Industry view: Breaking the glass ceiling

By Carolyn Clarke, oil and gas partner, PwC in Aberdeen

Over the last few months there has been a lot of noise about gender diversity and the impact this has on both personal and career ambitions, business growth, and even the economy.

We’ve seen actress, Emma Watson, speak eloquently at the launch of the United Nations’ HeShe campaign about the impact of equality as she grew from childhood to adulthood in the public eye, and at the Oscars, Patricia Arquette used her speech to talk about pay equality in Hollywood and wider afield.

And earlier this month, people from Angola and Afghanistan to Australia marked International Women’s Day, including participating in the “Walking in her Shoes” events led by the descendants of the Pankhursts and organised by the charity whose board I am a member of, Care International UK.


I believe that when there is an overwhelming need to fight inequality and when people decide to change and people decide to act, they can make a remarkable difference. It also makes us much stronger as a community. As an advocate for gender diversity within PwC and beyond there’s no doubt that there’s been a real, continuing change in attitudes and expectations during the course of my career, which has seen me work in countries such as Mongolia, Ukraine, Mexico and India and in a variety of roles.

I believe we are also seeing signs of the same sort of change across our energy sector too. This is reflected in our report Igniting Change: Building the pipeline of female leaders in energy, which puts a marker in the sand for how diverse the energy sector is today, and analyses what we need to do to normalise women’s ambitions for a rewarding career path.

But there is a hill to climb: our research reveals that just 5% of executive board seats are held by women while 61% of leadership boards have no women present at all. When assessed against the Davies Report target of 25% female board representation by 2015, we found that women account for only 9% of all board seats in the top 100 UK – headquartered energy firms compared to 21% across the wider UK FTSE 100.

And in the oil and gas industry, the proportion of all board seats held by women falls to 7% – in contrast to the power and renewables sector, which has 17% of women on boards.

While it is certainly too simplistic to say it must be a 50/50 split across all sectors, it is abundantly clear that equality doesn’t look like the landscape we’re in now.

Improving gender diversity in energy, however, is not about quotas – we believe it has a strong commercial business case. It would improve future decision making, bring fresh perspectives, enhance stakeholder trust and strengthen the UK energy industry in the long term, creating a brighter future for both this and the next generation.

Igniting Change, which was developed in support of the POWERful Women organisation, provides a roadmap to help CEOs, senior leaders, HR and aspiring women significantly increase the number of women entering, staying in and reaching the highest levels of the energy industry.

I was really interested to see through our research some brilliant examples of women who have carved out fantastic careers in energy. But although these stories are incredibly inspiring, demonstrating undeniable passion and enthusiasm for the industry, they are not typical experiences.

Together, we need to do more to ensure the diversity of skills and experience of women in business is understood and valued and that the next generation of girls are aware of the opportunities of careers available in the energy sector.

As young girls prepare for their senior school exams and scope out their subject choices for the next academic year or prepare to decide on their university course choice, it’s heartening to know that there are advocates close to home to help them make empowered choices. Our research revealed that 91% of women working in the energy industry would recommend a career to their daughters.   

Everyone has a role to play – from CEOs and senior management to HR departments and individuals themselves – and our hope is that together we can be a catalyst for change in 2015, helping to create a brighter future for both this and the next generation throughout the energy industry.

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