Women in energy: closing the inequality gap


The issue of inequality at the workplace have been discussed extensively by many authors. But one sector in which women’s participation is below that of the broader economy, is the energy sector. Despite making up 48 percent of the global labour force, women only account for 22 percent of the labour force in the oil and gas sector and 32 percent in renewables (IRENA, 2019). These gender gaps in employment vary across the different energy sub-sectors, including power.

The inequality facing women in the energy sector are no different from what their peers must deal with in other sectors of the global economy. Deliberate and undeliberate actions such as discriminatory laws, sex-based protective legislation, traditional gender norms and harmful cultural practices et cetera interfere with a woman’s right to work.  In most parts of the world women often found themselves in under-valued and low-paid jobs. They lack access to education, training, and recruitment opportunities; have limited bargaining and decision-making power; and still shoulder responsibility for most unpaid family care work.

Many discriminatory laws still exist, that prohibits women’s entry and inclusion into the energy industry. It is estimated that more than 2.7 billion women around the world face legal restrictions in industries from so-called protective legislation, which purports to protect women from dangerous work, but in reality, discriminates based on harmful stereotypes.

In some countries, there are still laws that require women to obey their husbands, restrict a woman’s ability to travel outside her home or country, or distinguish between a woman’s legal capacity to secure a job or pursue a trade and that of a man. Some countries also forbids employers from hiring women to perform hard, dangerous and/or unhealthy trades such as mining, welding, drilling, butchering, and diving professions.

These barriers continue to exist in spite of the immeasurable benefits of women’s participation, including increased returns on investments and stronger development outcomes. The Morgan Stanley (2017) report on “An Investor’s Guide to Gender Diversity” projects that more gender diversity, particularly in corporate settings, can translate to increased productivity, greater innovation, better decision-making, and higher employee retention and satisfaction. A study by Woetzel, J. et al (2015) shows that if women played the same role in labor markets as men, they could contribute between US$12 trillion and US$28 trillion to global annual gross domestic product (GDP). Simply put, the advancement of women’s equality in labor markets including the energy sector, could contribute to the global economy at a value equivalent to the combined size of the Chinese and US economies today.

The Statistics

In terms of women’s participation across the various sectors of the global economy on the corporate ladder, especially at the senior levels, the result have been very discouraging.

Deloitte’s 6th edition of “Women in the Boardroom” revealed that women are still largely under-represented on corporate boards globally, and progress to change this trend continues to be slow.

Highlights of the report include:

  • Women hold 16.9 percent of board seats worldwide, a 1.9 percent increase from previous edition.
  • Women hold only 5.3 percent of board chair positions and 4.4 percent of CEO roles globally.
  • Women hold 12.7 percent of CFO roles globally – nearly three times that of CEO positions.

These scary statistics has a direct bearing on the global energy sector, as research reveals that women are highly under-represented in most extractive industries such as oil, gas and mining; making it a male-dominated one. The U.S. Department of Labor defines a male-dominated sector as one where women constitute less than one-fourth of the total workforce

In renewable energy, women represent 32 percent of workforce. While in the oil and gas industry, women account for a paltry 22 percent of the workforce, despite making up 48 percent of the global labour force, according to a 2019 survey and analysis conducted by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The IRENA Renewable Energy report which focuses on gender, reveals significant opportunities for a greater gender balance in the global energy transformation.

Women representation in the oil industry’s workforce and are even scarcer in engineering and other technical fields that are the lifeblood of this business.

According to the 2018 Global Energy Talent Index (GETI) report which surveyed over 20,000 persons within the oil and gas sector in 2018, women represent just 10 percent of the global energy workforce spanning the oil and gas, petrochemical, renewables, power and nuclear sectors.

Catalyst, a non-profit organization that focuses on gender diversity in the workplace, found that women constituted only 7.9 percent of board positions in the top 500 mining companies in 2016. Of those among the top 100 companies, 94 percent of women represented were in non-executive positions.

Ghana’s figures on women in top management and Board are equally discouraging. A study conducted by the “Ghana Oil and Gas for Inclusive Growth” on gender representation in the petroleum sector revealed in 2018 that there were only 3 female Board Chairs serving on 33 Boards surveyed, with only 5 of those Boards having more than 1 woman represented.

Also a recent research undertaken by “Women in Energy, Ghana” shows that for instance, of the 9 Board members serving at the Bulk Oil Storage and Transport Company Limited (BOST) only 2 are women, with only 2 women serving alongside the 13 top management team. The Ghana National Petroleum Company (GNPC) represented by 7 Board members, was also capture as having only 1 female, while 5 women counted among the 33-member management team.

Closing the Gap

To overcome these challenges, diverse groups across the globe including women themselves, are today creating platforms, seeking to promote gender diversity and inclusion in the energy sector, and to ensure equal opportunities for women. The biggest intent of the female participants is to transform the energy sector in their roles as energy entrepreneurs, innovators and decision makers.

For instance, Women in Energy Africa is championing women in the energy space through the use of innovative and data-driven solutions to solve energy challenges in Africa, whilst empowering female professionals, women in business and inspiring young girls across Africa in the energy sector.

In South Africa, Women in Oil and Energy South Africa (WOESA) is prioritizing the facilitation of women’s participation in business opportunities in the oil, gas and energy sector. WOESA’s goal is to ensure that equal opportunities for women and particularly black women in South Africa become a factor in the energy sector. The goal is hinged on the acknowledgement that women have either been at the lowest end of any form of business opportunity, or totally excluded.

African Women in Energy and Power (AWEaP) have also designed a program to accelerate African women entrepreneurs’ participation in the Power and Energy sector. The initiative of AWEaP is premised on the conviction that to eradicate energy poverty on the African continent, Africa needs commercially viable, multi-stakeholder driven initiatives that will ensure the meaningful economic participation of women.

Women in Sustainability, Environment and Renewable Energy (WISER) encourages women to join the renewable energy sector by providing women with the opportunity to exchange experiences through open forums and by establishing an internship program for women to gain experience in the solar sector.

Ghana launched its version of the platform in February 2020, seeking to increase women’s leadership and participation in Ghana’s energy sector towards inclusive development. The goal is to advocate for increased number of women in leadership and recognition of the contribution from women in the sector.

Beyond women seeking to promote gender diversity and inclusion in the energy sector, few energy companies have taken conscious steps to recruit women, to make the workplace more hospitable for female employees and to foster their professional development. They are increasing their focus on college recruitment, experienced hire recruitment, mentors and networks for women; while supporting and tracking the progression of women in the energy space.

Today, companies that are willing to support women in the energy sector, are also according women with paid leave or leave with adequate social security benefits, instead of dismissal based on pregnancy or maternity leave. Some have introduced measures that include accommodations for breastfeeding, or limiting exposure to hazards harmful to the fetus or a pregnant/nursing woman.

But in spite of these interventions by few energy firms, a holistic approach is critical to ensure a sustainable growth of women’s participation in the sector.

The Managing Director of Tullow Ghana and Executive Vice President of Tullow Oil Plc, Mr. Kweku Awotwi offers few thoughts to bridge the inequality gap. He suggest that deliberate design of gender policies that ensure women are empowered and made comfortable to be part of the energy space, is vital to boost women’s participation and presence within the energy industry.

In his opinion women’s under-representation could be curbed, if a lot more women are encouraged to take up positions that are often seen as male-dominated. As a result, the encouragement of young women to take up courses in the sciences, and mentoring to develop interest in the sector is key. He suggest that “one way to achieve this is to support and promote Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education and programmes for women, grow the female human resources and build their capacity for what some might describe as complex field of endeavor. And that starting early in the education process would encourage the young women in the sciences.”

>>>The writer has over 23 years of experience in the technical and management areas of Oil and Gas Management, Banking and Finance, and Mechanical Engineering; working in both the Gold Mining and Oil sector. He is currently working as an Oil Trader, Consultant, and Policy Analyst in the global energy sector. He serves as a resource to many global energy research firms, including Argus Media and CNBC Africa. Email: [email protected]



Leave a Reply