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Celebrating International Women’s Day with the women of our industry

#BeBoldForChange. A call to action for challenging times. International Women’s Day 2017 is framed by seismic events across the politico-economic sphere. The issues facing gender parity have always been present but recent events such as reinstating the global gag order and Women’s Marches across the world, have highlighted both the challenges and dynamism of the movement to redress gender imbalance. It is one of the defining issues of our time, in addition to the threat facing the planet in the form of climate change. We have chosen to highlight the women working within the offshore industry and their contribution to both a balanced workforce and the drive for renewable energy.

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In our field there is one female figure that can’t be overlooked – Mother Earth, and so to mark the day, we’ve spoken to two women involved in the promotion of renewable energy sources – Geophysicists Sophie Clark and Samantha Mead.

1. Is there still a need for IWD?

SC: That’s a good question! Yes, I think so. Not because women need unequal promotion, but because there’s a continued need to promote the industry and STEM subjects to women right across the world. I don’t believe that just because you’re a woman, you should get more opportunities – that feels anti-women somehow, as if we lack the capabilities of men which we don’t. To me, the battle isn’t about gender, it’s about ability and drive but I recognise that STEM industries are typically male-dominated and that needs to change. IWD should be a force for helping women realise nothing should stand in their way – and the UK should set an example to other countries by supporting this.

SM: I think so, yes. There are so many ways in which this industry is actually already there – in terms of pay for example – which is a very important signifier. Recently I read a friend’s post on social media where she described how a political representative spoke on national television about women being “less intelligent, weaker, smaller” and how we should be paid less. That’s shocking in one way – but not in another. It still happens to the point where it can be the norm. So, International Women’s Day is vitally important in order to tackle that sort of bias. If a woman is able to perform as ably as a man she deserves the same pay. I don’t believe in inequality for either sex – only equality!

2. What inspires you to work in this industry?

SC: I’ve always had a huge interest in earth science and I wanted to apply it to something bigger than just physics and maths, something we can see in our day to day lives.

– When I started out in 2009 I worked about half the time in oil and gas, and half in renewables. That’s changed completely, not so much out of choice as just a development caused by the way the industry has gone, and I work full-time in renewables. But I do remember when I was asked by people what I did, I’d focus on being an off-shore geophysicist. I wouldn’t mention oil and gas. It was less complicated – and I know I’m not alone! Now though I say with pride that I work in the offshore wind industry. I believe renewables are very much the future and I’m proud to be playing a role in this.

SM: I started off because I liked travelling – when I was at university I did a year out in Canada and other friends did placements. One friend worked offshore and spent time in many different countries and that appealed to me. The majority of my career has been oil and gas, but since the downturn – which led to me becoming a freelancer – it’s been more renewables, though I did work on the big Nord Stream jobs last year, both in the office and offshore.

I love the idea of working on wind farms – I did geophysical sciences, including oceanology and climate change, so I am very aware of the impact we are having on the planet. If on a global scale we can move more towards renewables that would be incredibly beneficial – you’d find it hard to overstate that in my opinion really. I think this career field has done a great deal to encourage me to find inspiration.

3. What are some key issues which need to be addressed to bring more women into the sector?

SC: I feel there is definitely room to bring more women into the industry. I can be offshore in a crew and out of 40 men, there are just three of us! However, it’s the most welcoming group. I’m not made to feel ‘like a woman’ or less-able in any way. I hold my own, based on my ability – which is how it should be. This industry in my experience really is determined to keep it fair between the workers. So the reality isn’t a problem – but it’s the perception of the industry which needs to be addressed. I’m not aware of any extraordinary measures in place to tackle it – perhaps this is something that should be considered.

SM: People’s attitudes – not all of them, but a lot of them! I’d say in more than half the time I’ve worked in this industry I’ve had to deal with sexism in a variety of forms. A prime example occurred fairly recently – I came across a major data malfunction, to an extent I’d never seen before, and pointed it out. I said there was a fundamental problem with the equipment, but not a single person believed me. This went on for three straight days. Then, another male worker with a similar career background joined us on-board, spotted the issue and pointed it out. As soon as he said it, they agreed. Perhaps it was because it was a second opinion, but I feel that’s just being generous.

A lot of women I know here have experienced this too. You can get the vibe that you’re not being listened to, and that there’s no respect. A common go-to when women get frustrated on-board is that we’re “being hormonal”. Blokes can get fed up and irritated and nothing is said, but women frequently face that type of comment. When you’re stuck on a vessel for four weeks plus, this constant sexism can become wearing.

Saying that, I have worked on some vessels with no problems. I’d just like this to be the norm! I’ve never come across a campaign for this – not in the industry by any bodies or companies. The moment we get on-board, there’s a big focus on safety which is understandable. But I’d really like to see a push towards mutual respect – again, I don’t think women need special treatment – but I would like to see an emphasis on ensuring people treat each other as equals.

4. What would be your advice to women considering a career in the renewable energy industry?

SC: Do it! It’s been so interesting, and I like the fact that it doesn’t matter that I’m a woman. It’s also nice to be at the forefront of an industry which is the future, and to be here now to encourage more women to join. I would urge women to break with the societal stereotype jobs and get offshore!

SM: Go for it! If that’s what you want to do – don’t be held back. I’ve been able to achieve so much, in such a short space of time and it’s been on the whole a wonderful experience. If you’re the sort of person who will push themselves, there are many opportunities. You get to travel as well and see so many countries – few careers have this as a matter of course. And it can be uplifting to know you’re working in a really important field like renewables. Climate change is such a hot topic and I know I’m working to achieve something that really matters now.

5. Do schools, professional organisations and companies play a part in empowering women?

SC: Absolutely. I went to an all-girls’ school so there was never any such thing as a female subject or a male subject, everything was possible. Gender didn’t come into it. On a personal level it would be good to have more women in the industry, for it to be more varied.

SM: Companies don’t do anything specific to empower women as such, but equally I don’t feel women are being held down across the board. I never experienced it when I worked onshore in the office, it was only offshore but I want to stress it isn’t across the board.

At the end of the day you should be treated equally. That’s all I’d want to see. Otherwise you actually end up encouraging sexism!

6. What are your thoughts on the future of renewables in the US?

SC: It is certainly really sad to hear the way the Trump administration talks about climate change, and to read tweets denying that it’s happening. It goes against all the evidence, and that’s quite depressing. However I do believe that we can’t give up and just allow the US to break off. I think countries like ours and others in Europe have to set the example and show their commitment to the Paris Agreement.

SM: It obviously doesn’t bode well that the President has previously tweeted about climate change being a hoax made up by the Chinese and his vow to undo the Paris climate agreement. His pick for head of the EPA – Scott Pruitt – is a climate sceptic.

However it’s not all down to Trump. Industry can and will make positive changes – so long as they see the benefits of course. That’s very important and one positive in the face of this new unsettling era.

7. Closer to home, what impact do you think Brexit will have?

SC: Again, a really interesting question. I hope as a nation that we morally don’t need the EU to make us take these seriously. We saw how the UK Government got rid of the energy and climate change department, and merged it with industry. I’d like to think this is going to be good for renewables because we need industry to be a driver in this field.

SM: I don’t have undue concerns about this. I don’t see how it will make a significant difference. The UK has its own climate action plan so if it sticks to that, that’s a good thing. Plus the Paris agreement doesn’t go simply because we’re out of Europe. Similar to US, industry has a big part to play. I’m really impressed with Scotland, which is so far ahead with wind energy. It’s helped to drive UK to become one of the global leaders in this industry. Clearly there’s an appetite for it – and if we continue to help people realise that it makes good business sense as well as good earth sense, it’ll keep moving forward.