It’s been a year since we launched Switch on International Women’s Day 2018. Since then, our Switch List – a crowd sourced, energy sector speaker database of women – has grown to over 320 speakers, we have launched a new Q&A webinar series and were nominated for Energy Live News’ Diversity Pioneer of the Year award.
Collaboration is a key principle of our work on the Switch campaign – in setting up the list, we wanted to build on the fantastic efforts of groups like Powerful Women, EWiRE and Pride in Energy, and we’ve really enjoyed meeting others who are working hard to change our industry for the better. Our ambition was to create shareable tools to support these initiatives, and the next stage of Switch will be outreach with the Switch List, to make sure other events organisers are aware of the list and find it a useful resource. We are also looking at how we develop the next set of tools for the project, including targeted webinars, online advice and resources, and case studies.
Here at RenewableUK, we are all very proud of what we’ve achieved so far. Behind the scenes, Switch is a really collaborative project – pulling in the skills of all our resident women experts. We’re at our best when we’re working together, across different teams of the organisation, to collectively generate new innovative ideas and solutions.
Today, on International Women’s Day 2019 some of the women behind the project at RenewableUK reflect on what they have learnt over the past year and identify some of the challenges industry still need to tackle.
We need to work harder to identify women in STEM-focused roles…
For our own, in house events, the Switch List has been invaluable – it has helped us identify new speakers and experts from across energy, at different levels of seniority, and from across the globe. As a result, delegates have told us that our events have been far more engaging and the discussion richer, given the diverse range of perspectives we have been able to showcase. It’s gone down well with women in the industry too who have told us they have been approached with speaking opportunities off the back of the List and wider Switch network.
Before we had the Switch List, building a programme of diverse speakers could be a challenging process and, in some instances, it still is. At RenewableUK we are committed to 30% of our speakers at events being women, which we have been able to deliver on for the majority of our events. Yet, for some specific sessions, we still find ourselves trawling through our email archives and asking round industry to secure women speakers:
“Last year we set a 30% female speaker pledge for our conferences to help put diversity at the centre of our events. At our largest conference, Global Offshore Wind, 33% of speakers were women.
But meeting our pledge was a challenge for some of our more technical/ specialist events. This means that not only do we need to target more speakers in these areas (and add them to the Switch List), but as an industry we need to promote these kinds of careers to the younger generation: through STEM engagement and increasing the visibility of female role models across energy.”
Visibility is key in helping to ensure that our sector is diverse in its entirety and not just within specific job areas. We therefore actively encourage women to recommend and nominate colleagues for the Switch List so that we can identify speakers from specialist and expert fields.
There is also a link between the lack of women in these specialist roles and the lack of uptake to STEM subjects by girls at school which demonstrates not only the need for greater engagement at entrant level, but also at a younger age. Only 35% of post-16 females study STEM subjects or a technical vocational qualification, compared to 94% of post-16 males. This is despite females accounting for 50% of STEM students at GCSE level.
Inviting speakers is only the first step to making sure we have diverse panels...
Although the diversity of speakers at our events has improved, diverse panels and stages are still not commonplace across industry. In addition to using the Switch List, we make sure to include text within speaker invitations that highlights the importance of having a diverse range of perspectives at industry events. This is in part to raise awareness of the issue, but also to encourage speakers who decline a speaking opportunity to consider who they nominate as a suitable representative in their absence – because inviting diverse speakers doesn’t directly result in an event being diverse when invitations get passed on to colleagues.
To help spread the word of the importance of diverse events, industry needs to give further thought to who and how they invite speakers to their events, build networks, and share stories:
“Once you meet the women featured on our Switch List, it becomes apparent how many different stories, career paths and perspectives our network has. We can all learn something from the experiences of others, which is why our Switch LinkedIn Group has been key in networking women at different stages of their careers. We have started to document some of these stories, and we hope to collect more case studies this year through our new tool ‘Switch Spotlight’.”
We still find ourselves needing to explain the business case…
We recognise that supporting diversity in the workforce is good for business and we’ve been particularly lucky through the Switch List to be invited to take this message to other companies and individuals:
“Speaking at a Powerful Women Breakfast last autumn to women looking to progress their careers was inspirational and showed how much there still is to be done. There are acres of research that show that companies that have leaders with different perspectives and backgrounds are more successful, that investing in business practises like flexible working pays back with staff retainment, and that as the energy transition booms, young people will take their skills to organisations and sectors that prioritise diversity. Thankfully, we are starting to see diversity initiatives right across the renewables industry – for example, it was at the heart of the Offshore Wind Sector Deal which was announced just yesterday.”
Making women visible is just the start…
The women on the Switch List are from a diverse range of backgrounds, across more than 10 countries. There is room to do more though – both through Switch and collectively as industry – to engage with all categories of diversity, whether that be age, ethnicity, education and other abilities.
The Offshore Wind Sector Deal has announced ambitious targets for women, BAME representation and tackling systemic issues such as STEM engagement which we hope to reflect in our aspirations for the development of Switch this year:
“For me, I think it is brilliant that Switch has scope to support women of colour and those from diverse social backgrounds. I’m looking forward to the new tools we can develop this year to promote diversity further within our sector and the new episodes of our webinar series – I really enjoyed listening to the career experiences of women at different stages of their careers in our first webinar, and am looking forward to receiving some tips and tricks from the CV guidance webinar we are hosting later this month.”
It is apparent that there is some brilliant work underway within our sector to promote workforce diversity. However, we have learnt through Switch thus far that industry is still far from normalisation. This won’t happen overnight, but it does require action now and a collective effort across the sector. We all now need to play our part in making these ambitions a reality, and we want to hear from you about what we can do next.
For more information about Switch and to get involved, please visit our webpage.