Change does happen, it just takes time.
Prior to becoming one of the founding member of WUN in 2017, I was on a fairly typical beach holiday. Lots of rest and relaxation was in order and an opportunity to guild free hours of reading. I read three books on this holiday, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows (pure escapism), Margaret Beaufort – Mother of the Tudor Dynasty (love Tudor history) and Mad Women by Jane Maas – the book I bought at the airport while killing time.
The second two books have stuck with me. Firstly Margaret Beaufort born 1441, married at 12 and became a mother at 13; wealthy in her own right but her marriage and life decided for her. Shocking and illegal in most countries now, but I was thinking – wow that’s history!
Jump 520 years on to Maddison Avenue in the 1960’s and hear Jane Maas talk about sexist behaviour, women leaving work when they got married and no such things as maternity leave. The introduced its first maternity leave legislation through the Employment Protection Act 1975, however, for the first 15 years, only about half of working women were eligible for it because of long qualifying periods of employment. I have to say I did feel that we hadn’t made much progress in those 500 years.
Here we are now in 2022, we have made progress in many ways, but in the work place we are yet to see true equality and diversity, especially in the Utilities Sector. You can see evidence of that in the sector demographics published by Energy & Utility Skills https://www.euskills.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/sector_2022.pdf
Women make up 19% of the workforce and many other minorities don’t even make it into double digit numbers
What is clear from my reading is that change does happen, it just takes time. And the last few years haven’t helped. The covid pandemic has, according to UN Foundation exacerbated the situation on gender equality by “rapidly unravelling the limited, but precious, progress that the world has made toward gender equality in the past few decades”.
It is one of the reasons that Women’s movements and WUN exist. To support and encourage women by providing a community of like-minded people to connect with but also to be a voice for change across businesses within the sector. We want to encourage women into the vast range of exciting roles in utilities, from constructing and managing infrastructure, to power generation, nuclear or renewables. From trading to distribution, security of supply for power and water to managing treating wastewater, engineering and all round saving the planet, just to mention just a few!
And as a sector we need proactively deploy strategies that create workplace culture that are inclusive and retain women. I have seen many plans that are focussed on improving diversity and most of them as focused on providing women with development tools. I see helping to make women more confident and stronger as a sort of ‘fixing’ women; but it’s not about fixing women or other diversities. It’s about adapting the workplace and the culture to create an environment that is inclusive. This starts at the top and it requires effort and investment.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing a business leader about what he was doing in his organisation to proactively drive inclusivity; he said “It’s easy to give the next opportunity to the person who has had the opportunities to develop and demonstrate experience (often a man) its takes effort and investment to give the opportunity to the person who could, with the right support, become the expert / leader / insert role and be role models for next aspiring person”
It’s a similar theme to above, change has to be drive and made to happen and that’s what WUN and the women in the network are here to be part of.
Hayley Monks, WUN Founder and MD of the Utilities Sector Go Beyond Partners.