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Why Do We Have Fewer Women in Energy Sector? - Gülce Özdilekcan

Living in the 21st century, we assume that we have overcome most of the issues already been addressed years ago. However, we still have a long way to go looking at the social construct. In 1848, the first women's rights conference was held, Seneca Falls Convention. Since then, we still argue about the women's empowerment movement. As the United Nations (UN)’s Fifth Sustainable Development Goal suggests, gender equality “is not only a fundamental human right but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.” However, we still observe inequalities between genders, even though we work hard towards this goal.

The energy sector is one of the huge sectors where we can observe gender inequality. According to the International Energy Agency, which reported in 2019, “Despite making up 48% of the global labor force – women only account for 22% of the traditional energy sector." This makes the energy sector one of the least gender-diverse sectors, among others. Also, senior management roles are indifferent to gender diversity, which is described as “Women make up only 13.9% of senior management within the energy and energy utilities composite, which is marginally lower than in the sample from non-energy industries at 15.5%.” “Women fare better at renewable energy companies, but they are still in a clear minority at 32 percent, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.”

Previous Discussion on the Matter

It is hard to improve some social stigma about gender inequality, including women in the energy sector is quite hard and controversial. First of all, the problem itself is not only about the energy sector. The controversy starts from the women's participation in STEM vacancies in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Especially in the Eastern culture, these areas are considered a "manly thing," and women are encouraged to study more social sciences.

On the other hand, even though it is not promising enough, the women's contribution to the workforce in the renewable energy sector is higher. It is mostly seen as related to the renewable energy sector being a more recent energy resource and sector. We can see that the other energy sectors have a long history. The firms often tend to have a more traditional way of administration, which includes male dominancy in the sector. Also, with the rise of renewable energy, new job openings have occurred, which created a chance for women to be hired, yet not enough women have been employed. However, the main problem still seems to be the prejudice toward women, the social norms, and the hiring habits of the companies, which we can summarize as the "glass ceiling."

As for the solution proposals for this matter, they are still controversial and nothing exactly new. As UN bodies suggest, raising public awareness is the primary solution they come up with. They are targeting to change both understandings of women's "glass ceiling" in the energy sector. Even though they are hired, they also aim to raise awareness about the working environment for women in the energy sector. Since women face different difficulties regarding their role as a mom in their personal lives, employers think they don't want to work as much as the male workers who can do the job. Also, as a downside of being in a male-dominant sector, women face discrimination from their coworkers or consequences that can reach even sexual harassment, which keeps both the employer keeping away from the women workers and the women keeping away from the sector. As some of the experts and the EU have mentioned in their report in 2019, laws should be changed regarding labor rights and for the women in the energy sector. Working in the energy sector requires long hours of physical work, which is hard for all the workers but especially for women who are expected to take care of their families.

From the Women’s Point of View

While doing the research, I saw many reports, blog entries, and statistics that reflect the matter. However, one thing that I realized was that they were all written from a man's perspective. They were mainly based on the observation of the men in the sector. Therefore, I had a chance to talk with the women in the energy and the STEM sector. They all agreed that STEM is hard to reach for women. Even when they are studying STEM, they feel the social pressure and the stigma that makes them feel like even though they are qualified enough for the job, a man will naturally be preferred every time. Also, they are afraid of going into the sector. Even though they go into the sector, I realized that they feel the pressure of having a family will jeopardize their career. When they have a baby, they won't be able to work anymore because of the legislation that requires them to work longer hours or shorter maternity leave that they won't be able to take care of their baby.

On the other hand, the reports and research have shown me that the energy sector is one of the wildest and most competitive sectors. There have been many disputes before because of energy resources and how profitable the sector is. In this wild sector, the players need to have strong communication and tough personalities. Therefore, this explains why there are fewer women in senior positions. They are often seen as vulnerable and naïve, which is not suitable for the nature of the sector. Man is often seen as strong and fearless workers, which makes them "more suitable" for the job, even though, on paper, both genders have the same professional qualifications. While I was talking with women in the sector, the most striking answer was, "Why do we need women in this sector anyway?". This sector is all about high production to compete with other firms, and production requires a high amount of muscle power. Therefore, hiring women for blue-collar jobs will highly affect production. Considering that blue-collar workers compose most of the workforce, the percentage of women working in the energy sector will naturally be below.

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