Sectors such as science and technology are built on disruption. They aim to break down barriers in innovation, constantly improving and inventing new ways to achieve greatness. However, these sectors, that are evolving daily, are still limited by barriers both culturally and socially when it comes to diversity.

Energy is fundamental to our everyday lives, and it resides at the intersection of society, politics, and economics. Affecting everyone, we are operating in an industry that is aiming to facilitate real change. Change with how the world consumes energy and how that energy generated. As the cleantech sector is growing, it is undergoing a period of transition, which brings with it a huge opportunity to increase gender balance.

Collaborative work between diverse groups of people across the world is necessary to achieve ambitious targets in the fight against climate change. We need a limitless amount of innovative thoughts, expertise, experience and understanding; and female cleantech leaders are well equipped to contribute. As the demand for skilled, experienced workers increases it is crucial the industry embraces diversity to fill roles that, in many cases, have never before existed.

The Women In Clean Tech initiative aims to highlight and champion the great work being done by women in the sector, open doors for future generations of female cleantech leaders into senior, sought after roles and offer a platform for women to challenge the status quo and be disruptive.

Disruptive is exactly how I would describe British Physicist, Oceanographer and Thought Leader, Helen Czerski. I spoke with Helen for an upcoming episode of the HerSustainability podcast and as a strong voice in the cleantech industry, both commercially and academically, Helen has first-hand experience of dealing with diversity in the sector, making her the perfect person to probe on this topic.

Helen, often described as a bubble enthusiast, has spent her life sharing her enthusiasm for science. After completing her PhD in experimental explosive physics, Helen ‘stumbled upon’ the Ocean, where her passion for the physics of oceanic bubbles blossomed. After spending time at The Scripps Institute for Oceanography she was inspired to start her own research programme based at University College London. Helen now also shares this passion for science in a whole new way through the BBC where she presents documentaries on a wide range of subjects relating to physics and atmospheric & ocean sciences.

When asked about her impressive career, Helen instantly dismissed the word, admitting she was still not convinced she had one, saying ‘I just did interesting things and did my best’. She advised (and reassured!) me that there was no set plan to how things turned out for her and the key ingredients to Helen’s journey boiled down to being driven and working hard.

Speaking from experience, Helen shared her insights into the importance diversity has on the industry. “The earth is a collective enterprise. Any sustainable solution to climate change must include everyone. Whatever way you break people up, whether it is gender, race or ethnicity we need those voices”, says Helen.

Disruption, by definition, implies change, and for a disruptive sector such as cleantech there is still much change needed, particularly the lack of female representation in senior roles. Helen spoke to this, but also suggested that this problem is much more complex than just putting females into these roles, we must create a welcoming environment once they get there. “It’s not enough to open the door, you need to change what’s in the house so people feel comfortable to come in” Helen stated, “If they are not comfortable there, you need to change something”.

The confidence that Helen exerts is contagious and she reminded me of the value we as females can bring to the table. Her approach is based on this confident foundation that as a minority, our voice is arguably even more valuable, and we should never stop standing up for it. Helen’s motivations are clear, to get to a point where we are all just ‘professionals doing a job’, but until then, she agrees that work is needed at earlier stages to account for the lack of women further up the ranks.

Diversity is an important factor in all aspects of life, but as a future-focused industry, clean technology is one area that should be showing a rapid change in attitudes and opportunities. While steps are being taken by organisations to create discussions and opportunities that lead to change and tackling the barriers, there is still much more to be done.

Leading breakthrough technology companies require gender diversity to infuse new ideas and approaches, create a competitive advantage and turn threats into opportunities. Change is frustratingly slow, but women have a large role to play. With diverse experiences and backgrounds, cleantech female leaders offer insights that can create significant growth, greater profit margins, trickle-down prosperity, and strengthened communities.

Although nowhere near enough, there are successful women who are leading by example in the cleantech industry, at the forefront of innovation and bringing new thoughts to the table, rightfully claiming their seat. Speaking with as successful a woman as Helen, she created an environment of encouragement and motivation, leaving me with a valuable piece of advice for any female looking to become successful within the industry – “Find out what needs to be done and do it”.

Written by Aine Crossan

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