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Clap your hands for women in energy!

I dedicate this article to the memory of my dear friend, Judit Róka, co-founder of the Women in Energy Association, who passed away on the 15th of April, 2020. 

First of all, the applause goes to our healthcare workers around the world, and their incredible bravery for putting themselves in the frontline of the virus from day to day while fighting for lives. It feels good to hear the rousing rounds of applause in the evenings, as people show their support and gratitude for these people.

Of course, many others deserve recognition as well. Everyone who directly or indirectly helps those in trouble, as well as those citizens who respect the temporary restrictions and stay at home. We are in this together and everyone has to pull their weight and play their part in this fight.

The efforts of some are more visible for the outside world, and there are those whose diligent and effective work is not so apparent for the first sight, but it is, without a doubt, essential.

Take for instance the people working in the energy sector, who struggle to ensure a continuous supply of energy even in these difficult conditions and, at the same time, try to optimise their business to keep their heads above water in a deteriorating macro-environment. The integrated energy companies have to shield themselves from two threats at the same time: first being COVID-19, and the second is the plummeting oil prices. Both of them have had severe consequences already and will continue to have prolonged effects on the long-term. So far the world’s eight largest integrated oil and gas companies have announced they will cut costs by a fifth.

“Will the coronavirus kill the oil industry and help us to save the climate?” – we hear this quite often recently. The second part of the question doesn’t stem from the first. As an unintended benefit of the virus, we experienced a significant drop in carbon emissions and air pollution, however, long-term climate protection measures cannot be slowed down. On the contrary, experts suggest that this situation is a historic opportunity to pour investment into energy technologies that cut greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, no one can wish for the death of big oil and gas companies, as that would have serious consequences for all of us. Fortunately, this is not the case, however, the current pandemic situation is certainly demanding significant changes from all economic actors, including energy companies.

But going back to the current cost-cutting decision of large oil and gas companies, we cannot know for sure which areas will be affected by this move, however, redundancies will likely to follow soon, which usually affect part-time workers in the first place. It is worth noting that more than 30 per cent of women in EU member states work part-time. As women also tend to be the lower earners, their jobs are considered a lower priority when disruptions come along, thus they are more exposed to financial hardship.

Most women working in the energy sector now work from home, even more than ever before. In addition to the already increased volume of work under these tough circumstances, they have to cope with the situation every other woman working from home is facing lately: the so-called second shift of unpaid labour such as studying with the children, cleaning, cooking and shopping for elderly, sick parents.

There are also some areas in the energy sector where home-office is not manageable. At MOL, one of the largest companies in the region, 10 per cent of female employees are still there in the front lines, at gas stations, at the plant converted to produce disinfectant and at the refineries. Even at this minute, E.ON’s female employees play a huge part in securing electricity supply. So I believe women in energy also deserve a big round of applause!

In the Women in Energy Association we are fighting to enable women to reach top decision-making positions in energy companies, to make the sector more attractive to talented young girls and to bring women board mandates to a visible level. Why is this essential? Because energy is a strategic industry, which is changing and developing very rapidly even in a normal period. The decisions made by energy companies have a huge impact on our common future. Women have to be part of those decisions, as half of the population and half of the consumers are women! The growing numbers of professional women in the energy sector can be a source of support and role models in efforts to increase the role of women in the sustainable transformation of the energy sector.

A critical mass of female representation on company boards is even more urgent than ever! According to the results of various studies, diversity on boards leads to increased competitiveness. Companies with gender-balanced leadership are more efficient, more profitable and are better in handling crises. 

Unfortunately, we have already experienced similar situations in the past. The first relevant studies were published in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. A 2012 report by Credit Suisse titled The gender diversity and corporate performance found that when economic growth was relatively robust, there was little difference in share price performance between companies with and companies without women on the board. However, post the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent deterioration in the macro environment, stocks with women on the board have strongly outperformed those without any woman on the board. Large-cap companies with at least one woman on the board have outperformed their peer group with no women on the board by 26 per cent in the long run.

This hasn’t changed. I am certain that companies with women representatives in their leadership have more chance to survive and to come out of the current crisis by developing new, innovative products and sustainable strategies. According to the recently published article of Forbes, the countries who give the best coronavirus responses are lead by female PMs. Let’s use the female power in business as well!

With this in mind, clap for the women working in the energy sector! For those who face the current challenges in the frontlines and those who do the same while working remotely. Clap for the women in leadership positions who can have an impact on our common future with their creative and thoughtful, far-sighted ideas and also for the men who consider it important to work together in this difficult situation and find solutions to this crisis together.

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