Abbie Sampson, director of external affairs, Energy UK Appointments, Company strategy, Policy & regulation, Strategy & management, Opinion, Energy UK

"Only one in four people working in STEM in the UK are female and women make up just 4 per cent of engineering apprentices"

We often hear about the energy industry in transition – whether it’s the ever-increasing number of players in the retail market or the seismic shift that’s happening in how we generate and use our energy. But are we also seeing a shift in the industry’s diversity?

Last week, on International Women’s Day, I chaired an event at Energy UK looking at the role of women in energy sector – from senior leaders to those out in the field as engineers. What became clear was that, while there has been progress in increasing gender balance, we have a way to go if we are to challenge the pale, stale, male stereotype and look more like our customers.

POWERful Women, the organisation that seeks to advance the professional growth of women in the energy sector, recently published their “Igniting Change” report which found that almost half (46 per cent) of the top 80 energy companies had all male boards, and at executive board level just 7 per cent of seats are occupied by women.

Of course, sadly that’s not something unique to our sector – it’s a similarly depressing picture when looking more broadly with the Hampton-Alexander Review last November finding just 59 of the FTSE350 companies met the Davies Review target of 33 per cent of women on boards. While that target is set for 2020, the rate of change will need to increase considerably if it is to be achieved such that one in every two appointments before then would need to be to a woman.

I am glad to say at Energy UK we don’t have that problem – in fact women outnumber men 3:1 in our senior leadership team with all three of our directors being women. However we know we can’t rest on our laurels and recognise that we are in a unique position to helping facilitate change and support women across the sector. That’s why we have created a new Equality and Diversity Forum, which will meet for the first time this month bringing together HR directors, internal network or equality and diversity leads across the industry, as well as experts from outside the sector in order to share experiences and drive forward best practice.

We also work closely with groups like POWERful Women, the Women’s Engineering Society – who do a huge amount around returners and mentoring – plus the brilliant WISE campaign, which aims to help build and sustain the pipeline of female talent in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths).

Only one in four people working in STEM in the UK are female and women make up just 4 per cent of engineering apprentices. Similarly, while there has been an increase, women only account for 24 per cent of graduates in STEM subjects.

The importance of encouraging girls to take an interest in STEM subjects is behind EDF Energy’s ‘Pretty Curious’ campaign, which seeks to battle misconceptions and address some of the reasons young women are being put off.

Over the past three years, the campaign has facilitated face-to-face events with over 2,300 girls right across the country, and worked with everyone from 20th Century Fox and Disney to the Edinburgh International Science Festival to get the message out there to young women and open their eyes to the varied career opportunities available.

To spark conversation between girls and their parents about STEM and to help them take steps to find out more, Pretty Curious created a fantastic film to play ahead of the movies Hidden Figures and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which have seen over 40 million admissions, while its inspirational digital content has been viewed over 6 million times.

Another impressive aspect of the campaign however, is its contribution to the wider company. Their ambitious target was to achieve 30 per cent of females entering the EDF Energy apprenticeship scheme – this is now at 33 per cent and steadily increasing in areas, for example the target is up to 50 per cent for engineering maintenance apprenticeships.  Further evidence of progress and positive change for the sector ahead.

This International Women’s Day has been the biggest yet and with gender pay gap requirements coming in this April which affects all organisations with over 250 employees, gender issues are guaranteed remain firmly in the spotlight.

I’m pleased that Energy UK is leading a lot of work in this area and by working together across the sector and sharing best practice hopefully we will replicate the rapid rate of change we are seeing in every other area of the energy industry.