It probably wouldn’t be completely fair or accurate to describe Scotland’s energy sector as being pale, male and stale, but it’s not exactly a hothouse of diversity either. However, real efforts are now being made to change that.

There is a recognition that more work needs to be done across the industry, whether it be in oil and gas or in renewables. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), women account for one-third of the global renewables workforce and if we drill down to a specific sector such as wind, only a fifth of workers are women. However, progress is being made, with the Net Zero Technology Centre one of the organisations leading the way.

The Centre was created as part of the Aberdeen City Region Deal and is charged with developing and deploying technology to build an affordable net zero energy industry. It sees diversity and inclusion as key drivers for the future and is actively working to encourage change.

The Herald: Laura Paterson, People and Organisational Development Director at Net Zero Technology CentreLaura Paterson, People and Organisational Development Director at Net Zero Technology Centre

Laura Paterson, its People and Organisational Development Director, has worked in the energy sector for more than 20 years and does see forward movement in this area, though so far it has been rather slow.

“We need to have more focus on this”, she says. “We need to make sure that we are including all people in society. It’s about how we bring a sense of belonging to those who perhaps don’t want to do an engineering degree, or who don’t want to be the only female studying computer science.”

“The pandemic had a huge impact on the global workforce and gender equality, with many people being forced to leave or scale back careers due to caring responsibilities and generally less opportunity in the workplace as a result of the uncertainty and disruption.”

The real issue, she believes, is how to encourage young females into the energy industry.

The Herald:

Encouragement starts at school

“The challenge is that companies are finding it hard to find female graduates to begin with. That means they have a very limited diverse pool to select from. So we have to start from before employment - from a very young age in terms of education.

“The other challenge is that oil and gas has attracted people who have worked in the sector before, so it’s very specific. Renewables is newer, so it’s been a bit more willing to take people from more diverse backgrounds - they may have worked in different areas of manufacturing, for example.

“I think what is going to be key to addressing the problem is seeking individuals who have transferable skills but perhaps don’t have the direct industry background. For example, if you are, say, an engineer with an oil and gas background, you can easily shift over to renewables.”

“I think that there’s maybe a different way of promoting what each of the energy sectors do and pointing out where females in particular could provide real value in joining them. Diversity of thought, lived experiences and multidimensional interests provide for a much more rounded workforce. It’s written in the bottom line. Research from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation found female-led businesses are more capital efficient with a return on investment 35% higher than male-led businesses.”

So what can be done, to attract a more diverse and inclusive workforce? Laura Paterson says one answer could be to target selection in a different way.

“It might be going to different universities and thinking about people with broader degrees such as business studies or computer science and then training them up. Then it’s a case of them developing the technical skills they will need in the job. Having said that, not all jobs need to be “technical”, to establish and grow a business you need finance, human resources, strategy, marketing, legal and sales teams to name a few.

“The future of work should include more flexible working options which allows for more inclusion of a more diverse workforce, whether you are a parent with caring responsibilities or a disabled person who finds it easier to travel at certain times. The key is to make work more inclusive for all.”

All this may mean sending a different and encouraging message about the energy sector out to young people, including at school, before they consider moving on to university.

“According to data from The Education Hub in 2021, in the UK, there has been a 31% increase in entries from women and girls to STEM A-levels between 2010 and 2019 , but how can we keep the momentum going and continue to fly the flag for STEM subjects?

“Research says you really need to reach out to young girls whilst they are in primary school to spark their interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths subjects. This means they are then interested in these subjects before they make choices about what they will specialise in.”

One way, she believes, is to reach out to the teachers and encourage participation on wider programmes and initiatives. “It is important to work with teachers and educate them on how to make science and technology fun and accessible.

“I actually think that there is a responsibility on industry to inform our educators and young people about what it is like to work in the energy sector, across the various disciplines and to help them build a vision, including what they will look like 10 or 20 years into the future. Parents, too, are important - children are very influenced by them and the jobs they do.”

“The Climate Hero programme, delivered through Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) aims to raise pupil awareness on green career pathways across all sectors and build a legacy from COP26. It is a good example of an initiative helping make net zero and the energy sector attractive.

“The programme supports pupils with advice on the skills needed to enter the “green” jobs of the future as well as providing meaningful work experience opportunities which reflect the value of sustainable economic development.”

The Herald:

Empowering females

“Inclusive leadership is key to develop skills and ensuring diversity of thought. More senior leaders need to sponsor more women to empower them to progress in more enriching careers.”

“You are developing people through a lifetime career with the company. Now it may be a case of reframing the talent marketplace to give people the best opportunities while recognising they may not be with one employer the whole time. Some of this is about the greater good of what we are trying to achieve as we move towards net zero.”

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