19. Gender diversity in energy

Ashley Acker
Liselott Fredriksson
Per Anders Widell

Diversity fosters innovation and is good for business (McKinsey & Company, 2015[1]; Belghiti-Mahut, Lafont and Yousfi, 2016[2]), and is therefore key to reducing costs and increasing the competitiveness of clean energy technologies. As a historically male-dominated sector, the energy sector needs to shift the dial by drawing on all talents to deliver a secure, affordable and sustainable energy future for all.

Female participation in the energy sector workforce has been consistently lower than that of men (Figure 19.1). On average, there are 76% fewer women than men working in the energy sector – gender employment gaps appear to be much wider in the energy sector than across the wider economy, according to 2018 data from 28 countries, including 22 members of the International Energy Agency (IEA, 2022[3]). The energy-related sectors with the lowest shares of women in their workforce are mining of coal, lignite and metal ores, and extraction of crude petroleum and natural gas.

When female employment is disaggregated by the size of the company, there is a consistent trend of larger employment gaps in smaller firms for the energy sector, while there is no discernible common cross-national trend regarding women’s employment and the size of non-energy firms (IEA, 2022[3]).

The OECD Employment, Labour and Social Affaires Directorate and the IEA jointly conducted a deeper analysis to better understand gender gaps in employment, wages and career trajectories using linked employer-employee data (IEA, 2022[4]). The study showed that there are disproportionately higher shares of women in low-wage firms and occupations in the energy sector compared to the rest of the economy. Bargaining and discrimination were identified as playing a major role in explaining this wage gap. Additionally, women working in energy were more likely to leave for another sector than those working in other sectors, which highlights an important retention problem that needs to be addressed along with other factors that prevent diversity.

Gender balance in key government energy policy making and implementing institutions has improved significantly over the last ten years, although women are still under-represented and many countries still have work to do to reach gender balance. Based on data collected from energy ministries by the IEA and the Equality in Energy Transitions initiative, only one of the 19 responding ministries had gender parity in senior management positions in 2010, compared with seven of the 24 ministries in 2020 (30%) (Figure 19.2). Staff in energy ministries were gender balanced overall in 2020, but not within each country. The situation has improved significantly for energy-related parliamentary committees, from 20% being gender equal in 2010 to 45% in 2020. Other key energy policy making institutions are also leading by example. The gender balance for senior management in affiliated agencies or authorities, for which the energy ministry has responsibility, has improved markedly, from none of the respondent organisation being gender equal in 2010 to almost 40% in 2020.

Despite many ongoing activities, none of the governments reported having fully achieved gender mainstreaming (average rating 2.7 on a 1-5 scale). Energy ministries acknowledged challenges in improving awareness of gender diversity barriers like gender norms and unconscious bias, in accessing quality gender-disaggregated data to better understand the issues and benchmark progress, and in developing competency in gender analysis.

Within the private sector, women continue to be consistently under-represented in senior managerial positions and boardrooms across industries, including energy-related sectors (Chapter 17). Globally, women made up to 15% of senior management in publicly listed energy firms, in line with 16% in all publicly listed firms in 2022 (Figure 19.3). The figures vary significantly, ranging from 9% in the nuclear power sector to 20% in electricity grid infrastructure and services. Two-thirds of energy subsectors are below the 15% total sectoral average share of female senior managers.

Female representation is even lower in higher-level senior management positions relative to overall senior management. In 2022, within the energy sector, positions such as founders and executive officers had almost no female representation (0% and 1% respectively), and female Presidents/CEOs and chairpersons were just slightly above 5% (IEA, 2022[3]). These findings suggest that a second glass ceiling exists for women beyond the senior management level.

There is higher representation of women in leadership positions in multinational energy enterprises, many of which have put in place policies focused on diversity and inclusion. Large and publicly listed firms, and those that operate across multiple markets, tend to be under increased scrutiny from investors and are therefore more likely to adopt comprehensive gender employment practices (IEA, 2021[5]).

Gender gaps in senior management in the energy sector cannot be explained by academic qualifications. Education levels are roughly similar for male and female executives, with around 50% having a bachelor’s degree, 35% a master’s degree and 15% a doctorate degree (IEA, 2021[5]). Differences exist, however, in the subjects in which senior managers possess their highest academic qualification, both across industries and on a gender basis. In the energy sector, the fields in which given academic qualifications are disproportionately highly represented (more than 1.3 in terms of the ratio of the shares) among women senior managers are business administration, accounting, law, marketing and political science. Male senior managers in energy are more likely to have degrees in engineering or computer science.

Comparing the age of senior managers in the energy industry provides some insight on how gender diversity is likely to evolve in the years ahead. Data show that women millennials are faring much better than previous generations when it comes to accessing management positions (IEA, 2022[3]).

Women are playing an increasing role in innovation, as revealed by one important indicator. The share of patents with at least one female inventor has more than doubled for energy technologies worldwide between 2000 and 2019, even when split into fossil fuels and clean energy transition patents, reaching 34% and 32% respectively (IEA, 2022[3]). The trend is similar for all technologies, based on IEA analysis of the European Patent Office’s World Patent Statistical Database (European Patent Office, 2022[6]). The share of female inventors in OECD countries has remained quite stable over the past decade while it has doubled at the global level for energy technologies and all technologies. In 2019, 20% of worldwide inventors were female, compared to 11% in OECD countries for energy technologies.

With regards to entrepreneurship, the share of start-ups with gender diverse founders has been consistently lower in the energy sector compared to non-energy since 2000, though both have grown over the past two decades (Chapters 28 and 29). The share of energy start-ups with gender diverse founders grew from 3% in 2000 to 11% in 2021, while the share in non-energy start-ups increased from 14% to 20% (IEA, 2022[3]). However, in terms of average amount raised per start-up through all funding rounds, the gender gap is much larger in the non-energy sector. Non-energy start-ups with gender diverse founders raised less than one-half the funds when compared to male-only founded start-ups. In the energy sector, gender diverse founded start-ups actually raise more on average (USD 36 million) than male-only founded start-ups (USD 30 million).


[2] Belghiti-Mahut, S., A. Lafont and O. Yousfi (2016), “Gender gap in innovation: a confused link?”, Journal of Innovation Economics & Management, Vol. 1/19, pp. 159-177, https://doi.org/10.3917/jie.019.0159.

[6] European Patent Office (2022), World Patent Statistical Database, https://www.epo.org/searching-for-patents/business/patstat.html#tab-1.

[3] IEA (2022), Gender and Energy Data Explorer, https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics/data-tools/gender-and-energy-data-explorer.

[4] IEA (2022), Understanding Gender Gaps in Wages, Employment and Career Trajectories in the Energy Sector, https://www.iea.org/articles/understanding-gender-gaps-in-wages-employment-and-career-trajectories-in-the-energy-sector.

[5] IEA (2021), Women in senior management roles at energy firms remains stubbornly low, but efforts to improve gender diversity are moving apace, https://www.iea.org/commentaries/women-in-senior-management-roles-at-energy-firms-remains-stubbornly-low-but-efforts-to-improve-gender-diversity-are-moving-apace.

[1] McKinsey & Company (2015), Why diversity matters, https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/business%20functions/people%20and%20organizational%20performance/our%20insights/why%20diversity%20matters/why%20diversity%20matters.pdf.

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.

© OECD 2023

The use of this work, whether digital or print, is governed by the Terms and Conditions to be found at https://www.oecd.org/termsandconditions.