by Linda Bertelsen
Gender and diversity in the district heating industry

There’s a photograph doing the rounds on LinkedIn. It’s a meeting room set for lunch. White linen, flowers on the table, lots of natural daylight. Lots of men. Lots of blue suits. Lots of grey hair.

By Rachel Mills, Co-Founder, District Heating Divas

Everyone of those men will have worked hard to rise to the top of their profession and earned their seat at that table. Most of them will have families. Many of them will be vocal advocates of their female colleagues. But where are the women? Where are the people of colour?

The photo in question happened to be taken at a security conference, but there are plenty of other male-dominated industries – including the district heating (DH) sector. The good thing is that the photo was called out on social media. The bad thing is that it still needs to be.

The older I get, the more I become aware of when I’m the only woman in the room. Maybe it’s self-awareness; maybe it’s other strong women opening our eyes. It’s not the fault of those individual men around the table, but everyone played a role in making a change.

The birth of a movement

Three years ago, over a quiet gin and tonic, my business partner Liz Warren and I wondered if other women working in the DH sector would be interested in getting together. Other women we knew thought it was a good idea, and so in April 2019, we hosted a small lunch, and the District Heating Divas were born.

Diva: to describe a person who exudes great style and personality with confidence and expresses their own style and not letting others influence who they are or want to be.

At its simplest, the Divas is an informal business networking group for all women working in the DH sector. But it’s much more than that. It is connectedness. It’s open and welcoming. It’s friendly and collaborative. It’s inspiring and supportive. It’s fun!

The Divas have grown into a mighty group of phenomenal women. We now have:

    • Over 300 women in our LinkedIn group
    • Over 150 women attending regular regional and national meetups (both online and in real life)
    • A hugely successful mentoring programme – the Heat Exchanger – now recruiting its third cohort
    • A STEM careers video that’s about to premiere

Oh – and we run the most interesting, engaging and memorable conferences you’ve ever been to! And it’s all done pro bono – for free – because the women involved value coming together.

Why does it matter?

Google ‘why diversity matters’. Go on – it’ll only take 30 seconds. You’ll be flooded with articles, reports and videos about the positive difference having a diverse workforce makes – at all levels of your organisation. International research from McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. “When companies commit themselves to diverse leadership, they are more successful. More diverse companies, we believe, are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, and all that leads to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns.[2]

The energy sector is undergoing a transformation, presenting a wide range of challenges and opportunities, from digitalisation to decarbonisation and changing consumer demands. Success will mean attracting and retaining a diverse pool of talent capable of bringing the necessary technical and leadership skills, and fresh perspectives.

In the UK, groups bringing together and promoting women in the sector are gaining momentum. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has even formed a group of groups – the Energy Sector Women’s Networking Group – to collaborate, share ideas and support each other’s initiatives. Through this we’re now connected to other awesome women working in renewables, oil and gas, and nuclear energy – all of whom are working to improve the visibility of women across the sector.

Quote and the graphic both from https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/why-diversity-matters

Meet the author

Rachael Mills
Director at SE2 Ltd, Co-founder of District Heating Divas