Despite these encouraging examples, women are still a minority in the energy industry’s top ranks. Current statistics regarding the average representation of women in energy companies show that we as an industry still have a long way to go. At the top 200 utility companies, just 5% of executive-board members and 13% of senior management are women, and almost 99% of energy companies are led by men.1 So what can companies do to further promote talented women into top jobs?
- Build a culture of equality. It should go without saying that men and women with equivalent backgrounds and roles within the company should receive the same opportunities for advancement. To build a culture of equality, company values regarding gender equality need to be articulated in gender-neutral language—it’s not just women who occasionally want to pick up their children from school. In many Western cultures, men may be hesitant to explain to their colleagues—especially other men—that they want to leave the office early or arrive late in order to spend time with their family. To promote more transparency and openness on these topics in the workplace, work-life balance initiatives should be gender agnostic.
- Support policies that enable work-life balance. Women’s rise into the leadership ranks can be disrupted if employers don’t put in place flexible, gender-neutral policies that allow for a leave of absence—when a child is born, for instance. Supportive employers and flexible work schedules can pave the way to the top for men and women who strive for work-life balance. Over the past five to ten years, many companies have adopted more flexible polices, and these policies will begin to make a difference in the coming years as the first beneficiaries reach senior leadership positions.
- Foster an inclusive environment. Our research shows that women thrive when they feel connected to colleagues. For this reason, mentoring can be invaluable in grooming women leaders. It is in everyone’s interest to tap into new pools of talent by promoting gender diversity. There is a clear business case for diversity. Catalyst, a nonprofit research organization covering women in the workplace, conducted a study of Fortune 500 companies and found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity outperformed those in the bottom quartile on three financial measures: return on equity (53% higher), return on sales (42% higher), and return on invested capital (66% higher). In addition, the Social Sciences Research Networkfound that boards made up of at least 30% women outperform all-male boards.2
- Create transparency. Companies need to track how women contribute to the business—by business unit, function, and region—and set targets to build a more inclusive workforce. This does not mean companies should set a quota; rather, they should establish value contribution targets. At The Boston Consulting Group, we find that what gets measured gets done, so we consistently set performance targets and gauge employees’ progress against them. For example, in BCG’s Energy practice, we track women’s contribution to the top line, by location and by cohort. Since we began tracking this metric, the global contribution of women has grown from 12% in 2012 to 20% in 2015, a 66% increase.
- Recruit differently. Unconscious bias can sway decisions about hiring, promotions, and evaluations. Recruiting intake has increased in some energy-focused fields, including chemical engineering, but still tends to be low in fields such as petroleum engineering. Blind résumé screening and proactive recruiting can help mitigate this problem.
- Ensure commitment from senior leadership. For women to rise into positions of power, senior leaders must make a personal commitment to gender diversity—and be held accountable for achieving targets. This process starts with organizational change: establishing family-friendly policies and rooting out any diversity imbalance. It also requires a shift in mind-set to eliminate unconscious bias toward women’s behavior in the workplace. For example, women are sometimes criticized for being too quiet in meetings or too passive in seeking promotions. But these very characteristics can deliver enormous benefits for the business: many women are quiet because they choose to listen intently to multiple points of view before speaking, and many women don’t aggressively pursue promotions because their first priority is building relationships and working well in teams. These qualities should not be belittled but cultivated and encouraged across the entire workforce.
Diversity in the workplace is not only a boon for social equality—it can be a competitive advantage. When both genders are well represented in leadership positions, they bring diverse experiences and perspectives that challenge long-held assumptions and lead to more innovative solutions. Hiring and promoting more women sets in motion a virtuous cycle, since highly qualified women will be more attracted to a company that routinely promotes talent to leadership positions regardless of gender. If energy companies continue to make a conscious effort, the industry will lengthen the list of its women leaders and build a more balanced, diverse, and inclusive workforce.