March 8 is International Women’s Day, an occasion to “celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.” And the theme for this year’s celebration is #BeBoldForChange, urging women and men to become leaders within their spheres of influence by taking bold pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity.
Why the need to be bold? Because the World Economic Forum estimates at the current rate of change, and given widening economic disparity since last year, the gender gap will not be closed for another 170 years.
For many companies, corporate gender diversity is becoming an increasingly critical topic. The proof that it contributes to better performance is credible and growing.
It is now a strategic priority to increase diversity and a growing number of countries are encouraging greater female representation at senior management level through mandatory or voluntary standards.
There are far less women in the energy industry than men, representing 24 percent of the c-suite in the top 1,000 energy companies in the US. A report from the Weinreb group, however, indicates a positive trend for women in sustainability leadership roles; of the companies studied, 42 percent of Chief Sustainability Officer positions were held by women, more than double the previous two years.
Despite some historic challenges, opportunities and momentum in energy and sustainability are building — a sentiment echoed by several leaders in Schneider Electric’s Energy and Sustainability Services (ESS) business. Here are their views on careers in a dynamic, fast-growing industry.
Why consider a career in energy and sustainability?
“I was really drawn to two things: First, the ‘double bottom line,’ in other words, to have a career focused on making companies more successful, but also on doing the right thing for the society” said Nisa Bradley, vice president of marketing and software product management at ESS. “Plus, this industry is changing all the time and it’s complex, which means there is always something to learn and new strategic horizon to explore.”
For Erin Decker, senior director of strategic renewables, the answer is similar. “This industry offers a rare opportunity to both have a successful career while creating positive change for the environment. Since it is still an emerging field, working in renewable energy also allows us the chance to shape the way the industry develops. It’s dynamic, exciting and constantly changing.”
Value creation is also key, according to Ekaterina Tsvetkova, head of sustainability consultancy. “How can we ensure financial success without jeopardizing environmental and social spheres? How can we build a sustainability strategy in a way that would make stakeholders and shareholders equally happy and would boost a company’s performance? There may not be perfect answers, but working with companies to figure it out is a rewarding journey.”
What’s one piece of advice you give to young women entering this field?
For Nisa, learning is key: “Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. We know people new to the field have to learn a lot, quickly, and that you can never know it all. Over time your knowledge will become a tremendous asset, but you will only stay current in this changing field if your inquisitiveness is a core trait.”
Ekaterina stressed a similar point: “Never be too shy to challenge existing views. Take the time to reflect and feedback. Never settle for running to stay in the same place.”
For Erin, the energy world requires a level technicality that is important to be aware of for women first entering the field. “Be prepared to dive into the technical side of an industry, whether you have a technical position or not. The energy industry is notoriously male-dominated: be prepared for this and educate yourself on what it looks like to work in a male dominated space.”
“This can make a job really exciting with growth opportunities so don’t be scared away by this, embrace it,” she said. “Certain temperaments thrive in energy more than others. Ask yourself: do you want to work in an industry with constant evolution, ups and downs, and policy-dependent decisions? Are you ready to ride the roller-coaster? Stability does not come with careers in energy by nature.”
Why is gender parity critical in this industry — and across the corporate landscape as a whole?
“I’ve worked in finance, high tech, strategy consulting — none of which have a high percentage of women,” Nisa said. “It’s similar or maybe a little higher in energy and sustainability. I don’t see the need for gender parity as different in our field than any of these others.
“Modern society is made of a high percentage of dual income families, but support networks and work expectations haven’t kept pace, making it a challenging time of cultural transition. Gender parity is important so that we stop seeing key issues as ‘women’s issues,’ and instead realize that they are cultural issues that impact all of us and our families.”
For Ekaterina, gender parity is like climate change in the sense that, “One can challenge whether it exists at all. But in an environment that values diversity, going back to the old ways just doesn’t make sense. All men and women with smarts, desire and perseverance should be equally encouraged to fulfill their potential and leave their mark.”
Erin underlined the fact that incorporating women in energy jobs can strengthen teams and improve business practices. “The energy industry is a growing one. In order to attract the best talent, there must be opportunities for women to succeed. For women already in the industry, if there are not sufficient opportunities to grow and advance, energy risks losing valuable talent to brain drain — when women leave for other industries that will allow for career development.”
These women are leading the way at Schneider Electric, a company taking bold steps through programs such as the Women @ Schneider Global Initiative, the Planet & Society Barometer and the HeForShe campaign.
Looking to take action? Voice your support here.
In 2017 and beyond, let’s all be bold for change!