The past year has sparked exciting and transformational changes when it comes to net zero. We’ve had ambitious announcements from government, commitments from businesses and growing interest across the country on what a clean energy future means both in terms of climate change and also for a green economic recovery.

Our research shows the UK needs to create 400,000 green jobs by 2050 to deliver net zero. However, the sector is missing out on a full-strength gender balanced workforce; currently women make up only 12 per cent of the UK’s engineering workforce yet our research shows 83 per cent of women want to help the UK reach its net zero target. To rise to the challenge, we need a diverse range of people across the infinite aspects of diversity, not just the visible ones, at every stage of the career journey.

This International Women’s Day, I want companies to challenge themselves to attract more women to the sector and tackle the gender imbalance which could risk holding back progress on climate ambitions. Addressing this issue can lead to more innovative cultures which will be critical to solving the complex sustainability challenges we’re facing today. There is no conventional background or archetype for joining the net zero workforce – we need a mix of backgrounds and experiences and there is a role for everyone to play.

For me, I was the first person in my family to go to university, where I studied Maths and Physics before completing a PhD in Particle Physics. It was here that I worked on a spin-off project from my core research, investigating an alternative technology for solar panels before making the move to the energy industry. My personal interest in sustainability only increased when I was competing as an international triathlete and duathlete as I spent a lot of time outside running and cycling in the countryside and swimming in the open water. In my career I have been in a range of roles, and even found myself as the only engineer in the room without a formal engineering qualification. Today, I’m working together with policymakers about the role hydrogen could play in our future energy mix, decarbonising industry, power, transport and heat in our homes.

There are so many opportunities for people who may not have considered the energy sector or think that their attributes and skills would suit a net zero role – we need to do more to reach all corners of the country and make sure people feel able to explore the options.

Raising the profile of women in the sector to highlight the variety of jobs available is key. As a board member of the UK Women’s Infrastructure Network, we’re trying to create more opportunities for women to network, exchange ideas, shape the agenda but also access role models and inspiring individuals in this space. For many young girls and women, being able to see relatable figures that are having a material impact on such a huge issue facing the world today could spark newfound interest in the net zero cause.

Mentoring and working with students are also crucial actions for unlocking the potential of our future engineers and net zero workforce. There are lots of ways to get involved – through charities that work with young people to overcome barriers to higher education, to networks that run workshops and events for university students and professionals that might need career advice. These are especially important for demystifying careers in the energy sector and showing the breadth of career paths open to them, especially as the journey to net zero evolves and we need new skills in new areas.

At National Grid, we’re committed to encouraging more women to join us and support their success – from training and development programmes, to working with external partners from the Women’s Engineering Society to encourage more women to consider engineering as well as underrepresented talent specialists MyKindaFuture to reach diverse young talent and inspire them towards STEM careers. Importantly, collaboration across industry partners, government, trade unions, NGOs, education institutions and campaigning groups will also have a key part to play in building the diverse workforce we need to meet 2050 net zero ambitions.