When I was in high school, my mother gave me two choices for my college degree: engineering or accounting. She knew I liked science and math. But that wasn’t her real motivation. More than anything, she wanted me to get an interesting career and a comfortable future, and she saw these subjects as the best way to open doors in the future.
And who can blame her? She and my father were the first in their families to go to university. And as one of twelve children, my mother knew economic realities I didn’t.
As it turns out, her instincts were right on all fronts. In case you are wondering, I went with engineering (twice actually, with two different engineering degrees!), and it has been one of the biggest door-openers of my career. Starting my career with a STEM-based education gave me much greater access to networks and opportunities than I imagined. In my work with utilities, it means I can relate to the technical aspects of the industry with some clients, while ‘talking business’ with others and feel credible with a wide range of people in the room. I owe my mother a lot.
Today, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, I take my hat off to women everywhere and reflect on where we are collectively. And it gives me pause, with many credible sources showing women have been disproportionately hit by COVID-19. For example, recent Accenture research shows the unequal impact of the pandemic has extended the timeline to reach gender equality by 51 years—from 2120 to 2171. Similarly, sobering data and insights have been published by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Global Compact, among others.
<<< Start >>>
Here’s my take: digitization + sustainability + government stimulus present a new opportunity for women in the industry I focus on. I truly believe it’s the door-opener for a new generation of women.
<<< End >>>
Everyone has to work together to accelerate positive change for women across the world. And with collective will, it may be possible, with Accenture’s report for the W20 If Not Now, When? A Roadmap Towards a More Gender-equitable Economic Recovery setting out some practical steps to tackle this huge imbalance, with a focus on ten different areas including health, education, employment, and digital inclusion.
When I think about some of those levers and tools for driving change, from my own perspective I think digitization is at the core. Why? We know that access to digital technologies and digital fluency are a key factor in women’s futures. Even before the pandemic, we found 97 million women could enter paid work if their digital fluency doubled.
And leaders are increasingly understanding the digital imperative as a driver for equality. In January 2021, Julie Sweet as Chair of the Business Roundtable’s Technology Committee, led the organization’s 200 CEOs in a call to the U.S. Congress and President Biden to close the digital divide as part of their pandemic response actions. They argued that expanding internet access is an essential part of economic relief and called for swift action to improve broadband networks, calling technology an “absolute lifeline.”
But what does all this mean for women and utilities?
Here’s my take: digitization + sustainability + government stimulus present a new opportunity for women in the industry I focus on. I truly believe it’s the door-opener for a new generation of women. But let me explain what I mean and why I think the utility industry is the place to be right now.
Digitization is in itself a job creator for all, but perhaps especially women as we look ahead. As utilities bring new technologies into their core processes and systems, entirely new jobs will continue to emerge, creating opportunities for the data scientist or the engineer, like me. Think of the drone operator for remote power line damage assessment; the control center operator working in extended reality (XR) in the virtual control room with colleagues everywhere; the data modeler plotting scenarios to net zero GHG emissions targets; the scientist looking at future energy sources and industrial clusters to make them viable.
And the combination of digitization and sustainability is a powerful driver for utilities as they lead the energy transition. Accenture’s research shows companies finding value at the intersection of digital and sustainability are 2.5 times more likely to be among tomorrow’s strongest-performing businesses.
Now let’s turbo-charge all that through stimulus, with a number of governments around the world injecting big money and a positive regulatory environment to accelerate the energy transition.
With the utility workforce currently around 20-25% women, utilities want and need more diverse workforces— and the jobs are already there or are being created. I am passionate about changing the age-old assumptions about jobs and futures, with data suggesting women in STEM careers remains around 24%.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, I find myself encouraging my daughter along the math and science route too, as she begins to think about her own career. And as for my own mother? She got over the fact I ‘wasted time’ by going to graduate school after that first engineering degree, delaying that solid start she’d planned for.
Now let’s rise to the challenge together to elevate the future of women everywhere.