Cleantech and diversity are both arguably the most important topics of our time. This importance lies on ensuring the cleantech industry is growing and performing well, boosted by a diverse workforce that brings a wide range of experience, ideas, and innovation together to tackle the biggest challenges facing the world today.

Throughout this WICT series I have met and spoke with some very impressive female contributors to the fight against climate change, which has offered well informed insight into what motivates these women to enter the cleantech industry. However, in a male dominated sector, these women are few, so the more important question must be – what prevents women from entering and remaining within cleantech to develop their career.

The most important aspect of building a thriving cleantech community is to attract women to the industry.

The cleantech sector is a way of living. The aim is to transition to an approach that produces resources, technologies, goods, and services that minimise risk to the environment, all while ensuring the economy can thrive and grow.

A huge aspect of the cleantech sector is its social impact and ability to deliver global change, a characteristic of which women are more likely to gravitate towards. So why with the opportunity to make a difference are female figures still low, and the question remains how much more could we achieve if the female contribution was not largely untapped but in fact their passion, insight and experience was harnessed.

Intervention is needed early on in students’ academic journey to raise awareness and educate females on what exactly the industry has to offer. The concept of choosing early between the arts and sciences is one that does not match the field that students will be graduating into. Cleantech is an industry that requires the highest degree of multi-discipline collaboration to truly transform the way communities, economies and countries operate. The demand for people who can communicate science and bridge the gap between research and society is on the rise, calling for those open-minded individuals who value passion and empathy, qualities often found in females.

Studies show that businesses with women in positions of power and senior management generally perform better than businesses with no or fewer females in these strategic positions. Therefore, we are motivated to encourage women to the forefront of this industry and leverage the stories and experiences of those that are already breaking the mould.

“To me, inclusive leadership is just good leadership” – Dr. Hayaatun Sillem, Royal Academy of Engineering

Storytelling is such an effective form of support and encouragement. Female leaders sharing their experiences to aspiring cleantech future leaders allows for the development of female role models, something the cleantech industry is sparse in. As the cleantech sector grows it must draw from the experience and perspective of more female entrepreneurs, innovators, and leaders and embrace better practices, constantly improving for its own benefit.

Through speaking with females succeeding in this field, there is an opportunity to provide support and guidance to address some of the biggest challenges women face, both personally and institutionally, and help to boost the industries innovation and creativity.

Cleantech will shape the world around us and tackle global challenges for future generations, so it is essential that we create a cleantech workforce that is reflective and representative of the society we serve.

This is exactly what motivates Nicola Murphy, Director at Green Connect NI, to do her part in helping attract more women into the cleantech industry.

After her interest in clean energy was sparked through an unusual overlap with the 2010 Winter Olympics and Canada’s pledge for the event to be carbon neutral, Nicola got her foot in the door and started her impressive career in Business Development and Sales within renewable energy.

Nicola became accustom to the lack of gender equality within the industry and quickly wanted to make a difference, getting involved with organisations such as Women In Business and Women In Energy. Here she spent time networking and supporting while setting up events to share the stories of other successful women in the field.

In another effort to support women entering the cleantech industry, Nicola has offered her top 3 tips to be successful:

  1. Have a career strategy: make informed decision, aim high and proactively manage your career.
  2. Get mentored AND mentor others: learn from others and pass on what you can to help women on their way up the career ladder.
  3. Get tech-savvy and digitally emersed: take time to develop new skills and never stop learning!

The second most important aspect to boost the clean tech industry is to ensure that women stay and thrive in the sector.

Women are often initially attracted to the industry due to the appeal of making a wider difference, but there are many challenges women face that does not make the cleantech industry a welcoming environment to grow your career.

24% of graduates in STEM subjects are female (WISE), however women account for only 1% of leadership positions in the STEM sector (Founders4Schools). So, not only are females already underrepresented at graduate level, but this figure also decreases as you move up the ranks in those fields, indicating a lack of career progression for females in this industry.

“If I had to describe working as a female cleantech entrepreneur in one word, it would be: lonely.

Cleantech is about changing the world, something that must be led by both men and women. So, why do I think it’s important to have women in cleantech? Because I need you here.” – Carolyn Hicks, Brill Power

Nicola Murphy also came to a crossroads in her career, where there was a possibility that she would not continue to develop within the cleantech industry.

Despite securing a well sought-after role she quickly realised that the environment was not as welcoming as was needed. After having her second child, Nicola found being in a very demanding role within a rigid company a challenge and made the hard decision to leave the working work to be a stay at home mum, caring for the needs of her family.

Still passionate about the transition to clean energy, she remained involved with the Energy Institute and looked for support through the Powerful Women Programme. Here she had the opportunity to be mentored by other senior females working within the renewables industry.

Through this supportive relationship, Nicola was reminded of her extensive network and the skills she had at her disposal. She made the decision to remain working within the industry, but on her own terms – from this, Green Connect NI was born.

Nicola’s career has evolved, and she is now supporting and offering outstanding service to clients in an industry she is passionate about, all while managing that important work-life balance, doing what is best for her life at this time. Nicole is now a mentor for Powerful Women NI, giving back and sharing the lessons she had learnt to deal with challenges women face throughout their careers.

Flexible working is often a necessity for women to succeed in their career, and with current restrictions in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, working from home is now as accessible (and efficient!) as ever. Companies proactively adapting and promoting flexible working will not only encourage and support more women through their organisations but will also help companies become more profitable.

Nicola admits she once felt like a failure when she struggled to balance her young family and demanding job, however her self-confidence, dedication, and ability to overcome challenges and transform them into opportunities is nothing short of inspiring.

“Being a female in the industry is being tenacious – just keep on going”– Nicola Murphy, Green Connect NI

Written by Aine Crossan 

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