How to Get Women Energized About Energy Sector Jobs

by michelle ubben

Mamas, please let your babies grow up to be energy workers. Because right now, as it stands, energy isn’t ranking high on your list.

A recent survey of Floridians by Sachs Media Group’s Breakthrough Research division found that parents are not likely to recommend careers in energy to their children. Especially mothers. And especially to their daughters.

That’s unfortunate because the energy sector offers diverse, growing, and lucrative career possibilities for everything from engineers to lawyers to marketers.

The U.S. energy sector employs 6.4 million Americans and accounted for 14% of all new jobs created in 2016. While 55% of these worked in traditional coal, oil, and gas, almost 800,000 were employed in technologies that generate low-carbon emissions – things like renewables, nuclear, and advanced/low-emission gas. The solar workforce increased by 25% in 2016, while wind employment increased by 32%.

Opportunities abound. But public perceptions of the energy sector don’t match the reality.

In our survey, 6 of 7 parents would recommend a STEM career (science, technology, engineering, or math) to their children, but only 1 in 7 would recommend a career in energy. Fathers are twice as likely to recommend an energy career to a son than to a daughter. Mothers aren’t particularly inclined to recommend an energy career at all.

Maybe the way parents imagine energy jobs is limited to a linemen laboring in a bucket truck to get power back on after a storm or a roustabout working offshore on an oil rig.

But, in fact, careers in the energy sector are as diverse as the workforce itself.  Among attendees at the recent Florida’s Women in Energy Leadership Forum, only 19% said their  primary area of study related to the energy industry. The other 81% applied their education in management, law, regulation, finance, technology, or other fields to a satisfying career in energy.

How do we know their careers are satisfying? A full 100% of those we surveyed who work in the energy field said they’d choose the same career if they had it to do over again. In contrast, only 65% of women and 75% of men working in other sectors expressed satisfaction with their choice.

Now in its fourth year, the Women in Energy forum is the brainchild of Gunster Regional Managing Shareholder Lila Jaber. It annually brings together women leaders in the energy field to share their stories, support the growth of women in the sector, and encourage students to choose energy careers.

That’s critical because women are currently underrepresented in the energy sector, making up just 22% to 34% of this field, depending on which jobs are counted. That’s far short of the workforce as a whole, where women make up 47% of workers. Yet according to our survey, women working in energy feel significantly more inspired and respected than women in other sectors, suggesting it’s an outstanding place for women to stake out a career.

So why aren’t young women flocking to the energy sector? Maybe the industry hasn’t done a great job of telling its own story. Only 11% of women surveyed said they’d ever considered it. Those who hadn’t considered energy cited these reasons: 41% weren’t aware of the opportunities there, 22% didn’t know anyone working in the field, 18% didn’t see a way to apply their skills, and 10% said it was too male-dominated. Also, 21% said they didn’t consider energy because they weren’t strong in math or science, suggesting that they weren’t aware of the diversity of career choices possible within energy.

Then again, maybe it’s the mamas – only 8% of them encouraged their daughters toward energy careers.

It seems the energy industry has a job to do in telling its own positive story. And mothers may be just the place to start.

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