With an energy transition underway and historic investments in infrastructure taking place, the utility industry needs workers. The Inflation Reduction Act, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the CHIPS and Science Act, are expected to increase hiring demand significantly. Most estimates cite an increase of nine million jobs over the next ten years (Political Economy Research Institute). One way to fill that gap is to attract more women into the field. Women currently make up 46.8% of the total workforce, but just 22.4% of the utility workforce (source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). While progress has been made (the percentage of women at work in utilities has increased by 2.1 percentage points since 2017*) there’s still a lot of work to do. Here are five tips to help you hire and support women.
1. Have an Inclusive Recruiting Strategy
Through inclusive recruiting strategies, Southern Company has increased the percentage of women in their workforce to 25% with an even higher representation of women among senior leadership (30%). An inclusive recruitment strategy includes education and training to reduce bias as well as expanding advertising to reach different audiences.
“We have achieved these results through intentional efforts via leadership development programs and succession planning,” says Saira Mazhar, Manager of Diversity and Inclusion for Southern Company, an electric and natural gas utility with more than nine million customers.
“The Roadmap is a look at the why of DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion), and what actions should be explored by companies, union partners, and the industry as a unified force,” says Executive Director Missy Henriksen. “The recommendations are what we all need to be working toward – things that are too much of a lift for any individual, organization, or company to be responsible for.”
2. Build Partnerships
Partnerships with industry organizations focused on women are one of the ways Southern Company is intentional with recruiting efforts.
“To attract more women to the organization, we’ve developed a strong partnership with the Society of Women Engineers,” says Mazhar. Other women-focused organizations in the utility industry include the Association of Women in Energy, The Women's International Network of Utility Professionals, and The Association of Women in Water, Energy and Environment.
Similarly, CEWD focuses on partnerships to increase diversity among women, but also racial and ethnic groups, the LGBTQ community, veterans and individuals with disabilities. It works alongside its partner organizations – the American Gas Association, American Public Gas Association, American Public Power Association, AESP, Distribution Contractors Association, Edison Electric Institute, EPRI, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and the Nuclear Energy Institute – to ensure a skilled, diverse workforce pipeline for future industry needs. It’s significant that contractors are part of this organization, as they share many of the same challenges.
“Contractors are a critical part of the supplemental workforce for utilities,” says Henriksen. “The more we have everyone together on one team and minimize the ‘us versus them’ language within the industry, it will help us tremendously.”
3. Start Early to Increase Awareness of Opportunities Among Utilities
According to Mazhar, studies have shown that women are socialized out of interest in STEM as early as age 8 or 9. “At Southern Company, we begin reaching out and intervening early,” she says. “Our Workforce Development programs grow awareness of the energy industry through educator camps and forums, educator externships and career events.”
Henriksen believes a lack of understanding of the scope and breadth of jobs available in the industry can be a barrier for women. “Your aspirations about your professional world are formed by those you see around you,” says Henriksen. “And if you haven't had a role model to introduce you to the concept of a certain profession, it just may not be within your wheelhouse for consideration.”
She recommends participating with students at school, scouting and community events, career fairs or wherever there may be career exploration opportunities. “Use those opportunities to help young women visualize themselves in industry careers,” she says.
CEWD has also developed a new 120-hour online course entitled “Energy Industry Fundamentals 2.0” for high school students and post-secondary learners. “We have a tremendous number of schools adopting the course throughout the country,” says Henriksen. “And the material is definitely strengthened when schools can partner with their local energy companies to bring the materials to life.”
Just as important as seeing women role models in person is seeing them represented in literature and online. CEWD’s website profiles women in energy, as does the Department of Energy website. “Being intentional about how you represent the workforce is another area of importance for sure,” adds Henriksen.
4. Embrace Values that Support Women
For Southern Company, building an environment that supports women begins with values. “Everything we do at Southern Company is based on our values: safety first, intentional inclusion, acting with integrity and superior performance,” says Mazhar. “We want to make sure that women not only feel supported, but are able to thrive at Southern Company.”
Southern Company manifests these values with benefits and programs to ensure that women have everything they need to live full lives inside and outside the workplace. This includes medical, family, emotional and financial support resources. The company also has three women’s employee resource groups for community support.
To support female employees, CEWD recommends companies take intentional actions such as making space for nursing mothers who have returned to the workforce, ensuring uniforms and equipment are sized for women, and offering hybrid or remote work opportunities when possible.
5. Measure Results
Acting with intention when it comes to recruitment and support of women is key, but results should be measured. In addition to measuring the number of women in the utility workforce over time, organizations should measure across both managers and non-managerial employees, and across all departments. Other metrics that could provide insight when analyzed by gender are average tenure, internal mobility, and the understanding of career paths and trajectories among female employees. Insight from these metrics can identify areas of concern and result in more effective strategies to improve retention of women in the utility workforce.
Enjoy the benefits of a more diverse workforce
Research supports the value of a gender diverse workforce. Not only does it increase the talent pool for employers, a study from McKinsey found that corporations identified as more diverse and inclusive are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors. It’s also what job candidates are looking for. A study from Glassdoor found two out of three job candidates seek companies that have diverse workforces.
“Having a diverse workforce, inclusive culture and equitable processes and procedures are critical to our success,” says Mazhar. “When we bring together people from all walks of life, backgrounds and life experiences in an environment and system that supports them, it leads to a more innovative and forward-thinking culture.”
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