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Harnessing the Energy Industry’s Shifting Workforce for Greater Diversity

Photo: Courtesy of Matthew Henry

More than fifty percent of the energy workforce was eligible to retire in 2015, resulting in an ongoing phenomenon known as “the great crew change.” Innovation in the sector generates greater demand for talent as new energy markets and technology drive employment. Companies are addressing this talent gap by investing in initiatives to recruit and develop employees that have the technical, managerial and leadership skills for this evolving sector. One initiative is a mentoring program to support young professionals (male and female) to enter, grow and advance in the industry. Mentors are industry-based, experienced professionals that are screened and partnered with a mentee. Mentees may be student interns, recent graduates, early stage employees and mid-level employees who are interested in advancing in the industry.

Boosting women through mentorship​​​​​​​

The Department of Energy’s 2017 US Energy and Employment Report found the traditional energy and energy efficiency sectors employ approximately 6.4 million Americans. Yet women in these sectors range from just 22 to 34 percent, compared to 47 percent of the overall economy’s workforce. Companies and energy industry associations are implementing mentoring programs to increase diversity and specifically bring more women into the industry.

The Council for Women in Energy and Environmental Leadership, through its affiliation with the Association of Energy Engineers, offers a mentoring program to support women in their career development in energy efficiency, renewable energy, utility and energy technology fields. Both mentors and mentees apply by filling out the application listed on the Council’s website. Tahseena Kahn, the mentoring program chair, pairs the mentee with the right mentor. The mentor-mentee pair then decides the best means of communication for them, be that in person meetings, teleconference, Skype or beyond. Some mentors and mentees live outside of the United States and support someone in another part of the world.

One mentee noted, “My mentor is a perfect match for me. She works in the same industry, so we relate very well. My mentor truly cares for my success and gives great and useful guidance.” Through the guidance of their mentors, mentees have found the right job, improved their skills for career advancement, gone back to school for advanced degrees and attended management training programs.

The power of sponsorship

Beyond mentoring programs, there are informal sponsors that can help with career development and advancement. These are superiors and peers within an employer or outside (trade allies, association members, etc.) that provide guidance and honest feedback. This support may be limited to a specific life event, such as making a decision for a job change, or it may span years. A sponsor is a business associate with whom one has a natural affinity and comfort level that has knowledge of your capabilities and performance. A sponsor not only provides encouragement, but she (or he) is a trusted advisor that can help you understand the corporate culture and the skills required to be successful in the company.

As the majority of industry management are men, these sponsors are often men who recognize the inequity of the gender gap in the sector and truly care about the importance of the advancement of women to the evolution of the industry. Finding a sponsor starts by taking the initiative to ask for guidance and support. Building that relationship requires listening to feedback and allowing the sponsor to challenge you. Maintaining sponsors requires follow through, appreciation and respect.

The energy industry is in the midst of a significant workforce change, yet navigating a career in energy can still be challenging. Having both mentors and sponsors will help increase career opportunities, develop and hone skillsets, and build valuable relationships for a season or a lifetime.

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