By Miriam Noonan, Analysis and Insights Manager
The offshore wind sector, as a heavily engineering and technical industry, has historically been characterised by a male-dominated workforce, much like other energy sectors, such as oil and gas. Yet opportunities exist to improve the gender balance and establish offshore renewables as an inclusive energy sector for the future.
The 2019 Offshore Wind Sector Deal underlined the UK industry’s commitment to increasing gender diversity, raising the representation of women in the offshore wind workforce to at least a third by 2030 (up from 16% in 2018) and with a desire to reach a more ambitious target of 40% by 2030.
While these targets are a fantastic step in the right direction to create a more inclusive industry, it will require proactive effort to achieve them, particularly in attracting a diverse range of workers at the start of their careers. When the Sector Deal targets were set, the average age of women within offshore wind was 38. Encouraging young women to start their career in renewable energy will provide a catalyst effect attracting others into the industry at all levels, from apprenticeships and graduates to senior management.
The sector must work with government and academia to develop more programmes encouraging girls and young women into a renewable energy career. Increasing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) activities and apprenticeship opportunities is crucial in inspiring the next generation and capturing the interest of children.
According to Equate Scotland, boys and girls start off having an equal interest in STEM, but this falls dramatically when they reach their teens, with boys much more likely to pursue subjects such as physics, chemistry, engineering and computing than girls, regardless of academic ability. It is suggested this is because they are often stereotyped into certain classroom subjects. We need girls and boys to see subjects as being “non gendered” and feel able to pursue what interests and excites them. Increasing the number of women within the offshore wind sector can have a knock-on effect to other STEM industries, getting rid of the traditional stereotypes that filter down into schools – we’ll never have a diverse workforce if there isn’t diversity in the classroom to begin with.
Here at the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, we continue to support the UK’s STEM agenda and have formal programmes of work that support skills development across our sites in Glasgow, Levenmouth, Blyth the Humber and Wales. Our STEM Hubs deliver STEM activities and support to local schools and businesses and we offer bursaries to provide both financial and mentoring support to the highest achieving students going on from Levenmouth Academy to study STEM subjects in further education.
As careers progress, barriers to senior roles also need to be removed to see diversity at the top management levels in organisations. Shared parental leave is an opportunity for new parents to bond with their children in the first year of life and removes biases when hiring women. Flexibility in the workplace allows employees with additional caring responsibilities, more often women, to manage their roles at work and home without compromising career progression.
Another way in which the industry can increase the number of women in its workforce is through changing the perception of roles within offshore wind. As capacity is set to quadruple over the next decade, the types of roles within the industry are expanding. No longer will we think of those working in offshore wind as actually working … offshore! The rise of data and digital solutions, sustainable materials, circular economy approaches and so much more means that the avenues within the offshore wind sector are so diverse that they require lots of different skillsets and can be based practically anywhere. The ‘typical’ engineer role is quickly changing.
Looking beyond the 2030 targets and in terms of further ambition, the industry must recognise that diversity goes far beyond gender and avoid the risk of solely focusing on that specific segment, which may limit wider progression in other areas. Early STEM engagement will reach a wider audience to encourage BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic), LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning), disability and socio-economic diversity in the future work force, however we need to talk openly to understand and eradicate barriers if we are to truly be as inclusive an industry as set out in the Sector Deal targets.