Women hold about 32% of the jobs in the renewable energy industry globally, compared to 22% of the jobs in the oil and gas sector, according to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency.
One of the biggest gender diversity gaps in the wind, solar, hydropower and other renewables energy industries is seen in roles that require a background in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as STEM, according to the report "Renewable Energy: A Gender Perspective," which the agency, known as IRENA, released Jan. 12.
While women hold, on average, 32% of full-time renewables-related jobs, they make up 45% of administrative jobs but only 28% of STEM positions. The level of STEM-related positions matters given that a significant portion of renewable energy jobs, especially the well-paid ones, require a STEM background, IRENA said.
The report comes as major asset managers have been pressing companies in their portfolio to increase their gender diversity in the C-suite and boardroom. As for the electric utility sector, Edison Electric Institute noted in 2017 that 22% of its member companies' CEOs were female.
IRENA estimated that the number of jobs in renewables worldwide could increase from 10.3 million in 2017 to nearly 29 million in 2050. "The ongoing global energy transition offers the chance to create new jobs and reshape all aspects of how energy is produced and distributed," the report said.
But experts have forecast that the sector may soon confront growing shortages of well-trained and experienced individuals, IRENA said. It added that those skill shortages could be minimized or avoided entirely by training and recruiting women into the sector. Studies have also shown that an increase in the number of qualified women in an organization's leadership yields better performance overall, IRENA said.
"In other words, the renewable energy industry has a material interest in addressing its gender imbalance," the report said.
Beyond lackluster participation by women in STEM careers and the lack of the required education, the report said other hurdles to reducing the gender gap in the renewables and other sectors include the lack of recognition by most men that a problem exists. About 60% of the men surveyed said women do not face gender-related workplace barriers, while 75% of the women that participated in the survey said they see plenty of barriers.
The report said another hurdle for women is a general lack of adequate information, and thus awareness among women, about career opportunities in renewable energy. Prevalent hiring practices and unequal access to employment entry points such as apprenticeships make taking those career routes even harder.
IRENA surveyed more than 1,500 people in more than 140 countries, including representatives of organizations. Half of the responses from individuals were provided by people living in Europe and North America, while participation from individuals in China was generally low even though the country is a major force in the renewable energy sector.
The renewable energy sector comprises a wide range of actors, including regulated utilities, old-line engineering firms, independent power producers, start-ups, policymaking ministries, and research and academic establishments. As a result, the cultures and activities of those entities vary greatly, IRENA noted.
Steps that can be taken to tackle the gender gap, according to IRENA, include mainstreaming gender perspectives into organizational decisionmaking; enforcing equal pay legislation; supporting networking, mentoring and other forms of professional development for female employees; and adopting and enforcing policies to accommodate caregiving responsibilities such as paid maternity leave and providing better work-life balance for all employees.
The report said entities could also improve access to education and training programs and enforce gender targets and quotas for technical and operational roles.