POWERful Women and Bain & Company have published a new report on women in middle management in the UK energy sector. Cultivating Female Talent: what the sector can do to resolve the barriers faced by women in middle management1 is based on one-to-one interviews and a comprehensive industry survey of more than 4,700 respondents.
The pioneering research – the first of its kind for the UK energy sector – reveals fascinating and at times startling insights into the lived experience of women in the UK energy workplace and the barriers they are facing, whether they want to succeed in their current roles or progress through middle management to senior leadership.
Elizabeth Baxter, POWERful Women Board Member and co-author of the report said:
“We listened to the individual and collective voices of women working in energy middle management today – a group whose experiences have so far had little attention. We wanted to understand why women continue to be under-represented in the UK energy industry, including in the pipeline to executive roles. The sector faces immense challenges as it transforms and upskills for the energy transition and responds to evolving customer demands. It is essential that companies secure and cultivate the best and most diverse talent for success.”
The report’s key findings include some positive news. The energy sector excites women as a career choice – they cite a sense of purpose and being motivated by mitigating climate change and contributing to Net Zero. Companies in the sector should also be praised for making clear and positive commitments on diversity and inclusion.
However, research has revealed a delivery gap – these commitments are not being cascaded effectively to all levels within organisations. A variety of policies are in place to support people’s careers but data shows that they are not being used by women. For example, 58% of women surveyed said their company has a formal sponsorship programme but only 12% were benefiting from it. Critically, policies are not being backed up by an inclusive and supportive culture.
Olga Muscat, Senior Partner, Bain & Co, and report co-author, commented;
"The results of our research have given us some fascinating insights into women's lived experience in the UK energy workplace. On one hand the work highlighted the strong commitment of the Energy Sector to gender diversity, and all the progress already made. On the other hand, it revealed a delivery gap in well intended initiatives being put in place, but not consistently delivering on their promises."
The report features a number of career case studies and quotes from interviews. In particular, women said that:
- Access to and the quality of ‘on-the-job’ coaching, mentoring, sponsorship and other professional development are inconsistent.
- Whilst flexibility and family support policies, such as part-time working, are available, there is a fear that they can lead to reduced career opportunities. Women experience assumptions, sometimes “paternalistic” and derived from “benevolent sexism”, about what those working flexibly can and want to do.
- A lack of accessible role models is hindering women’s aspiration and confidence in being able to progress. Less than half our survey respondents said they had women they could relate to.
- One in four women in energy reported they experienced non-inclusive behaviours such as lack of recognition from supervisors, difficulty getting their share of voice in meetings, or being less challenged in their work assignments.
On the other hand, the data revealed that effective and usable diversity and inclusion policies that deliver in practice increase the attractiveness of an organisation as a place to work.
For example, women’s willingness to recommend their company to others and in particular to other women rose by at least 15% when women used two or more of their company’s diversity-supporting policies.
Ruth Cairnie, Chair of POWERful Women, commented;
“Our research suggests that the UK energy sector is investing in diversity and inclusion initiatives but is not getting the return it should on this investment. Female talent is not being sufficiently developed, doesn’t feel valued and in some instances is being lost to rival companies or sectors. Our conclusion is that organisations need to work harder at cultivating the talent they already have. This can be an important contribution to creating the workforce they need for the energy transition, improving performance and fulfilling all that society requires from them.”
POWERful Women has made a number of recommendations to energy sector organisations on how to close the diversity and inclusion delivery gap for women in middle management, including:
- The CEO and leadership team taking visible ownership of the middle management gender gap by ensuring solutions are tailored appropriately to the needs of their organisation
- Managers being equipped with the skills and courage to enable them to hold the necessary conversations (for example on women’s career development and flexible working)
- Asking the right questions internally on target setting and progress, especially gathering direct feedback from women on how policies and the culture are working for them
- Considering adopting this approach for other underrepresented groups.