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Diversity and Inclusion - the Value of Expanding our Labour Market



By Julie Bunker, Project Coordinator, Programs and Business Solutions, Stantec

 

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new”. This statement from Socrates proves itself true, time and time again. As we continue to see major changes and advancements across the global energy landscape due to advances in technology, updates to policy, changes in demand and supply, and changes to the economics and business models, it’s becoming evident who is adapting well to the change, and who is still fighting it.

 

Several developing nations including China, India, Chile, and Brazil are leading the way with building robust and intelligent energy infrastructure with the latest and greatest technologies and designs. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) Renewables 2017 Report, China is the undisputed renewable growth leader and is responsible for over 40% of global renewable capacity growth. China is also the global market leader in hydropower, bioenergy, electric vehicles, and increasingly, air cleaning technologies. India is following suit with solar and wind representing 90% of their capacity growth with some of the world’s lowest prices for both technologies. The report also notes that over the next four years, off-grid energy growth from industrial applications, mini-grids, and solar home systems in developing nations in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa is expected to triple.

 

While many developing nations are pioneering the path for our future energy roadmap, Canada, a leader in the energy sector, and other developed countries seem to be struggling to adapt to the advancing industry. Canada holds significant amounts of renewable and non-renewable energy, representing vast potential wealth and opportunity, but there are many considerations and obstacles we face from realizing the potential; adapting and updating our aging existing infrastructure, shifting from the traditional energy and utility business model mindset, uncertainty over policies, lack of unification across provinces and peoples, economics, and weaker demand, to name a few. But let’s be honest – another significant obstacle is ourselves and our fight to hinder change. When challenging why something can’t be done, countless times the response is still “because that’s the way we have always done it”. The decision makers and leaders of the energy and electric utility sector in our country have looked the same for a very long time – mainly male with a similar education and background – and coincidentally, the delivery and service model for fossil fuels and electricity has, for the most part, remained the same for the last century. This is still common across many industries as we tend to promote people who we feel comfortable with and think the same way we do, and often that is people who look and act like us.

 

This is where a focus on diversity can help. A diverse workforce is not just an HR initiative or a ‘feel-good’ move; it’s a good business decision. Diversity is more than just gender or race, it’s also about diversity of background, education, experiences, mindset, and knowledge. Multiple voices lead to new ideas, different perspectives, new services and products, and encourages out-of-the-box thinking. Today, a diverse and inclusive workforce is crucial for companies that want to attract and retain top talent and fuel innovative strategies. Studies continue to show that diversity leads to more creative teams and increases a company’s bottom line.

 

Canada is well positioned to foster a diverse and inclusive energy sector considering our already diverse and accepting population, and good track record human rights and transparency, especially when compared to some of the countries vying for leadership in the industry. Based on my knowledge and experience of where we are today, I see the following as areas of opportunity and growth for our energy sector:

  • Engaging expertise from other countries, regions, markets, cultures, etc. who have a different mindset and background. ​
  • A more balancing representation of senior and engaged intermediate or junior resources at the table, where everyone is invited to contribute, to challenge the norm, and bring fresh perspectives.  ​
  • Identifying and creating opportunities for women and minorities to be sitting at the table (and be heard) and in leadership positions to effectively leverage the talent pool and create a culture of inclusivity.
 

There are huge opportunities to leverage the lessons learned and knowledge of those from other countries and regions who are tackling similar challenges. Developing nations are often forced to act fast to address pressing issues (e.g. fast-growing capacity demand) and must find efficient and innovative ways to do more with less. Diversifying our teams with members from different industries, backgrounds, and perspectives, as well as those from other countries and regions, coupled with our local knowledge and expertise, can foster that “outside the box” thinking we need to drive forward.

 

A workforce diverse in age and experience levels can also drive new ideas and innovative solutions. The people sitting at the table analyzing situations and making decisions are often experts and senior management who intimately know the complexities of the system in question. While this foundational knowledge is vital, it can sometimes lead to ‘analysis paralysis’, where we can’t step back to see the bigger picture. The value of energized, passionate young minds eager to shape and create the future like those of students and those in junior positions should not be underestimated. Our academic institutions already offer students platforms to create and innovate in real-world situations, and industry supports it as well. The IEEE International Future Energy Challenge and US Department of Energy competitions (most are also open to Canadian schools) create challenges for students that range from designing more fuel-efficient high performing vehicles to constructing solar-powered or net-zero homes to applications for hydrogen fuel cells and geothermal. We should be looking for ways to leverage and harness this creativity. There needs to be a healthy balance of the “old and new” ideas and mindsets around the table challenging each other, ask “why?”, questioning our path forward, and achieving the greatest potential outcome.

 

An increasing percentage of women and visible minorities are leading change in the energy industry. Companies like NRStor (energy storage solutions), the US Solar Energy Industries Association, Suncor’s Sustainability Division (oil and gas), and former Imaginea Energy Corp. (goal of reinventing the oil industry for clean hydrocarbons), are led by powerful and passionate women. Even QUEST’s own Director of Client Services, Helen Platis, is the President of Lacuna Canada – an innovative initiator in the finance sector, committed to investing in sustainable industries and markets. Organizations to support and recognize women in energy and technology continue to gain momentum and prosper. While women are marking their mark in the industry, it is mainly in innovative companies or positions. In the “conventional” parts of the sector which are most inept for change– fossil fuel power generation and energy networks – women remain largely under-represented, especially in leadership positions.  According to Forbes Magazine, part of the issue is women have limited access to leadership networks and high-level mentors, which can restrict their opportunities to gain a range of critical work experience needed for senior decision-making roles. And yet, studies demonstrate that businesses with more women on their boards and in senior management outperform those with fewer women. American Fortune 500 firms with the highest representation of women in senior management have a 53% higher return on equity than those with the lowest proportion of women (2010 Catalyst Census: Financial Post 500 Women Senior Officers and Top Earners). Again, driving the point that diversity and creating equal opportunities is good for business and needed for our industry to prosper. We need to continue the push for creating more opportunities for women to sit at the table to realize the true potential of our talent pool.

 

There are many mechanisms we can adopt and implement for improving the diversity of the workforce. These include unconscious bias training, Diversity & Inclusion committees, workforce targets, etc. While leadership plays a key role in establishing a culture in which all employees feel free to contribute ideas, this change needs to happen at every level. Diversity is an action, but inclusivity is cultural. The next great idea that changes the industry might be sitting in the mind of someone in your office – let’s make sure we give them the platform to be heard.

 

If you would like to hear more on this topic join me at QUESTtalks: Adaptability - Preparing Your Business for the Changing Energy Market taking place in Calgary AB on April 18, 2018, where I will be leading a tabletop discussion on diversity and inclusion.

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