The energy industry is one of the largest in country, and employs millions of people around the world. In addition, energy is also wide ranging and includes not just oil and gas, but also renewable sectors, like solar, hydrogen, wind and other emerging technologies. Yet, it is also one of the least diverse, according to the American Petroleum Institute (API), who reports that nearly 75 percent of employees are white.
This is especially true in the highest levels of management at the utilities and major oil companies. Alternative industry fairs slightly better with middle management and below, but has the same representation of women and underrepresented groups as traditional oil and gas, where nearly 90 percent of leadership is white.
But these numbers are not news, and the lack of diversity in the energy sector has long been reported. Still, not much progress has been made in terms of the hiring and promotion of women and people of color. Many mature industries find it difficult to adapt to changes in the workforce, often struggling to find the optimal balance between entry level and experienced workers. For the past several years, Energy has had a particularly challenging time attracting new talent. Years ago, companies like ExxonMobil had their pick of the top candidates from the best schools—now these graduates are more likely to work for Silicon Valley tech giants like Apple, Google, and Facebook, or create their own startup. Whenever the largest companies are having a hard time finding talent, you know there is a problem. Perhaps making things even worse, is the Great Crew Change, which refers to the large age gap in the workforce brought on by the upcoming waves of older workers reaching retirement age and the scarcity of workers under the age of 35. Many young people just don’t want to work in the same industries as their parents and grandparents. In addition, energy has seen more than its share of problems dealing with both racism and sexism, both contributing to why young people shy away from jobs in these fields.
So, what is the solution? First, the energy industry has to come to terms with the fact that their lack of available talent is their NUMBER ONE barrier to future growth. Innovation in the areas of emerging technology demands more workers than are currently available. To fill these jobs, we must hire or train to be hired, more women and people of color. Simply put, our current efforts are not sufficient for future needs. The next step is to invest in organizations that are successful in doing this right now. Millions have been spent talking about the lack of diversity, now it’s time to spend money on creating sustainable solutions to fix this problem. That means looking at the ENTIRE talent pipeline. While it’s critical to address the issues of attracting new workers to the field, if we don’t solve the problem of why underrepresented people don’t stay and are not promoted to senior levels, then we really haven’t accomplished much, especially since we don’t have the luxury of failing at this. How much untapped talent is being lost because of systemic discrimination keeping people from reaching their highest potential? What innovations could be discovered if this industry supported EVERYONE at the same level?
Because the fields are wide open, there are tremendous opportunities for women and people of color to advance in the clean energy and renewable sectors. Thanks to the effects of COVID and geopolitical instability around the world, oil and gas will undoubtedly never be the same. Many of the jobs lost are never coming back. A large number of workers will need to pivot to other types of jobs to stay employed. As the needs for the products they produce continues to decrease, others like biomass and hydrogen fuel cell, will rise as they continue to get cheaper and easier to produce. Partnerships between industry, academia and government can play a large role in educating new workers to these fields, but they can’t do it alone. Grass roots efforts via non-profit participation (and funding thereof) are key to helping to promote these opportunities to underrepresented communities. They can also work to ensure there are clear, distinct and attainable paths that exist to not just senior leadership in energy, but entrepreneurship as well. The future of energy is dependent on harnessing this untapped potential.
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