New energy economy offers chance to close gender gaps

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Kirsten Marcia is the Managing Director of DEEP Earth Energy Production Corp.

SHAWN FULTON / The Globe and Mail

About 20 years ago, geoscientist Kirsten Marcia spent two days mapping a gold mine underground in northern Saskatchewan. Then she was harassed, with superstitious male minors telling her that she would bring bad luck to the project.

Now Managing Director of DEEP Earth Energy Production Corp., Ms. Marcia was recently at a geothermal conference in California, facing a completely different reality. Almost everyone had a small set of wings pinned to their clothes, a symbol of support for Women in Geothermal, or WINGS, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to promote education, professional development, and advancement of women in the geothermal community.

“It’s such a refreshing tailwind, compared to the headwind I had at the start of my career, when I literally wasn’t allowed to be underground,” she says. “Now you have this whole division supporting this new clean energy industry. “

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As the energy sector rapidly diversifies in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the traditionally male-dominated industry is going through a sea change. And a new report from the Pembina Institute, a think tank, says the rapid growth and changes associated with the energy transition present a unique opportunity to address inequalities within Alberta’s energy industry.

The report, released on Friday, is the first step in quantifying the barriers women face in the energy sector and finding solutions to create a more equitable workforce. While focusing on Alberta, the heart of Canada’s energy industry, Laura Hughes, senior policy analyst and co-author of the study, says researchers are engaging with women across the world. country.

“We’re at a point where we’re quickly designing what our economy will look like – especially in Alberta – and if it’s not at the forefront of what’s being discussed, it will already be too late. It has to be part of the design process from the start, ”says Hughes.

Then she and her team will collect more data on barriers in the energy sector. They will then work with women to develop solutions and engage with industry leaders and policy makers to ensure changes are implemented.

In the oil and gas industry around the world, women account for 27% of positions requiring college education, 25% of mid-level positions and only 17% of managerial positions, according to the report.

According to a note from the United Nations Development Program cited in the report, the traditional energy sector is still one of the least gender-inclusive sectors, and the renewable energy sector has only one Slightly higher rate of female participation in the workforce than other areas of the energy industry.

The report identifies five main barriers to women’s participation and leadership in Alberta’s emerging and traditional energy sectors: lack of access to opportunities; lack of good jobs; an inability to move forward; an income gap; and the culture of the industry at large.

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Rayna Oryniak is President of Calgary Women in Energy, a non-profit organization formed almost 20 years ago as a space for women in industry to come together, share ideas and support each other in a field dominated by men.

“It’s really intimidating when you’re at a conference and you’re the only woman in the room, or golfing with your clients and you’re the only woman on the team,” she says.

Ms. Oryniak mentions the Calgary Petroleum Club, a private club established in 1948 for leaders of the petroleum industry. Until 1989, he refused to let women become members. But now, she says, investors are actively looking at environmental, social and governance issues, as well as women’s representation on boards.

“You are seeing a change in the industry and in the way people see the industry,” she says, adding that the energy transition creates an opportunity for a new way of doing things.

“Different perspectives will be the key to the success of this new energy system,” she says.

Ms Marcia, from DEEP, has already noticed a change in culture and feels that the energy sector is about to change.

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“There is a huge gap to be bridged that if women go out there and are supported by men in the industry, there is a wonderful gender transition that’s about to happen,” he says. she.

According to her and Ms. Oryniak, this support from men – especially men in leadership positions – is key to attracting more women to the energy sector.

Ms Marcia estimates that around half of the people working in the geothermal industry are women, but emphasizes how important it was to see those little winged pins on the lapels – including the large number of male members of the association. WINGS.

Two decades ago, she says, women decided that the barriers and the male-dominated culture were too heavy and were bailed out, or fought to defend their positions and something that interests them.

It often created vibrancy and tenacity in the women who stayed, she said, but “if you look into a field of male and male-dominated careers, it’s a scary situation to try and want to jump in that shark tank “.

“In these new clean energy industries, maybe the industry path for women is to be able to avoid this old fashioned energy culture. Not having to fight that and get into a clean, fresh, non-traditional energy industry that doesn’t have all that baggage. “

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