The success of the energy transition will depend not only on new technologies, greater investments and a fair legislative and regulatory framework, but also on the skills, commitment and spirit of innovation of the young people who choose to specialize in the energy sector by studying science, engineering, and computer science. Meeting this challenge will require the help of all of them, with their mix of skills, their sensitivity and their vision of the future, regardless of their gender. However, it is still difficult for young women to access scientific and technological professions compared to their male colleagues. This is a missed opportunity for millions of women to actively contribute to major STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) sectors, such as research and innovation, which are growing and which will guarantee a better future for everyone.
Women and SDGs
And this is the challenge to which the United Nations is dedicating today, February 11, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Now in its eighth year, the Day is focused on women's contributions to the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the main methods for achieving them. Particular attention is being paid to Clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), Affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), Industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9), Sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11) and Partnerships for the goals (SDG 17).
These objectives align with the mission of our Group in many ways. For several years now we have been placing inclusion and equal opportunities at the center of our culture, both inside and outside the company, for our current employees, as well as for girls and young women around the world.
The Path to Equal Opportunities
The numbers tell us that, despite the progress of recent years, true gender parity in the so-called STEM subjects is still a long way off. Although women account for most of the university population worldwide, many scientific disciplines and all engineering disciplines are still predominantly male territory. According to the United Nations itself, only 33% of researchers worldwide are women, while the figure for members of scientific societies is just 12%. Only 28% of engineering graduates and 40% of computer science graduates are women.
This imbalance is reflected in the workplace, where women make up just 24% of the global workforce in STEM sectors, with particularly low percentages in ICT (16%) and engineering (10%), according to a StemWomen report based on data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency in the UK.
As for the renewable energy sector, a survey by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) showed that women account for 32% of the workforce in the sector worldwide. This is a better figure than in the fossil fuel sector where 22% are women, but they are mostly in administrative roles rather than real STEM jobs, and account for just 8% of managerial positions.
There are many reasons for gender bias and they are well known, thanks to decades of studies on the subject. There is a lot of research that refutes the stereotype that says women are less “suitable” in certain sectors, especially science and technology, but in the absence of concrete corrective measures, there’s a risk that the gender imbalance will increase when it comes to recruitment in both academia and in the workplace. These stereotypes are perpetuated when young women don't have enough female role models to look up to in research, technology development, engineering and science in general. Not only that, in the workplace there is often a lack of measures that favor the balancing of family and working life, in addition to frequent pay disparities.
Building Equality, from School to Work
In the 30+ countries where we have a presence— each having a very different situation with respect to women's inclusion and condition — we are working to increase female participation in STEM disciplines, particularly in the sustainable energy sector. We are doing so in line with the UN’s SDGs as well as its 7 principles of women's empowerment.
Within the Group, this translates into a constant effort to increase the percentage of women in all job positions, and in particular in management: in 2021 the percentage reached 23.6%, up by two percentage points compared to the previous year, and is continuously increasing. The percentage of women on the shortlists for company positions has grown steadily over the years, reaching over 50% (as indicated by our 2021 Sustainability Report). This commitment also includes making young people aware of the study and career opportunities offered by science and technology subjects that are increasingly integrated with a more humanities-based approach. This is because energy transition is a 360-degree transformation that will require professionals who are capable of moving between technical and social spheres.
And it was in this spirit that Back to School was set up. This is a STEM initiative that adds to the already broad and varied range of projects that Enel promotes in the various countries where it is present. Between 2016 and 2021 over 20,000 female students were involved globally in various initiatives, all of which were aimed at facilitating the encounter between schools, universities, companies and institutions.
Back to School is an innovative format that brings female Enel professionals—with STEM degrees and in technical positions—to high schools to meet both male and female students. Here they point out, to the latter especially, the importance of scientific and technological training in order to have a role in future professions, while at the same time presenting themselves as role models for young women.
Enel’s commitment to STEM led it to join the “Equal by 30” campaign in 2021. The campaign is promoted by the Clean Energy Ministerial global forum, which commits members in both the public and private sectors to achieving full equality of opportunity, pay and presence in leadership positions in the clean energy sector by 2030. Equitable access to science and technology subjects for all women and girls is a prerequisite for gender equality and empowerment. Only in this way will it be possible to have a just energy transition for everyone that enhances the talent of young women.