The energy industry is changing rapidly. Consumers and our customers are looking for increasingly flexible and affordable renewable or low carbon energy systems. At the same time, technological advances offer new opportunities for us and the industry to meet this demand for flexibility. In parallel, the energy sector and engineering institutions are finding it increasingly difficult to replace the engineers that are retiring or leaving the industry.
National Grid sits at the centre of this rapid change. We own and operate the gas transmission business in Great Britain, operate the electricity transmission system in Scotland and own and operate the electricity transmission business in England. We see the changing flexible, low carbon and affordable energy system requirements at first hand. We also have an aging expert workforce.
Diversity in engineering doesn’t happen by itself
I lead a wonderful organisation – which has multiple dimensions and lots of exciting opportunities given these changes. I lead, too, a diverse organisation – just over 33% of the Group Board is female and nearly 30% of the company’s senior management are female.
I am proud to lead the UK team which recognises that diversity is important for many reasons. We need a diverse workforce to drive the bottom line. A company in the top quartile for gender diversity is 15% more likely to financially outperform than those in the bottom quartile. Diversity is needed to drive engagement, because our staff respond positively to working in a diverse environment; and also to ensure we have sufficient qualified engineers, mathematicians and scientists in the future.
However, increased diversity in the workplace isn’t just going to happen by itself when it comes to engineering. Women make up only 6% of professionally registered engineers; this is the lowest percentage in Europe. At university, only 7% of students are studying Engineering & Technology (excluding computer sciences) and only 17% of those studying are women.
Positive work experience draws in female engineers
A priority for us is getting young women inspired to study the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). That is why 50% of our formal work experience students are female. Our aim is to increase interest in engineering, increase skills and to build their potential to be our future engineers. Some 86% of the women students attending our work experience courses have said they now wish to follow a career in the energy industry, which is very encouraging.
At National Grid, we also promote STEM in schools through a number of national programmes; and are sponsoring research with the Institute of Physics to help understand why physics is the second most gender biased A-level. Girls make up just 21% of the students taking the subject at A-level. The chances of girls studying A-level physics are also very dependent on school type, with girls four times more likely to study physics in a girls’ independent school than in a co-ed state school.
We have changed the way we attract people too. For example, in 2015 we only received two applications from women wanting to work as a gas field force engineer. Following a Facebook campaign in 2016, we received 40 applications.
I am really proud of all the work we are doing to improve diversity. However, we can’t do it alone. That is why collaboration between businesses, government and the education sector is so important. We are supportive of the work being undertaken by organisations such as the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering who, like us, campaign on diversity and inspire the engineers of the future.