Imperial College London: ‘Culture shift’ needed to improve energy sector diversity

Rubina Singh, Head of Innovation at British Gas and Non-Executive Director of POWERful Women, said a culture shift was needed to make the sector more reflective of the society it serves.

“We don’t have the representation in terms of senior leadership, in terms of visible role models, that we really need to help inspire others to enter the industry,” she told an audience at Imperial College London.

“It’s actually a super exciting point to be in the energy industry. We’re undergoing transformation, we’re going towards Net Zero, we’re going to achieve it… But we need all kinds of talent. We need 100% of our population.”

Rubina was speaking at a Future Energy Festival panel discussion on equality, diversity and inclusion in the energy industry hosted by Energy Futures Lab and chaired by Imperial As One Co-Chair Dr Wayne Mitchell.

You get those in middle management that don’t necessarily get it. And these are the people that are hiring new people.
Rodney Williams
Business Development Manager, National Grid
Rodney Williams, Business Development Manager at National Grid, said companies needed to understand that “if people feel that they belong in the workplace, that they can bring their full selves to work and be authentic, you’re going to get better productivity, less groupthink, new innovation, and different ways of solving problems.”

Rodney, who led ONE – National Grid’s multicultural employee resource group – from 2016 to 2019, said companies needed to act at pace to address the sector’s lack of diversity and pointed to the need for better training at middle management level:

“You get a lot of people at the top of the chain that get it, so CEOs, and you get a lot of grassroots advocacy, so people like myself in staff networks are very passionate about inclusion and diversity and understand the benefits of it.

“But then you get those in middle management that don’t necessarily get it. And these are the people that are hiring new people. They’re promoting people. And I think the solution is to make sure that they get training and proper support when it comes to inclusion and diversity.”

Success stories
Emma Pinchbeck, Chief Executive of Energy UK, said the adoption of inclusive workplace policies and practices including flexible working and improved parental leave was having a positive impact on gender diversity at the industry trade association.

Panellists at event“I looked at our maternity leave and it was quite good. But I looked at our shared parental leave and our parent’s leave. So, if you’re father or a partner going off, you now get six weeks, not two. And that’s partly because my own experience of maternity leave is that mattered as much as my own leave.

“And we’ve changed it so that you’re entitled to it from the second that you start working with us. There’s no kind of ‘earning’ it because someone in the economy is going have to pay for that. And it’s better for us that you get it.”

Emma also highlighted the success of blind recruitment, whereby names and identifying details are stripped from job applications before they are appraised, which she said was helping to increase the number of women hired at Energy UK.

Inclusive leadership
Leadership education will be critical in making the energy sector more inclusive, according to Professor Mustafa Özbilgin, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London’s Brunel Business School.

“There are two routes into leadership. One is the ignorance route; based on privilege, old privileges, entitlement, people can become leaders in any sector in the UK. And the other route is the scientific route, through education, training, experience, performance.

“And if we are to promote inclusion in the sector, we need to broaden the prospects for the secondary route. Because scientifically, leaders who are inclusive do much better than leaders who are exclusive, who only talk to a small group.”

He also highlighted the need to find better ways of accounting for equality, diversity and inclusion across the entire ‘value chain’ of energy products and services, from the inception of an idea, to consumption and disposal.

“There are so many people involved, so many communities involved… We need to start giving voice to those silent partners like environment or nature and less audible partners like minority ethnic groups. We need to look at this value chain and see the equality impact across the chain.”

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