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Igniting Change 2:

Building the pipeline of female leaders in energy


It’s a turbulent time in the UK energy industry. The dramatic fall in oil prices, the reduction in subsidies for renewables and uncertainty surrounding the UK’s nuclear projects have all played a part.

However, one thing has stayed the same; the very low proportion of women in senior positions in UK energy companies.

The latest analysis shows that despite widespread recognition of the benefits of gender equality, there has been a marked lack of progress in the number of females in senior energy positions over the last 12 months. However everyone we have spoken to acknowledges that things can and need to change.


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Laura: Hello my name is Laura Manson Smith and I’m delighted to be here today with Ruth Kearney who is the Chair of Powerful Women, welcome Ruth.

Ruth: Thanks

Laura: So, Powerful Women is aiming to get greater diversity, gender diversity in the energy sector at senior levels and you’ve been Chair of Powerful Women for a year now, so tell us how it’s going?

Ruth: Well first of all I’ve been really encouraged by the amount of enthusiastic support that we get for Powerful Women from people across the sector, but I’m more convinced than ever of the challenges that we face and the importance of having this initiative and driving progress. In the last year we’ve been really focussed on deliverables, so we’ve launched a mentoring scheme called Powerful Connections where we’re matching really senior people in the industry with women who are close to getting into that senior leadership level and the feedback we’re getting from the women involved has been so encouraging, they’re finding it really helpful.

When we talk to companies they often say that they want to do more but they’re not really sure what’s the best thing and what they should focus on. So we’ve pulled together, from all different sources, an online repository of really good practices, good resources, so that companies and women can dip in and look for ideas and see what will work for them.

And then finally we’ve worked with the senior leaders in many companies and we’ve got some really impressive pledges where those senior leaders are committing to what they’re going to do and what they’re going to achieve.

Laura: Fantastic! And the resources you mentioned includes igniting change which is…

Ruth: Absolutely, which I know you’re just refreshing so will be really interesting to hear what sort of thing you’re finding this time.

Laura: Yeah, well if you recall in the first report we looked at the proportion of women in Executive Board positions and I’m afraid to say the situation hasn’t changed that much so still only about a 5% of Executive Board seats are held by women. So that was really discouraging when we looked at the data but what has been more encouraging is some of the stories that we’re hearing, you know positive stories. If I give you an example, the office of Nuclear Regulation now has four women on its Board, one of those a Chief Executive and just over a year ago I can remember having a conversation with the Chair of the ONR who was talking about what he was doing to get a more diverse Board, so that’s fantastic. So despite the fact the data hasn’t moved on as much as I’d have liked, some good stories.

Ruth: And I think that mix of, you know, progress is slow but things are happening is probably going to be the pattern that we’ll see. One thing I’m particularly interested in is that in those parts of the sector which are currently in very difficult times, like oil and gas, that they don’t let gender diversity slip down the priority list because it’s easy to focus on the immediate day to day issues but in many ways, what the industry needs to do is to find new ways of working, be more collaborative, look for different solutions and more diversity and more women at senior levels can actually be a tremendous help in that. So I think we really need to push the agenda and keep on with our initiatives to reach our goals.

Laura: I agree. So I’d really encourage you to take a look the report Igniting Change 2, it’s available on our website now. Thank you.

“When we launched our Igniting Change report last year there was widespread shock at the low numbers recorded and recognition of the strong focus needed to drive change across organisations, from developing a sustainable pipeline of young women recruits to strong female leaders."

Laura Manson-SmithPwC energy partner

Key findings

So what is different about the energy sector and why is it so difficult to change it? Part of the answer comes down to the sector’s history - heavy-engineering has traditionally been male-dominated. But in 2016, how valid a reason is that? And are companies, their leaders and their HR functions doing enough to counterbalance this? Building on last year’s research, we have examined what each group can do to make this happen.

Responsibilities of CEO’s

  • Lead by example
  • Set and communicate targets
  • Build a solid pipeline
“It’s no longer about policies, it’s now about attitudes. Don’t tell me that if a CEO and Chair want something to happen badly enough, it won’t happen, because I believe it will. So we have to ask, why isn’t it happening?”

Adriènne Kelbie, CEO of the Office for Nuclear Regulation

What HR can do to drive diversity

  • Demand diverse shortlists
  • Report on gender diversity
  • Align talent management processes
“We really want all our initiatives to be owned by the business. Diversity isn’t an “HR thing”. It’s a business thing.”

Hamish Watson, HR Director, Scottish Power

What can women do?

  • Seek out opportunities
  • Build your network and sponsorship
  • Be aware of, and learn, the rules
“It’s no longer about policies, it’s now about attitudes. Don’t tell me that if a CEO and Chair want something to happen badly enough, it won’t happen, because I believe it will. So we have to ask, why isn’t it happening?”

Adriènne Kelbie, CEO of the Office for Nuclear Regulation

“I really fear that Energy is standing still while many other sectors are now making progress, and at a time when Energy needs diversity more than ever. We need leaders to show real leadership, they are the key.”

Ruth CairnieChair, POWERful Women

What we've found so far

Discussions at the 2016 Powerful Women launch event highlighted what's working well in organisations, as well as where we still need to improve.

What's working well?

Women's networks and groups

  • Sharing experiences shows that you can have a fulfilling career as a woman in the energy industry and support the internal pipeline.
  • Female talent feel listened to and can learn from senior women's experience.

Setting the tone from the top

  • Engaged, committed CEOs encourage women to aim higher.
  • Ambitious targets must be set and measured, with progress (and the lack of it) announced regularly. 

What do we need to work on?

Maternity leave

  • Younger, successful women need to be able to plan for the future. There isn't just one route or timetable to senior roles.
  • Options such as sharing maternity leave and part-time working must be celebrated and publicised.

Introducing blind searches/recruitment processes

  • Address unconscious bias so that job promotions and hires always consider diversity.
  • More non-identified shortlisting is an easy way to encourage change

Contact us

Louise Hadcocks

Marketing Manager - Energy, Utilities & Mining, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7804 2451

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