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The 2050 Pathways debate – why is the panel all men?

DECC's Youth Advisory Panel visit a power stationOf the eight ‘energy experts’ DECC invited to participate in the 2050 pathways debate, all of them are men. I’m not going on a feminist rant or anything. I’m merely stating the glaringly obvious. What is also obvious is that the entire panel is white, and I’d hazard a guess that in the year 2050 their average age will be about 80.

The recent DECC debate on the 2050 pathways  has been to open up the discussion, move the debate out of the nerdy policy circles, and encourage the wider public to be involved, have a say and share their views.

Of the comments left on the blog, (assuming that people have been honest and used their real names) there are 21 comments that are identifiably female (from seven different people), nine comments that are gender ambiguous (five names), and four comments that use a pseudonym (two ‘user IDs’). In total this is 34 comments out of 160. Or to put it another way, 13.13% of the comments are from identifiably female names and 21.25% if we include the gender ambiguous names and pseudonyms.

In the week that celebrated International Women’s Day you’d have thought that there would be more female voices in the energy mix? But then again, maybe not…

As part of the Youth Advisory Panel programme in 2010 I visited a range of power stations and energy efficiency schemes, and was often struck at how few women I met in the industry, not just at the ‘top end’ or Director level, but in the apprenticeship schemes as well. And I am struck again today at how few women have been involved in this 2050 pathways debate.

I wonder if other people find it a bit weird that the energy sector seems to be rather male top-heavy? Like I said, this isn’t a feminist rant, but stating the obvious has led to my wanting to ask all sorts of important questions about the role and importance of women in the industry. And I think it would be very useful to have a wider debate about this, not least of all because the young graduates who begin their careers today will be the leaders in the field in 2050; and will play a vital role in delivering the sorts of solutions that have been suggested in the 2050 pathways debate this week.

It would be churlish of me to simply assert that DECC had been short-sighted in their appointment of only white men to the ‘expert panel.’ Perhaps there was a bit more work that DECC could have done to recruit leading women in the sector, but when “only seven per cent of engineers in the UK are women” this might have been a bit challenging. Nonetheless, I am sure DECC works with many women in the field whom they could have called on to participate. Or does it?

Even a quick search on the UKRC website brings up data to show that “In 2008, nearly 13,000,000 women were working in the UK – but of these, only 5.3 per cent were in SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) occupations” and that “women represent 15.5 per cent of SET professionals in the UK”. This is a clear indication that women are much less prevalent in the science, engineering and technology sectors than I’d initially thought.

There is also something called the WISE campaign – Women into Science, Engineering and Construction – that works with industry and education to inspire girls and attract them into careers in that industry, which states “When girls avoid subjects like Physics, Engineering, Construction and IT, it means that some of the brightest minds and best skills are lost to these employment sectors.”

Indeed. Many bright minds are lost when young women do not pursue further education in these subjects. And when looking at how the UK will implement targets and achieve our 2020 and 2050 goals, I think we’ll all agree that we need all the bright minds we can get. So let’s see this as a brilliant opportunity to really involve as many people as possible, men and women alike, to get all hands on DECC (as it were), and find innovative and exciting solutions to the challenges ahead.

As a sign of things to come, just last week the winner of the Young Scientist of the year was announced as the first female ever – Hannah Eastwood, 18, from Loreto College in Coleraine, who explored how chromium could be removed from drinking water.  This is a shining example of young women being recognised for their work and contribution to the field in a way that will hopefully encourage many others to pursue similar paths.

After all, as Einstein has told us “[w]e cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

13 Responses to “The 2050 Pathways debate – why is the panel all men?”

  1. Lesley says:

    The gender divide in engineering is ever thus – just as nursing squews the other way. Energy is dominated by engineers and lawyers – so I’m not sure a balance will ever occur. (On a visit to a power station recently they admitted female toilets werent installed till the 1980s……

    The civil service however has a far better for gender split – the real diparity is not the lack of woment @ the top but the number of BME senior civil servents.

    If you real want to make a difference – it best to pick fights you can win. I’m an engineer in the civil service but its not the number of women in either that really bothers me.

  2. Tom Youngman says:

    I concur with others when I say this begins at school. The issue isn’t solely about a gender gap as well – Physics, especially, at school is hugely uninspiring. The creativity and problem solving involved in Engineering is never put across well and there is a general lack of interest in it among both sexes. That the vast majority of Physics teachers are men doesn’t help either.

    I’d hypothesise that girls, reaching adolescence and gaining more acute emotional intelligence sooner, become disenchanted by the impersonal way in which Physics and Maths is presented. There isn’t a lack of ability or interest in Science as a whole – the lack of a gender gap among those training as medics evidences this.

    Syllabus’ have changed recently to try and teach the Physics of technology that surrounds us, teaching through case studies, rather than by topics. This approach is flawed. To make it seem truly human and relevant, we need to be learning Physics from the ground up and applying it to the real world ourselves, engaging in practical (basic!) engineering projects from an early stage.

    I’m studying Physics A-level at the moment – there’s 3 girls in my class compared to 13 boys. In my Further Maths class there are 2 girls compared to 11 boys. In my History class there are 3 boys and 9 girls. The gender ratio is even in my year at school. I know this is only one case, but it is evident there is a gender gap even at this stage.

  3. Joddle says:

    @Liz the problem with gender roles and their influence on work is that the roles typically taken up by women eg. hairdressers are lower paid than equivalent ‘male’ roles (when skill and social standing of roles are compared).

    Therefore a hairdresser earns less than a car mechanic

    Admin roles earn less than labourers

    Cleaners earn less than street cleaners

  4. Kirsty says:

    Thank you to everyone for submitting comments to the blog – this really is a subject that clearly needs a lot of attention and thought put into it.

    It seems that there is a real thirst to explore this further and the range of comments have offered some really fertile ground for taken this topic/issue forward. It is certainly something that the Youth Advisory Panel hopes to look into, but also important that the sector itself starts to address this, rather than simply stating ‘we cannot force women to work in the energy industry.’

    We will keep everyone posted with Youth Panel activities…

    Thanks again for a good debate, Kirsty

  5. Liz says:

    Hey Kirsty – Great thoughts. Thanks for opening up the discussion and reminding us how important it is to keep asking these questions.

    i was at an apprenticeship conference a few weeks ago where they noted that the overwhelming majority of hairdressing apprentices are women, but only 2% of electrical apprentices. This imbalance happens all levels of science and engineering, which is why initiatives like WISE are so needed.

    But if Hanna’s right and this starts at school (and probably at home too, through parents’ expectations and attitudes) then what’s really needed is much broader change. In the short term, extra support like mentorship and scholarships for girls who want to study sciences at uni or take up apprenticeships is a great idea, but I don’t think things will broadly change until young girls see lots examples of women as scientists, electricians, energy experts and policymakers all around them as the norm, not the exception. And DECC can certainly play a role in this!

  6. Jeremy Osborn says:

    Good post, Kirsty, and I appreciate the stating of the facts. My Education professor was always training us to note down who spoke in our classes and to be cognizant of the gender balance – is it male-dominated? female dominated? why? how can I encourage others to engage?…

    I think regardless of how you can or cannot box in this post with respect to feminism, I disagree with Ben on the assumptions held in the belief that ‘we cannot force women to work in the energy industry’. The assumption there being that women can work in the energy industry, and implicit to challenging Kirsty’s post, gain top-level positions, just as easily as men. That assumption is incorrect, and if we want a fair and equitable chance for all people to hold those posts, we’re going to have to be pro-active about it.

    And being pro-active starts with noticing the realities of gender bias in the industry.


  7. Casper, I wonder if you’re contradicting Ben because he disagrees with Kirsty? I wrote this in a comment on her Facebook post of this:

    “Totally go on a feminist rant. Every [Monetary Policy Committee] member is also a white male.* Rwanda is the only country where there are more female than male parliamentarians.** Rwanda! This is crazy!*** Feminist rant, feminist rant. [Kirsty], it reads like a feminist rant to me, and that is totally fine. I say nothing should be allowed to happen or go ahead or be done unless there is roughly proportionate representation among decision-makers in cabinets or boards or committees etc. ;)”

    For the record the last, er, policy recommendation is tongue-in-cheek although I do think that something along those lines would help to solve the problem. “Positive” discrimination has its problems and I don’t like feeling I’m being discriminated against because I have testicles any more than the next chap, but it would certainly solve the gender balance issue and so promote overall fairness even if not individual fairness….

    The main point was that I thought Kirsty’s post was feminist in character and that I approve of that because there is clearly a problem with the gender balance. I’d be interested in finding out why you feel Ben hasn’t ‘engaged with the gender debate’, Casper :)

    *** Rwanda, encouragingly, also does well at representing the Black African community in parliament ;)

  8. Ben – if you think this is a feminist rant, you obviously haven’t engaged with the gender debate before!

    Some really valid points here Kirsty. I think there’s definitely some thinking that needs to be done on how to a) make energy/sciences exciting and relevant for young people (female and male), and then b) how young women especially are championed through mentorship, extra opportunities etc. It will not change at the speed at which it needs to change by leaving things as they are.

    And wasn’t the only Icelandic bank to survive the financial crisis run by women? Sounds to me like we’re missing a trick here.

  9. Ben says:

    Kirsty for someone not having a feminist rant you do sound like you are having a feminist rant, we cannot force women to work in the energy industry, anyway back to the pathways blog I think that DECC may have missed an opportunity with not incentivising domestic air source heatpumps ?

  10. Kirsty says:

    Mairi, your comment is a powerful one and a representation of how difficult it can be for young women and girls to feel like they have a role in the energy sector.

    It is really encouraging to read that you are pursuing a career in the sector and I really hope that you are not deterred from striving forward. Your determination, no doubt, will propel you forward.

    I really hope that there will be a wider discussion about this within the sector. I think there are some important questions to delve into…

    Thanks again for your input, Kirsty

  11. Mairi says:


    Another thought provoker and a issue that has been playing on my mind since visiting Drax power station with other DECC YAP’s and yourself. 

    At Drax they run a apprenticeship scheme for young engineers and in its time it has attracted x2 successful female applicants. One applicant left because she fell pregnant. Was there any support for her? Do apprentices benefit from maternity/ paternity leave or do you need to be a permanent employee?

    I also experienced full frontal sexism in a recent interview with a telecommunications energy supplier in West Sussex in which I was told I would not only feel isolated working in a industrial park but would have to adjust to working with predominately men.

     I was then shown around the workshop which was full of scientists and engineers (men only) when I was faced with workers commenting, swearing and then emphasising ‘don’t swear when their is a lady present’. I wish I had had the balls to swear at them. Would that of taught them to treat me equally…probably not.

    Had I stepped back in time? 

    As I sat in the Assembley hall in Edinburgh on the 8th March listening to Dr Irene Khan celebrate how far women have come over the past 100 years I couldn’t help but think of my interview the previous week. 

    If my future is working in the energy sector and as a recent graduate this is what I intend to do then I am going to have to look out my chisel, hammer and hardhat as the glass ceiling remains well sealed…..

    Sent from my iPhone

  12. Kirsty says:

    Hi Hanna

    Your comment about starting in schools offers a really important insight. Hopefully the winning of the Young Scientist of the year by a young woman will encourage more girls to think about studying science A-levels.

    Thanks for sending around your seminar group and have fun with the My2050 tool!


  13. Hanna says:

    Hi Kirsty,

    Great post and some really thoughtful questions. I think this begins at school – girls are seemingly pushed towards the arts, and boys towards the sciences. And after that, you get “locked in”, as it were! I am going to send this round my seminar group at Sussex (studying MSc Climate Change & Policy), especially pertinent since we have a seminar this friday coming up with pathways using the 2050 tool!


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