Gender diversity in energy: what we know and what we don’t know

Gender diversity in the energy sector is vital for driving more innovative and inclusive solutions for clean energy transitions all over the world

Gender diversity in the energy sector is vital for driving more innovative and inclusive solutions for clean energy transitions all over the world. Widely regarded as one of the least gender diverse parts of the economy, the energy sector needs to shift the dial by drawing on all talents to deliver a secure, affordable and sustainable energy future for all.

This commentary provides a snapshot of the available data on employment, leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship. It also sets out how the IEA Gender Diversity Initiative can help to provide better data and analysis in order to address gender gaps in the energy sector.

Women’s participation in the energy sector is below that of the broader economy and varies widely across energy sub-sectors. Despite making up 48% of the global labour force, women only account for 22% of the labour force in the oil and gas sector and 32% in renewables1. These gender gaps in employment vary across the different energy sub-sectors.

For example, based on labour force survey data for the European Union2, we find that women’s share of employment in energy sub-sectors perform poorly when compared with both the overall labour force (46%) and to other industrial sub-sectors. The lowest performing sub-sector, which is also energy‑related, is mining of coal and lignate.

Percentage of female employees in the energy sector in the European Union, 2011-2017


Fewer women reach senior roles in the energy sector than in the broader economy3, with notable variations between sub-sectors. In the European Union, these differences are evident — more senior roles are held by women (>20%) in the sub-sectors of water, mining of metal ores and manufacture of chemicals compared with the sub-sectors of extractive industries, mining of coal and lignate and the manufacture of coke and refined petroleum products (<15%).

Percentage of female senior officials and managers in the energy sector in the European Union, 2012-2016


Unsurprisingly, there is room for improving gender diversity in leadership in the energy sector

Despite strong evidence linking gender diverse boards to improved company performance4, data reported by companies tends to be low quality. Companies with more diverse boards are more likely to report their gender composition thanks to industry initiatives such as the 30% Club or registering in the National Association for Female Executives in the United States and its equivalents elsewhere. That said, only a formal time-series analysis could provide data on whether a more diverse boardroom is the result of participating in these initiatives, or if firms with more diverse boards are more likely to participate in such initiatives.

By matching data from Bloomberg and the CSRHub, which rates companies on their performance in corporate social responsibility and sustainability, IEA analysis shows participation in at least one of these boardroom initiatives is lower for energy and utilities companies (4% and 3% participation of the companies included in Bloomberg) compared to other sectors (21% participation for finance and communications companies).

Participation of companies in gender diversity initiatives by sector


Average percentage of women on boards in companies by participation in gender diversity initiatives


Median number of boardwomen in companies by participation in gender diversity initiatives


Distribution of gender composition of boards of directors by participation in the 30% Club, 2018


The energy sector also faces stark gender gaps in innovation and entrepreneurship

Based on the European Patent Office’s World Patent Statistical Database, we can see that women are much less likely to be listed as inventors on patent applications associated with the energy sector. Fortunately, female inventors are rising across different technological sectors, with the highest rates (>20%) reported in the health and chemistry sectors.

In the patent classes closely associated to the energy sector – combustion apparatus, engines, pumps and power – women are listed in less than 11% of applications, and over 15% for climate change mitigation technologies (CCMT), which is comparable to all technologies, including information and communication technologies (ICT).

Percentage of female inventors in the energy (and control) technologies, 1978-2016


Even in the dynamic area of start-ups, only about 11% of energy sector founders are female5 compared with 20% across all sectors, except for consumer goods, as shown by data from business information platform Crunchbase.

Percentage of females in the sample of founders of companies less than ten years old and for whom gender is known, 2019


There is more work to be done

The IEA Gender Diversity Initiative is determined to strengthen data collection and analysis to better understand why women in the energy sector face additional barriers in the areas of employment, leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Our first step is collecting more data on gender diversity in the energy sector across different countries, as detailed comparative data is limited. To understand the drivers of women’s participation across the energy sector, policy makers need more information to determine the extent to which gender gaps reflect underlying preferences, market dynamics or even failures in policy settings.

To guide action on overcoming gender gaps in the energy sector, the initiative will provide recommendations on the conditions necessary to enable more women to thrive in the energy sector. This will include examining the role of public policy settings in the priority areas of education, employment and industry67

Understanding industry- and company-level dynamics will be a special focus of the IEA Gender Diversity Initiative, as some energy-related industries already recognise that a lack of gender diversity is a competitive constraint and are moving to address the imbalance. IEA analysis will examine how companies are successfully lowering the barriers for women’s entry and career progression, and what actions matter for supporting productivity and performance. By sharing this learning, the initiative can ensure the benefits of workplace gender diversity are more likely to be realised across the energy sector.

Stay tuned for updates on our progress.

  1. IRENA (2019) Renewable Energy: A Gender Perspective. Note that participation for this survey was voluntary, with potential implications for sample bias, which underscores the need for a systematic data collection effort. 

  2. Includes the United Kingdom

  3. ISCO codes 11-13


  5. Defined as start-ups with at least one female founder