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Home » Diversity in STEM » The energy sector is working to attract more female engineers

Karen Hutcheson

Resourcing Director, Centrica

Clarice Payne

Smart Energy Expert, Centrica

Major efforts are under way within the energy sector to bring greater diversity to the workforce. 

Women have traditionally been under-represented in the engineering workforce. Within the energy sector, that has been a long-standing issue with women only forming a fraction of engineers operating in the field.

But the landscape is changing with organisations such as energy services and solutions provider Centrica who are striving to address gender balance by actively recruiting more women engineers and provide career development opportunities for under-represented groups.

Its goal is to have 1,000 new apprentices by 2022 – with an aspiration for half of them to be women – as part of a drive to recruit 3,500 apprentices by 2030.

Breaking stereotypes

At present, only 8% of the company’s 9,000 field engineers and technicians are women but Resourcing Director Karen Hutcheson is determined to tackle that imbalance and break the gender stereotypes surrounding the gas and energy sector workforce.

A working mum who has worked for Centrica for 11 years, she remains acutely aware of the need to attract more women into the workforce of the energy provider, which has 10 million customers and brands such as British Gas.

I look forward to the day we can stop talking about female engineers and simply talk about engineers.

Flexible working

With flexible working patterns, the opportunities for women in engineering are looking brighter than ever, adds Karen. But the more difficult part lies in challenging gender stereotypes in the industry and making sure women feel welcome, comfortable and excited about working in the sector.

Karen believes now is the time to build on changes created during the pandemic and ensure the energy industry is a place where people of all genders, ages and backgrounds feel comfortable working.

“The pandemic has given us an opportunity to reach women who find themselves in all sorts of new circumstances,” she explains. “We want to target the women returning to work after having children, those who need flexibility to look after elderly parents, or who have been displaced by lockdown measures.”

That involves offering manageable training and work patterns, addressing practical questions such as are there enough female toilets or uniforms and boots that fit women, or how to keep engineers safe when they go into people’s homes. “I look forward to the day we can stop talking about female engineers and simply talk about engineers,” she says.

Gaining experience

Clarice Payne recently started her apprenticeship with British Gas to be a Smart Energy Expert after leaving the NHS where her technician role had become increasingly desk-based. It was the desire to do something more practical that motivated her to apply for the job.

“I loved the way it was aimed at women,” she says. With her apprenticeship, she feels she is constantly learning alongside a mentor, who helps her put what she learns into practice.

“I’m seeing first-hand how the job is done and gaining experience all the time. Whether it’s exchanging an electricity meter or installing a new smart meter, I feel supported throughout the process,” she adds.

Practical element

Clarice has been impressed by the learning style and practical elements of the course. “No day is ever the same, and I find it interesting to work with different customers, in a variety of locations,” she says. “I think one of the biggest challenges is changing the mindset of some people who believe women should not be engineers.

“My perception is that it’s always been a male-dominated job role, but I want to represent women and play my part in showing people that anyone can work in engineering.”

Advice she would give to anyone thinking about applying for an engineering apprenticeship, is “go for it!”

“The job has variety,” adds Clarice. “It’s different every day.”

Alongside the recruitment effort aimed at women, Centrica has signed up to the Tech She Can Charter, a commitment by organisations to increase women working in technology roles.

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