Net zero journey requires engineers from all backgrounds

In an article to mark International Women in Engineering Day, National Grid’s Alice Delahunty argues that a successful energy transition will only be achieved by ensuring the engineering community is representative of society as a whole.

A lot has changed since International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) in 2021. We’re in the midst of a geopolitical emergency, the threat of climate change is ever-present, and the government’s energy security strategy has now been published. It remains clear, however, that reaching net zero – and quickly – must remain a core priority.

This year’s INWED theme is innovation and innovators, celebrating inspirational women that are pioneering new technologies and ground-breaking projects, many of which are accelerating progress to a greener future. But to achieve a successful energy transition, we need people with different backgrounds and experiences which reflect communities around the country. This will ensure the sector has access to a whole range of ideas and solutions – and it also means that the sector will be better at taking decisions with a range of perspectives automatically built in.

At National Grid, we’re determined to play our part in decarbonising the UK energy system. The step up required to build key infrastructure quickly will be significant. To transform clean energy projects and ideas into a reality, we will need the right people in the right roles. At the same time, the operation of the future grid will be different, especially as energy generation, and consumption, changes – and as those changes happen, the definition of an engineer will evolve. We’ll need multi-disciplinary engineers who can consider aspects like the technologies we’ll need, the new and different digital and design implications, and future cyber considerations.

Looking at the engineering landscape over the last five years, I’m encouraged by a number of positive changes to enable diverse talent to succeed, with more opportunities for people to contribute and move into senior roles. With targeted talent programmes, organisations like POWERful Women and the Women’s Engineering Society driving this agenda, and a growing number of visible role models within the sector, there is progress being made.

However, there is still work to be done to ensure businesses are creating the right supportive environment for their people, and to challenge perceptions and stereotypes across the industry. Momentum is building and we’re seeing more women entering the profession; but we still need to get to a place where it’s no longer a question of whether individuals from diverse backgrounds can have successful careers as engineers.

In the fallout from the pandemic, the challenge to attract and keep top talent has increased, making it even more crucial for businesses to foster a culture where all people can thrive, no matter their background or experiences. With a significant amount of work to deliver to keep on track for net zero, employers need to look at the talent pools they’re targeting and whether these need to be expanded to meet new demands. An important part of this includes taking steps to encourage a greater understanding of and accountability for diversity, equity and inclusion within their workforce.

For me personally, the appointment of National Grid’s first chief diversity officer last year had a huge impact on how I think about equity, and I’ve had a lot of opportunities to learn from her expertise. Having that level of knowledge and insight within a business can increase your own understanding of actions and behaviours that can help counteract historical inequity, get you to think about how you might improve existing policies, and ultimately do your part to create an inclusive environment.

With women representing half the population, it’s crucial they feel able to join the engineering profession and achieve their full potential. We’ll all be better for it. As the energy sector sets out roadmaps and proposals for the changes and transformations needed to deliver on the UK’s clean energy and net zero agenda, attracting, nurturing, and supporting diverse talent cannot be forgotten.