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Empowering Women: the Importance of Role Models and Networking in Every Industry

2nd Jul, 2024

Historically, the corporate world has been male-dominated, and women were struggling to find their voices. While organisations have largely progressed on this front, there still exist biases and obstacles to overcome. Reflecting on her careers, and the careers of her peers, Christina Thompson-Yates shares what it means to be a woman in the energy industry, and how the world is, and should be, evolving.

It’s so much easier to be what you can see. Not too long ago, the work environment was entirely saturated by men, particularly in the corporate world where women had a hard time getting a seat at the table. Consequently, when we think of a high-flyer, we often envision a confident male less concerned with being perceived as ‘overly emotional,’ or ‘too kind’ for the job.

These biases still exist today, sometimes making it challenging for ambitious women to balance their natural feminine skillsets with the traditionally masculine presence that the workplace often values.

How can we counteract this and ensure that women in the workplace feel seen, heard and inspired?

I believe a huge part of the solution is women networking with other women. We need to meet, celebrate and talk to those who have worked hard to get to great places and achieve things we should all be proud of – whether they’ve secured a junior position or reached executive level. One of the brilliant things about being in a room full of women is that the conversations often span work-related topics, imposter syndrome, and balancing family life with career demands. Could we have these conversations with men? A lot of us probably do. But there’s unique inspiration in learning from and relating to other women, especially in male-dominated sectors.

Last week, I attended the Women’s Energy Network Alliance (WENA) in Edinburgh – an annual conference that brings together networks and associations representing women working in energy. The entire day is all about getting women – and men – together to support women and help them thrive in their careers in energy.

And what an invigorating day it was. Everyone involved, from speakers to panellists and attendees, was engaged and ready to inspire and learn, and I’ve got to say it was the most collaborative work event I have ever been to. Despite being the only person from Gemserv, there was barely a moment in the day where I wasn’t talking to someone new and sharing experiences.

Some of the key takeaways included the need for over 200,000 jobs to get to net zero – and those jobs require diverse talent and skills. However, there is what one speaker described as a ‘leaky pipeline’ to fix when it comes to women, with young girls dropping out of STEM subjects at school age, to talented and experienced women not returning from maternity leave due to inflexible conditions. Expert panellist Mavis Anagboso, Global Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at Harbour Energy likened a workplace without inclusion to moving into a house without furniture and offered some great tips for organisations when approaching recruitment. Often, she explained, we share our job listings on LinkedIn, where we already have a network of people who are like us – who we went to school with, have worked with, and share the same experiences. However, if we really want to be inclusive and attract diverse talent, shouldn’t we be advertising on forums for working mums, or minority groups where those outside our circles can be sure to see the opportunities? We shouldn’t fall into the trap of hiring people like us to ‘fit into the team’, even if that’s a natural temptation.

The DEI panel was particularly thought provoking for me as a woman who returned to work from maternity leave last June. I was fortunate to receive the flexibility I needed, but transitioning back to work is challenging regardless, and I don’t think I’ve met a working mum who has said otherwise. One insightful tip from another attendee was for organisations to encourage employees to “parent out loud”. When senior staff are open about their parenting responsibilities, it creates a more inclusive environment where colleagues feel comfortable bringing their full selves to work. And that’s when people perform best. This really resonated with me because when you go from maternity leave life to being a working mum, you’re really conscious about proving you’re still as capable and ambitious, but that sometimes means you feel less comfortable talking about your baby at a time that is actually really difficult. Opening up your laptop after that emotional turmoil of a nursery drop off can be a bit difficult (particularly in those early days) when you don’t feel like it’s the time or place to talk about it.  But of course motherhood is just one issue of many. All employees should feel like they can bring their authentic selves to work, and that can often be really challenging for those in minority groups without someone in their corner. One of the messages I’d like to take away from WENA is that everyone is a potential majority ally to someone else. We are arguably all privileged in some way, even if disadvantaged in another, and if we can recognise that and make space to support someone else, we can help drive positive change.

In addition to all of this, the speakers offered several valuable tips for career development and personal fulfilment:

  • Leaps of faith are common and okay – you don’t have to follow the obvious route to progression
  • Put your hands up for opportunities – even when things seem daunting and out of reach
  • Ask for sponsorship and mentoring – you can learn so much from both
  • Do what makes you happy and gives you purpose – it’s got to get you out of bed in the morning
  • Take accountability for your work – remember, nobody knows your job more than you

By championing each other, celebrating our successes and creating inclusive networks, we can not only inspire the current workforce of women but also pave the way for future generations. It’s so important that when young girls look at the professional world, they can see endless possibilities, no matter the sector.

When my daughter starts to think about what she wants to do, I don’t want her to limit herself to the roles where women make up the majority of the workforce. I want her to believe she can belong in any room, anywhere. By the time she’s choosing her A levels or writing up job applications, I hope that she’s able to see rooms full of women at all levels across all industries so that it’s easier than ever to envision her potential – to see what she can be.

Authors

Christina Thompson-Yates

Policy Communications Manager

Read Bio