Bridging the energy gender gap

 By Michelle Leslie

Within boardrooms and business towers in energy companies around the world, something is missing: women. Whether it’s in cleantech or traditional oil and gas companies, women are hardly visible, representing just one in four workers, and at the current rate, it could take more than a lifetime to reach gender equality…

Enter Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and MaRS. Together they have launched the Women In Cleantech Challenge.
“It kind of morphed from an idea a couple of years ago,” said Tyler Hamilton, partnership lead, Cleantech Practice, MaRS. “MaRS and NRCan were at an event in San Francisco, and we had a side trip to the University of California at Berkeley“.
At the University of California’s Berkeley Campus, there lives a national lab where something transformative is taking place. It’s known as Cyclotron Road. Its purpose is to take research out of the lab and into office towers, turning scientists and engineers into entrepreneurs. Cyclotron Road was the seed that planted the idea for the Women In Cleantech Challenge.
“The goal of the Women In Cleantech Challenge is to encourage more women to consider leadership roles in the cleantech sector outside of an academic or lab environment,” according to Hamilton. “It’s about nurturing the entrepreneurial side of women who are engineers or scientists, trying to solve some of the world’s biggest environmental problems. We help them develop their breakthrough ideas into commercial products and, in doing so, empower them to build and lead the companies of the future.”

The Cyclotron Road entrepreneurial technology fellowship program empowers scientists to advance hard technologies from concept to viable first product

Over the next 30 months, six selected finalists will build their companies. Each one has access to a team of advisors and federal laboratories to assist the candidates with research and product development. These budding entrepreneurs are also provided with networking opportunities and a stipend of $115,000 per year to cover living expenses and travel so that they can focus full-time on building their businesses.

Women still make less

Employing more women within the energy sector is just one piece of the puzzle. Changing corporate culture by balancing boardrooms and executive positions with women is another step in the right direction, as is providing female mentorship programs for staff. All of these things can help to close the divide. However, there is still the issue of pay.
While the numbers vary by industry and country, Canada has a gender wage gap that sits at almost 20 percent compared to Italy at 5 percent. According to a 2018 report by PayScale, women, on average, make 78 cents for every dollar men make, and across all industries, women’s corporate ladders are shorter than their male counterparts. They are noticeably absent from c-suites, and as women age, the disparity only increases.
“Women are routinely paid less for the same work as their male counterparts,” said Anuradha Dugal, Director of Community Initiatives, Canadian Women’s Foundation. The gender pay gap is a widely recognized indicator of women’s economic equality. Additionally, women in Canada are most affected by minimum wage issues because they account for 70 percent of part-time employees and 60 percent of minimum-wage earners.

TCEP 2018 highlights useful insights about gender diversity in the energy sector (

Investors harder to come by

The issues around gender disparity are often complex and layered and vary according to company, industry and even position. With fewer women in executive offices, it isn’t surprising to find pronounced salary differences. But it doesn’t end there. For women entering the business game, securing financing is also fraught with more obstacles.
The gender investment gap as described by the Boston Consulting Group found that businesses founded by women receive less than half the amount of funding awarded to male organizations even though women-owned companies outperformed their male counterparts by a staggering 62 percent.

Partners in parity 

The Women In Cleantech Challenge has big ambitions to bridge the gender divide with the hope to continue supporting female entrepreneurship within the cleantech energy sector and plans to launch version 2.0 beginning in 2020. MaRS is also aspiring to receive more support from private corporations with the goal of having a 50-50 split between public and private partnerships. Competitions like the Women In Cleantech Challenge is an important step towards the future for all women currently working within or considering a career in the energy sector.
“Part of it is showing people that it is important to get out of this whole monoculture. When you have different viewpoints being expressed you have a different sense of how people will respond to different issues.,” said Hamilton. “Not having diversity at the table will hurt companies in the long run and companies who have more diversity perform better on the stock market.”
Supporting avenues like the Women In Cleantech Challenge is just one of many ways leaders in the energy industry can help foster equality in the workforce.
“There’s a lot of work to be done to create workplaces that are more equal and inclusive. Industry leaders can start by ensuring equal representation of women and men at all levels of management, implementing pay transparency and pay equity, adopting quality parental leave policies, and encouraging both parents to benefit from them,” said Dugal.
Meanwhile, this March the global community will put gender balance front and center for International Women’s Day. The campaign theme this year is #BalanceforBetter, and it is clear that future successes within and outside of the energy sector will depend on our ability to bridge the divide and ensure better balance for everyone.

READ MORE: Making an unconventional choice by Rob Davies

about the author
Michelle Leslie
Alberta, Toronto and now Ottawa. Meteorologist, Journalist & Munk School Of Global Affairs Fellow.