Climate change is one of the most monumental challenges of our time. But even as it draws increasing calls for action, one of the most important steps we can take still gets far too little attention: we need more women in the energy sector. Only 15 percent of employees in the oil and gas industry are women, and that number is even smaller when you look at higher-paying technical jobs.
Despite popular belief to the contrary, most leaders in oil and gas do recognize the reality of climate change. And many say they want to do something about it. A survey by Ernst & Young (EY) found that 93 percent of oil and gas executives believe climate change is real, and 67 percent say oil and gas companies want to and can be part of the solution.
I think these figures—and the industry’s actual commitment to reducing emissions—would increase further if there were more women executives at these companies. The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication recently reported that “on average, women are slightly more likely than men to be concerned about the environment and have stronger pro-climate opinions and beliefs.” And for years some women in energy fields have been prominent voices calling for greater action.
To implement that action, the oil and gas industry also needs innovation. It needs a constant influx of new ideas, systems, technologies and business structures. The EY survey found that only 37 percent of oil and gas executives believe their companies are currently doing a good job combating climate change. Innovation could change that trend, and more women would bring it. As the Stanford Social Innovation Review has reported, growing evidence shows that greater equality breeds innovation—“the creation of new and potentially disruptive ideas, products, or services.”
This is true for all forms of diversity. The more different perspectives and life experiences that people bring to boardrooms and work teams, the more innovative ideas they can come up with together.
I see this in action every day—and I see how far the traditional energy sector has to go. It was just a few years ago that a man I sat next to on a flight asked me, “What’s a pretty young lady like you doing in a dark, dangerous business like oil and gas?” Comments like that are one reason I left a career in big oil to launch my own company aimed at bringing more women into the business. There are still far too many obstacles preventing women from entering the energy field and from reaching their full potential within it.
The sector is paying a deep price for its long-term failure to recruit and retain a diverse workforce. When other industries beefed up operations to establish talent pipelines into diverse communities, far too many energy companies did not.
We also need stronger STEM programs for young women and ample support for those programs from the oil and gas companies. My organization, Pink Petro, included these steps and more in a report listing recommendations to close the gender gap in oil and gas. And I launched Experience Energy to help energy companies and talented female candidates find each other.
To move forward, oil and gas companies also need to erase the negative perceptions many people have of the industry. As EY describes, for instance, its survey found that “less than a quarter of consumers believe most oil and gas companies have acknowledged that climate change is real.” The industry is aware it needs to improve its communication with the public and awareness of its efforts to protect the environment.
My husband, daughter and I have witnessed the devastation of climate change firsthand in Houston. We lost our home and my business during Hurricane Harvey. In our city, the energy capital of the world, most conversations around climate change revolve around big questions—a growing search for new ideas and a desire to transition into new ways of operating. We talk a lot about how our most important resource is the workforce that can power us forward.
For big ideas to flourish and big actions to follow, people of all backgrounds must be at the table tackling these challenges together. It is time all Americans see themselves represented among the decision makers at the companies that fuel our world.”