Of 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.”