their development in this field. DEWI meets twice a year at IDEA conferences and has a LinkedIn presence to help with virtual networking and information exchanges.

District Energy Women's Initiative Meeting
The District Energy Women’s Initiative meeting at the IDEA 2018 Annual Conference.

With all of this potential for future talent and leadership, we need to invest in educational opportunities for girls and young women. Academic programming focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) has become one of the most prominent educational strategies for our school-age generation. Within this emphasis on STEM, we are also seeing a dedicated effort to open up these fields to those who are historically underrepresented in this space. Students with a foundation in science and math often have better problem-solving skills and have more educational and job pathways than peers with limited access to this type of learning.

A group of high school students touring the District Energy St. Paul plant

Here in Minnesota, Ever-Green has supported several initiatives that are promoting STEM opportunities for girls, including the Climate Generation STEM-green jobs event with Minneapolis Public Schools, the Works Museum Girl Time program, and the Kitty Andersen Youth Science Center at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Each of these programs is working toward helping young people understand their opportunities and pathways in STEM and introducing them to women who have successfully navigated careers in this field.

Even as more women pursue STEM-related degrees and careers, the statistics and anecdotal information show that we still need to illustrate energy careers as a viable pathway. These organizations are part of a national effort to break down barriers for entry, inclusion, retention, and promotion of women in these fields.

Solar array Change is happening. Women in energy are communicating their value, teaching, mentoring, and sharing their perspective. Women-in-energy networks are growing and thriving. Women are rising to leadership positions across the industry, including a growing presence of women board members serving IDEA. As a collective, we are trying to help other leaders and influencers realize the importance of bringing talented and expert women into the forefront, which will certainly influence young people and students considering this pathway. There is work to do, but it is an exciting time to be in the midst of it, surrounded by so many others committed to change.

 

 

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