Good morning, dear ladies, and dear gentlemen of course!
In 1843, Ada Lovelace wrote what many consider to be the first computer programme. Yet today, IT is a male dominated field.
Marie Curie is to this day the only person to win a Nobel prize for two different disciplines – chemistry and physics - , but girls are still often told that natural sciences are not for them.
Seven decades ago, Rosalind Franklin discovered the double-helix structure of the DNA – and saw her male colleagues get a Nobel for it. And even in 2020, labs can be unfriendly places for women.
Human beings have a bad habit of putting things into overly simplistic boxes: science, engineering and the colour blue are for men; childcare, clothes and pink are for women.
If you had to choose, right now, where would you put energy? I suspect many would choose the blue box, because energy is associated with pipes and plants, electrolysers and turbines, geopolitics and conflict. And the numbers would back you up. Women make up only 22% of the workforce in the energy sector, a rather depressing state of affairs.
Things are changing, however, and it’s about time.
First, and most fundamentally, our views on the role of women in the society have been changing for a while and continue to develop. Female CEOs and political leaders are no longer anomalies – although they still get paid less and are criticised for their ambition, they are there. We have all witnessed how women leaders have handled the COVID crisis or the way Greta Thunberg has galvanised an entire generation.
But we have proof closer to home as well. This Commission has made it crystal clear that equality between women and men is imperative for us. It’s not just words - nothing makes it clearer that you are in favour of empowering women than actually giving women the power.
I have the privilege of serving as the first female EU Commissioner for energy in this century, as part of the team of the first woman ever to lead the Commission. And in turn, I have the good fortune to be supported by the first ever female Director-General for energy. My first appointments were two senior women managers in the Directorate General. Half of the members of my Cabinet are women. This is not lip service, this is real change.
Second, it’s not just the role of women that is shifting – energy isn’t staying the same either. We are on the brink of the biggest transition in energy since we moved from wood to fossil fuels. In a couple of decades, we need to go from coal plants and oil drilling to zero emissions.
Fighting the biggest challenge of our generation in the form of climate change while disregarding the contribution of half of humanity, is like trying to box with Muhammad Ali with one hand tied behind your back. The challenge is already tough enough without making it unnecessarily harder for ourselves. As we are transforming the energy sector, we are going to need all the talent and experience we can get out hands on.
And while we are at it, let’s make sure that this transformation isn’t just about replacing one technology with another. Every energy revolution has brought with it massive social change and this is our chance to build something better, fairer and stronger.
We can create not just new jobs, but new ways of doing things; not just new solutions, but new opportunities. We know that the imbalance between men and women is smaller in the renewable energy sector, so this is a good starting point.
I know that it’s often uncomfortable for women to talk about how they are not valued enough or lack opportunities. But we must continue to talk about it until it’s no longer necessary – and I want to remind men as well that this isn’t just a women’s fight, it’s our common cause.
But I’m a pragmatic person and while talking is important, I’m always more interested in what we can do.
This Commission has already come out with the strategy for women’s rights that will be the basis of our work also in the energy sector. No matter the policy we are planning, we must reflect whether it makes the situation of women better or worse.
We know for example that energy poverty hits women harder, as they often raise the family alone and are stuck with unaffordable energy bills. So when we come out with the Renovation Wave this autumn, we will need to take that into account.
One thing we need for supporting women in the energy sector is better data. You cannot fix a problem when you don’t quite know where the root of the problem is.
Gender-disaggregated data about women and energy in the EU is scarce. That’s why DG ENER will commission a thorough study to help us understand the situation better and be better able to address it.
In our own team, the colleagues in the DG have set up the gender equality network, to make sure we give women the space they deserve in our policies and in our organisation.
Finally, I hope that today’s event and the focus we have put on women throughout this Sustainable Energy Week will also contribute to making our sector a more equal place.
Gentlemen and ladies,
I have no illusions that we know the answer to every question, especially if the question is so complex as to how to ensure a fair and sustainable society.
That’s why I’m especially glad to hand the discussion over to an extremely distinguished panel and I’m looking forward to their views on how we can make progress, fast, and how it can benefit the green energy transition.