This first interview in a two-part series features Founder and CFO Miriam Wennberg in a discussion about her personal journey in a male-dominated industry, the importance of diversity in the energy transition and advice for supporting a more equal and inclusive workplace.
According to a 2018 IEA Report (2018), the energy sector remains one of the least gender diverse sectors. Women only account for 22% of the traditional energy sector despite making up 48% of global labour force, and for management levels the numbers are even lower. Women face barriers to enter the energy sector similar to those they face elsewhere in the economy, however the challenges of the energy sector are more pressing as the sector is transforming; clean energy transitions will require innovative solutions and business models to be adopted and greater participation from a diverse talent pool.
More broadly across all sectors, COVID has also intensified the “broken rung” on the career ladder for women: for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women are promoted (McKinsey, Women in the Workplace 2021). The body of evidence demonstrating benefits to a company’s bottom-line due to women in leadership positions is growing, and it is clear that company’s benefit from a diverse leadership team in more ways than increased profit.
The ECONNECT Energy blog talks to Founder and CFO Miriam Wennberg about her impressions of what it means to be a woman leader in energy today.
How have your education and career path led you to where you are now?
I am not afraid to say “yes” to opportunities and I try to maintain a flexible mindset. My education gave me a good foundation as I was privileged to receive a hybrid of technical and financial education. My degree, an MSc in Industrial Economics and Technology Management from NTNU in Norway, along with opportunities to study in the United States provided me with a wider world view. I completed an Executive Program in Entrepreneurship at Boston University, and this was very formative for my business outlook. I loved being a student in the US because the professors had interesting industry experience and shared their insights.
Back in Norway together with classmates at NTNU, we were presented with a challenge in the distribution of energy and we became very motivated to solve this industry challenge. From a young age I recognised that energy is the vehicle to take people out of poverty, and to solve an energy challenge was very meaningful to me.
I enjoy working with real-life challenges, and when we developed ECONNECT Energy (formerly Connect LNG), the sense of meaning was equally important to developing a successful enterprise. For me the outcome was not the main focus, and I knew it was important to take one step at a time and remain focused on the task at hand.
At ECONNECT we continue to employ really great people that help take the company to the next level. I enjoy working with talented people and seeing what we can achieve as a team. In my day-to-day work, I am a generalist and I like to connect the dots to see the larger picture.
Over the course of your career, have you witnessed changes in the energy sector?
I think our timing in starting ECONNECT Energy was very good –the industry is traditionally resistant to change but we have seen this change in recent years. Against this backdrop is when we built and sold our first floating, jettyless unit. When we started to scale up, we saw that the willingness to change was increasing, in both LNG and moving towards renewable energy sources. So, the sentiment in the industry has changed, and we were lucky in our timing. It was difficult to know how things would evolve when we started back in 2012, but now things are moving exponentially faster away from business as usual.
I think we have an important infrastructure contribution to help the energy transition. There will also be an increased focus on cost as we are witnessing macro changes throughout the industry. There is more aversion to risk with a focus on decreasing cost to decrease investment risk.
What are the biggest challenges women in energy face today?
This is a complicated question, but of course you notice that you are more often than not the only woman in a room. There have always been more men around me than women, and its easy to allow that to take root in your mind, but I find it important to focus on your objectives rather than the lack of representation. Personally, I’ve been privileged as I have been given many opportunities and I am an example that it is possible to have a seat at the table. You need to trust yourself, focus on what you want to achieve and the results you can create.
What actions should the energy sector focus on to accelerate change, increase diversity, and foster a better gender balance in leadership positions and in the boardroom?
It is imperative to make conscious decisions to create a diverse team from different areas of competence, backgrounds, cultures and many forms of representation. The future will not reflect the past and therefore, we need to have a diverse point of view rather than a very specific and homogeneous type sitting on boards and making executive decisions. We cannot predict the future so we need different points of view to make decisions. I contribute with my background, perspective and views and I will continue to collaborate with others from different backgrounds, too.
What benefits have you experienced or noticed when more women are involved with decision-making and overall strategy?
Diversity of thought is helpful, and research supports this. I know from experience that different background and areas of competence working together to make decisions produces the best results.
What advice did you receive early in your career that helped you get to where you are today?
The best advice I received was to focus on the things you can control and the results you can produce, and to prepare yourself for the things that you can influence.
Do you have any advice for young women starting out in their careers?
Often you will receive differing inputs and advice from different people, but you need to realise that you are the only person in your situation, and you need to weigh up the advice carefully. Enacting the advice you get can be tempting but I don’t think you should always do that. You need to trust yourself.
Energy and Gender: A Critical Issue in Energy Sector Employment and Energy Access, IEA, 2018. Accessed from: https://www.iea.org/topics/energy-and-gender
Women in the Workplace 2021, LeanIn.org and McKinsey, 2021. Accessed from: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/women-in-the-workplace