Can a network of diverse innovative women break the energy sector’s status quo?

At our most recent seminar, Ana Laranjeira of the Centre for Environmental Policy discussed the importance of diversity for research in general but also the future of the energy sector. She is part of the IVUGER network (Increasing Visibility of Underrepresented Groups in Energy Research), a network of women working on energy topics that come together to meet and provide mentoring opportunities from females from academia, industry and policy. You can also download her slides as a PDF.

I need to be clear and unambiguous from the start, for me, representation matters, diversity matters. I think that we need to do better in both areas if we want a better energy sector.

But this is not just a gut feeling, study after study backs this up:

The list of peer-reviewed papers demonstrating the gains from diverse teams just goes on.

In the STEM subjects we are clearly not being representative and this impacts on the quality of the work being done.

Women are currently roughly 45% of all academic staff, however in STEM subjects where men still largely outnumber women, in spite of a growing number of female STEM students

There is also an evident trend regarding seniority in academia, and diversity. The more senior the position, the less diverse its staff tend to be. Women may not be far from being 50% of all academic staff, but this is certainly not the case when it comes to their share at the professorial level.

This was made very clear in 2017 with the boom in gender pay gap reports, with the UCU reporting that, “The large gender imbalance among senior academic staff is a primary driver of the intransigent gender pay gap.”

In 2015/16, only 39.2% of all Senior or Principal Lecturers/Readers/Principal Research Fellow level were women. The percentage of female Professors is even lower, at 23.9%. The imbalance is even more pronounced at the Russell Group universities, with just over a third of senior lecturers and 22.7% of professors being women

This is also the case in terms of ethnic diversity. In 2016-2017 there were only 30 BAME staff as managers/directors/senior officials, compared to 465 of white ethnicity and, from 2012 to 2016, there were no black staff in those positions, in the whole of the UK. This only changed in 2016 – 2017, with 5 black staff becoming managers, directors or senior officials.

This is where the Increasing Visibility of Underrepresented Groups in Energy Research project (IVUGER) finds itself. Diversity is amazing but we need more of it, a lot more.

The IVUGER team believe that we’re simply not using the UK’s full capacity when it comes to energy professionals. We have all of these knowledgeable professionals that are just not being given the stage. Rather than be charitable, we aim to even out the playing field by increasing the visibility of these researchers.

We are doing so through two main streams

Stream 1

Stream 1 is geared toward providing resources and training opportunities – practical solutions with immediate impacts.

This started of with our Networking and Training event, where 30 female researchers working in the broad field of decarbonisation of energy, from different regions, nationalities, disciplines, and varying career stages. They also got together to network and learn from one another, got to hear from – and be mentored by –  six female professional leading the way in Energy Research, and were given training in communication and collaborative research skills. This networking event succeeded in generating meaningful professional relationships, and a desire in a lot of our participants to collaborate in the future.

Participants at the IVUGER meeting

This perfectly paved the way for our second event, a 2-day Residential Funding Retreat. In this retreat, we provided training for 30 diverse female ECRs on key professional and career advancement skills training on areas important to the advancement of their careers, but also the opportunity to apply for up to £12,000 to support collaborative research projects in decarbonisation of heat.

Other key objectives included:

  • Accessing training and networking opportunities
  • Raising their profile in the UK energy space and accelerate their careers
  • Building new collaborations
  • Improving their record in attracting research funding

The participants were grouped into six interdisciplinary groups, allowing for more holistic and impactful research. Over the two day retreat individuals were able to work on their specific projects, but also to access tailored training from Imperial College London’s Dr Liz Elvidge and Dr Karen Hinxman, focused on: accessing funding, writing for a lay audience, working collaboratively, increasing research impact, and on how to improve their CV.

At the end, three out of six groups were awarded funding, and are currently looking at key issues affecting UK energy system decarbonisation supported by BEIS, OFGEM and UKERC:

  1. Heat as a service
  2. Predicting the uptake of air conditioning in UK households to 2050
  3. Social and political implications of delivering a low carbon heat future in the UK.

The remaining three groups are keen to keep on working on their proposals, and are aiming to still get funding from external sources.

Stream 2

Stream 2 is our research stream, in which we are analysing how the wording and information of Imperial College London’s academic job adverts have an impact on the levels of diversity of the college’s job applicants.

We will be doing so by:

  • Establishing a statistical relationship between specific job information (e.g. salary, contract length, the gender of PI, etc) and the respective diversity levels of applicants by the means of the diversity data.
  • Taking the information gathered from the above statistical analysis, and establish a relation between this and the percentage of gendered words in each job advert, using a word analysis bot.

Together, both these streams are bringing practical solutions to effectively increase the visibility of underrepresented researchers. But we also want to keep on doing more.

So what is coming next for IVUGER?

Since we’re all about visibility, we will be showcasing the work carried out by the women part of the IVUGER network at a UKERC general showcase event at the end of 2019. We will also be hosting our own Showcasing Day, in which the work achieved by IVUGER and by all of the females who took part in it, will be presented to UKRI, industry, policymakers, among other stakeholders.

In terms of research, we are partnering up with the project STEMM-CHANGE, which is looking at the recruitment data from a number of UK universities with the aim of making available new tools for promoting diversity in academic recruitment, and developing a national database for sharing best practice in Equality Diversity and Inclusion.

Furthermore, we are initiating a new research project, which aims to link up diversity factors with the UK’s decarbonisation goals – in an attempt to make it very specific how exactly is diversity crucial (and not just “the right thing to do”) when it comes to achieving something as important as our climate targets.

These are all small steps in the right direction, and our absolute end-goal is for projects like IVUGER to not even be needed. But, while we are, we’ll be here doing our best to increase the visibility of these truly great researchers.

Ana Laranjeira

Ana Laranjeira

Ana Laranjeira is a Research Assistant at Imperial College London’s Centre for Environmental Policy (CEP) working on the IVUGER project, which is part of UKERC’s Whole Systems Networking Fund.

She’s an Imperial College alumna, with an MSc in Environmental Technology and Global Policy from CEP.

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