What will the transition to net zero mean for women’s labour market equality?

Catriona Aldridge explains how businesses can help create a more equal and diverse workforce in the green economy

Credit: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Women are disproportionately affected by climate change. They are often more at risk than men from climate-induced natural disasters, facing reduced access to education and employment, and experiencing greater negative health and safety impacts as the planet warms. But they are also less likely than men to enjoy the benefits of the fast-growing green economy.

This inequality is a major stumbling block to a just transition in which, as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development puts it, “the substantial benefits of a green economy transition are shared widely, while also supporting those who stand to lose economically”.

It also suggests that businesses are missing a chance to create a more equal and diverse workforce in the green economy. How can we avoid a growing gender gap in green skills?

Growing green skills

Green skills are the skills needed to drive the green economic growth that will reduce carbon emissions. While there’s no single definition of green skills, they’re often taken to include both technical green skills – in construction, engineering and manufacturing, for example – and more general skills required for green projects, such as project management and leadership.

These green skills are needed not only for new green jobs, such as wind turbine technicians and solar consultants, but also for existing roles where the focus is increasingly on achieving net zero. 

The demand for workers with green skills is already outstripping supply. According to the Learning and Work Institute and WorldSkills UK, more than two-thirds of the UK employers that require green skills have struggled to recruit skilled staff. And the demand will only increase: analysis from the Boston Consulting Group suggests that the green economy will be responsible for 67 million new jobs worldwide by 2030.

The green skills gender gap

This profound change in the landscape of work offers a golden opportunity for businesses to recruit an appropriately diverse workforce and benefit from the advantages that brings. But from a gender equality perspective, that opportunity already seems to be slipping through our fingers.

A Global Green Skills Report from LinkedIn suggests that there are only 62 women for every 100 men considered ‘green talent’ – a ratio that hasn’t changed significantly since 2015. Gender statistics in the industries that will most directly drive the green economy look even worse. For example, according to the International Energy Agency, there are 76 per cent fewer women than men working in the energy sector. Engineering UK says that women make up just 16.5 per cent of all engineers.

On current trends, women look set to get only 25 per cent of new green jobs in the global economy. 

Closing the gap

The green skills gender gap is not caused by any lack of female interest in the green economy. Unsurprisingly a range of factors are involved – most of them all too familiar from the old economy. Women are already at a disadvantage in moving to new jobs and participating in reskilling. Reasons for this include concerns over leaving secure employment for unchartered territory, a lack of confidence experienced by women who are out of work, and general limited awareness in relation to job opportunities presented by the green economy. From a wider societal point of view, low participation by girls in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects at school and in higher and further education also has a major impact.

To close the gap, it is essential that employers make sure their climate change strategies and their EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion) strategies are aligned, and that the teams working on them are not doing so in silos.

Many firms are already seeking to remove the barriers women face when reskilling and changing roles, through implementing initiatives such as hybrid working models and giving greater support on return from maternity leave. 

Supplementing this with targeted recruitment measures to boost the confidence of women in the green economy, and taking positive steps to make sure women are aware of opportunities to retrain with green skills and are exposed to green job openings, will not only help women gain green skills and roles but also make businesses themselves more competitive.

Catriona Aldridge is a partner in CMS’s employment team