Founded in 2013 by Anna Murray, Young Women in Energy (YWE) is a Calgary-based peer mentorship and advocacy organization by young women, for young women working in the energy industry. YWE gained 500 members in its inaugural month, with the tagline “Changing the face of energy” and aims to increase female presence, development, and leadership in Energy.
The organization published its #Solveathon Insights Report to the central question of their inaugural 2018 YWE Summit: How can we advance the energy industry by fully actualizing women's talent, ideas, and careers? The report states that while men and women graduate at an equal pace out of higher education and enter the energy industry in largely equal numbers, women are not progressing into leadership positions in the energy sector at the same rate as their male counterparts. Many women are exiting mid-career, which is happening at the same time as an industry-wide talent crisis in which industry leaders are ageing-out of the sector at an accelerating pace. YWE asked, why are young women leaving and what can we do to keep them here?
One hundred participants attended the YWE Summit, focusing on their perceptions of current challenges for young women in the industry, the underlying roots causes for these challenges, and actionable proposed solutions. Participants believe women’s potential is not being fully utilized and recognized by their employers or colleagues resulting in a lack of women in management and leadership positions who can support the career advancement of other women. They point to legacy cultures, a lack of clear vision, and enduring gender biases as the root causes to these challenges and see solutions in gathering nuanced data in the workplace, making clear goals, and utilizing organizational process to reduce bias.
A lack of women in the energy industry is more complex than the YWE report suggests. For context, young women’s career prospects in the energy industry have been heavily impacted by Alberta’s prolonged economic depression and subsequent record unemployment, the negative social climate created by the #MeToo movement, demographics rapidly adjusting from a Baby Boomer workforce dominance and now retirement in the face of the coming of age of the largest generation in history, Millennials. While the report is heavy on gender bias “Lived Experiences” examples, women’s individual career and life choices are not taken into account, of which research shows many women choose to opt-out of their careers, at least for a period of time, to raise children, and women are increasingly starting families later than they did historically, now waiting until their 30s.
Alberta’s economic recession, however, is the largest factor prohibiting women’s career trajectory. In a city of 1.2 million residents, an estimated 100,000+ Calgarians are unemployed, and this number excludes those who are no longer trackable on Employment Insurance or have been essentially forced into retirement because no one will hire a Baby Boomer when they can hire a Millennial for a fraction of the salary, and also a fraction of the experience. The province is enduring the worst annual job losses since the recession of the 1980s, when employment sank in the face of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s National Energy Program (a federal government program that capped prices, raised taxes and dramatically discouraged investment in the oil patch) and a global recession. Government policy preventing pipeline expansion and coastal access to new markets resulted in a deep decline in investment in the energy sector, which has been the key factor for the recession and job losses since 2015.
To become a leading voice in the industry, and as a representative of young professional women, YWE would do well to use their peer network to engage in cross-generational mentorship with those still in the stagnant sector to ensure the knowledge and expertise of those leaving the industry are retained through the next generation. The value of a strategic network that delivers economic results, regardless of gender, would give women the equality and career leverage they seek.