Should We Strive to Reduce the Gender Gap in the Energy Sector?

Hanna Herasymenko, PhD in Economics., Senior Fellow with
M.V. Ptukha Institute for Demography and Social Studies
under the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

In the preparation of this article, the author used materials of the research “Women and men in the energy sector of Ukraine” conducted by the Institute for Economics and Forecasting of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine with the support of Heinrich Böll Foundation, Kyiv - Ukraine Office.

The energy sector has been regarded as an exclusively “male” industry during a long time, with employment options for women opening up only at the end of 1970s. Even though the share of women engaged in the energy sector is growing, they still constitute only 20-25% of all the oil and gas industry workforce of industrially developed countries.[1]  Until now, women have been little engaged in technical occupations (only 6% of the total number), primarily getting administrative jobs or positions in finance or sales. Female representation at the management level has also been disproportionately low: according to the latest research, women take up only 11% of jobs in the governing bodies of 100 biggest oil and gas companies worldwide. [2] Moreover, even when women are present on key positions, ways to influence decision-making and formation of energy enterprise policy are limited for them due to the absence of a “critical” level of representation. For instance, out of a hundred biggest companies worldwide, women have at least 30% of management positions only in six.

The modern energy sector offers various occupations that require different skill sets: design and construction, engineering, production and installation of equipment, technical support, mining and processing of raw material, consulting and other services, development and approval of regulatory policies, etc. Thanks to the innovative development and automation of many technological processes (the use of intellectual control and remote management systems, geographic information systems for mineral prospecting, etc.), these jobs are becoming available and safe for everyone, regardless of their gender or physical strength.

New perspectives for engaging women are also connected with the development of renewable energy sources (RES). Indeed, on a global level, the share of women engaged in the RES sector is significantly higher than in the “traditional” energy sector (32% vs. 22% respectively). [3] The distribution of professional roles is also more balanced for the RES sector: women take up 46% of all administrative jobs, 32% high-ranking management jobs and 28% of technical jobs. Still, employees of “clean” energy enterprises admit that there are wage gaps and barriers to women’s promotion.

The barriers include the lack of employees with a degree in STEM-oriented fields (science, technology, engineering, math), the influence of traditional ideas on the distribution of gender roles in the society, the cultural and social standards that determine the gender distribution of the job market by occupations, prejudice against women who work in traditionally “male” sectors, a lack of successful examples in the energy sector for women to follow. Energy sector enterprises often lack work conditions that would be friendly to employees, male and female, with family commitments. Since the public opinion usually places the burden of family duties on women, they need to pay more attention to “inconvenience” of work conditions when they choose their profession (such as: remote work options, remote location of the workplace, rigid schedules, long business trips, etc.). Moreover, energy companies themselves still fail to take into account implementation of gender-sensitive approaches to corporate policy formation and setting gender-sensitive development goals.

At the same time, however, numerous examples prove that gender diversity in the workplace is connected with better business results, growth of sales volumes and profitability of investments. [4] When hurdles that restrict women’s access to employment opportunities are eliminated, an extra supply of productivity is released, which strengthens economic development results through the use of the knowledge, practical skills and experience of various demographics. International experience illustrates that taking into consideration gender equality priorities contributes to sustainable development of enterprises, optimization of management processes and greater use of innovative solutions[5]. Therefore, investment in development of opportunities for women in the energy sector is not only fair in terms of representation, but also a forward-looking economic decision.

The situation in the Ukrainian energy sector is quite consistent with worldwide trends. The average share of women working in the mining industry vs. entire industry workforce constituted only 24% in 2017, while the engagement of women in the economy overall is more than a half (54%) of the entire workforce. This situation is a logical consequence of the protective provisions of the national legislation, which prohibited women for a long time to do certain jobs with difficult or dangerous work conditions. The order of the Ministry of Healthcare of Ukraine “On Approval of the List of Difficult Jobs and Jobs with Harmful and Dangerous Conditions Where Women’s Labor Is Prohibited” restricted women’s employment in about 450 professions in metalworking, mining and geologic exploration, oil and gas mining, metal industry, equipment repair at power plants and power grids, and other kinds of economic activity.

In October of 2017, the Order was repealed, since the prohibitive provisions of the List did not reflect the modern needs of the job market any more. The conditions and nature of the industry have changed; now, there are new progressive technologies and equipment, while materials and chemical solutions currently used are safer. Despite the fact that the Order as a whole was repealed, section 3 “Mining Operations” remains in effect. Its provisions prohibit the use of women’s labor in open cast mining and on the surface of active mines and pits, as well as mines and pits under construction, in general jobs connected with benefication, agglomeration, and briquetting. These provisions may be abolished if Ukraine denounces the Convention concerning the Employment of Women on Underground Work in Mines of all Kinds No. 45 (1937).

While these restrictions are based on concerns about women’s social protection, experts increasingly realize the flip side of such measures in the context of equal treatment by employers. On the one hand, additional protection of women may make them less competitive on the labor market, including that of the energy sector; on the other hand, the question emerges about selective protection of employees from harmful or dangerous work conditions. Therefore, the use of any restrictive measures in employment should be based on rational considerations, and labor practice at enterprises should correspond to the real needs of both employers and employees depending on their own preferences, priorities and physical fitness.

The most remarkable indicator accumulating the influence of all manifestations of economic inequality between women and men is the gender wage gap. The average women’s salary in Ukraine in 2017 constituted just 79% of men’s salary, which reflects the gender segregation of the labor market, in its “horizontal” (by occupations) and “vertical” (by categories of management positions) forms. The biggest gender gaps are traditionally found in the mining industry (the average salary of women is only 63% of men’s salary), especially mining of black and brown coal (48%). Statistical analysis demonstrates that women are significantly more represented in low-paying jobs, while men tend to occupy higher-paying jobs.

A specialized survey of energy sector employees conducted by the Institute for Economics and Forecasting of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine with the support of Heinrich Böll Foundation has confirmed the influence of gender stereotypes on women’s employment opportunities in the energy sector. The traditional perception of gender roles works on the individual, personal level (the idea of “acceptable” traits of character and models of behavior for men and women) and on the professional level (“acceptable” jobs and occupations for men and women), as well as on the family level (women being expected to take care of the household, children and disabled family members). Disproportional burden of family duties placed on women evidently restricts their employment and career opportunities: at energy enterprises, 22% of women vs. 14% of men have ever taken a medical leave to take care of a sick child, 7% of women vs. 2% of men have used the maternity/paternity leave option.

The impact of gender standards extends to the lack of interest that girls have in studying engineering, the bias against women who choose “male” jobs, the failure to take into account the actual needs of women who work at energy enterprises (separate restrooms and dressing rooms, uniform of the fitting size, etc.), and the absence of any corporate support to women’s career.

The problem of gender discrimination remains acute: a third of women and a fifth of men surveyed at Ukrainian energy enterprises have personally encountered or witnessed this problem. 17% of female employees vs. 9% of male employees have encountered disdain, insults and psychological pressure, with most instances of discrimination perpetrated by the respondents’ immediate managers. In this context, it should be noted that the Ukrainian legislation that regulates the national labor market remains primarily gender-neutral, since it does not contain direct discriminatory provisions against women or men, ensures their equality and a developed system of social protection measures. At the same time, the practice of law enforcement in this sector is not developed enough yet, especially when it comes to holding liable those who violate the anti-discrimination law.

It is increasingly widely recognized across the world that gender diversity and increase in women’s representation, especially in key positions, contribute to sustainable development of energy and transfer to renewable energy sources. For this reason, national governments and leading energy companies make effort to overcome the obstacles and barriers to women’s employment and career, develop strategies for integration of the gender component into development programs and raising employees’ awareness of available ways to defend their own rights. Imbalance in the employment sector can be handled through the use of gender goals and quotas (for instance, the Canadian 30-by-30 initiative designed to increase the share of women among engineering specialist to 30% by 2030). The regulatory framework for the energy sector should also contain gender-sensitive and inclusive strategies, which can be assessed using a system of gender indicators.

As for specific recommendations, summing up the international experience, we can single out several equally important focus areas to extend women’s engagement in the energy sector:

  • Start of career: encouraging women to get higher education in STEM-oriented majors, including through career guidance courses in secondary schools;
  • Making work conditions more attractive: development of remote jobs, flexible schedules, implementing the policy of balance between employees’ professional and personal life, taking into account women’s and men’s needs in design of work infrastructure (availability of restrooms and dressing rooms at drilling units, special uniforms);
  • Professional development opportunities: introducing leadership and mentorship programs for women, promoting examples of female employees who managed to build a career in the energy sector, explaining the benefits of the corporate paternalism model, since women tend to leave the sector if they do not have career development;
  • Appointment for management positions: eliminating artificial barriers to female mid-level managers’ promotion to top management, compliance with the principle of gender balance in key management positions, implementation of a “soft” gender quota system in top management;
  • Fighting gender stereotypes and discrimination: conducting awareness campaigns and advocating a change to stereotypical attitudes in public opinion, which determine professional gender segregation, including that in the energy sector; prevention of any forms of gender-based discrimination and harassment in the workplace; elimination of bias against women who aspire to achieve professional success in occupations not traditionally deemed suitable for women.

Despite noticeable progress, further research, advocacy and investments are essential to engage women in the energy sector and contribute to extending women’s professional opportunities in this sector. In its turn, international experience attests to the fact that greater engagement of women will help not only to use human resources more efficiently and use new management decisions, but also to implement energy-efficient and environment-friendly initiatives, including the use of renewable energy sources, which will provide economic growth and work in coordination with the priorities of sustainable development.


[1] Electricity Human Resources Canada (2017). Profile of Women Working in the Clean Energy Sector in Canada, Final Report, June 12, 2017.

[2] PWC and Women’s Oil Council (2013). Building Talent for the Top. A Study of Women on Boards in the Oil and Gas Industry, November 2013.

[3] IRENA (2019). Renewable Energy: A Gender Perspective, Abu Dhabi.

[4] Woetzel, J. et al (2015). The power of parity: How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth. McKinsey Global Institute; Carter, N.M. & Wagner, H.M. (2011). The bottom line: Corporate performance and women’s representation on boards (2004-2008). Catalyst.

[5] Noland, M., Moran, Т., Kotschwar В. (2016). Is gender diversity profitable? Evidence from a global survey. Peterson Institute for International Economics, Washington.