“I wanted to open the door and drag other women with me” says REA CEO
Published: 28 Nov 2016 By Grace Kimberley
Energy Jobline recently visited Nina Skorupska, Chief Executive of the Renewable Energy Association and renowned leader within the energy space. We wanted to find out more about her work with diversity and the WISE Campaign. Read all about it…
EJL: So, Nina… Here comes the common question: What is your definition of diversity?
NS: All I know is that when you have so many different views, of people of different backgrounds coming together to solve a problem – Boy, do you get incredible solutions. It’s not necessarily about gender, although that’s probably one of the most obvious areas. It’s also about culture from the different backgrounds.
I’m from a working class background of Polish migrants to the UK and my parents truly believed that education was the key to success. That was the work ethic they drove into me, to not expect anybody to give me something, to go and get it! That and to marry a nice polish boy (Laughs).
EJL: How did you become so involved in Diversity?
NS: When I was working for National Power, which then became Npower, I had the great privilege to work in teams derived from many different backgrounds. Unfortunately, gender balance, like in many other energy companies, wasn’t very strong.
National Power woke up to this and supported the formation of a women’s network in the ‘90s. We won an award from Opportunity Now for “women doing it for themselves”. So, there was a clear recognition that when you had a different group of people in your organisation you got more diverse options leading, therefore, to better business decisions.
I wanted to not only create more opportunities for myself, but open the door and drag other women with me, encourage them to think, “What an amazing career I could have in energy!”
EJL: We recently conducted a survey that found only 18% of Energy Jobline’s users are female. Why do you think women are deterred from entering the industry?
NS: There’s no one thing. It could be a personal perception, as they just don’t see it as a career option. We were taught at school that everything (within engineering) is always hard hats. Other reasons may be concerns about having a family, of supporting elderly parents – you cannot do this in engineering.
In my late 30’s both my parents fell ill because of cancer. My company was brilliant in giving me time to be with them and help them through this difficult time. This happened because I asked for it. I had a conversation with my boss. I said, “You know I will give you 100%, but I need this period of flexible working.” They still want you (hopefully) because if you have delivered excellent work, they will support you. My boss told me in my review after they passed away that they didn’t see a dip in my work at all. Women tend to shy away from making these kinds of requests.
EJL: Considering that there is a predicted skill shortages globally in engineering in particular, where do you think energy and engineering companies are losing value in terms of their workforce by failing to encourage our women to enter the industry?
NS: My mind set is: What are the different areas that organisations can influence to be leading organisations benefiting from a diverse workforce? I sit on the Board of the WISE Campaign with some remarkable companies, who have developed a framework called the “Ten Steps”. There may be more than 10 key attributes that make a company successful in attracting, retaining and promoting women into leadership positions but these 10 areas are key. I think its important to forward think corporates into understanding how they are delivering against these steps and look at how they are improving. For example, organisations need to look at how they write their job descriptions, how that attracts the talented, diverse people and how they show what’s possible. You have to know that it’s not a Pick ‘n’ Mix. To be a truly successful organisation you need to excel in ALL the 10 steps' areas.
( Click here for more info about the WISE campaign. )
Engineering is still about building the infrastructure for the future. Women like to link this to achieving a societal opportunity rather than delivering a thing. How and what they will be doing contributes to a better way of life. It's more important to them than building a particular “bridge” or “railway”. It's how the bridge or railway or power system, if its to build a wind farm, even, helps peoples’ lives. That kind of “story” is much more appealing to a woman. It doesn't mean that women don’t care about what they earn but when they have the opportunity to choose who to work for and there is a challenge to attract talented people, organisations have to ask why they should work for you. (I worked for National Power/npower as they stated that they wanted to build a powerful future for their customers, as it was there to deliver reliable, affordable energy that was essential for a modern life.)
Hopefully Corporates can learn to portray themselves in a different way and, for those that would like to, can get advice from knowledgeable people on how to do so. They need to mean it. It’s not just saying “We believe in diversity” and then doing the opposite.
Stay tuned for our next release of our interview with REA CEO and diversity leader Nina Skorupska.
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