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How Do We Engage More Women In Energy Issues?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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As I’ve written in the past, the energy sector is dominated by men. At meetings and conferences, it’s easy to recognize the lack of women in the room, on panels, and involved in the discussion. But a look the latest poll numbers reveals the gender gap goes well beyond the energy sector itself.

Consider: In the United States, 44 percent of men say they are knowledgeable on energy issues. Just 20 percent of women do. Sixty-seven percent of men say energy issues are important. Fifty-seven percent of women do. Fifty-one percent of men say they follow national energy issues. Thirty-five percent of women do. These are just some examples of what I’ve been observing within the data.

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While poll responses are self-reported (women and men may answer questions differently), the differences are large enough to suggest that one half of the population is generally less interested, engaged, and aware of energy issues than the other. What do you think accounts for the gender divide? Cultural norms? Social mores? Something else?

Regardless of what’s driving this trend, we ought to do something to close the gap because women matter in the energy dialogue. A lot. We are frequently the primary household decision-makers so have a disproportionate influence on the future of energy efficiency. Our choices will continue to play a major role in defining national energy priorities, so we should be paying closer attention.

How might we encourage more women to become engaged in the energy issues that affect all of us? (The answer is not another “campaign” like this one by European Commission which hoped to get women excited about science):

That said, I am very interested to read your suggestions in the comments (and please share whether you are male or female in your reply).

Sheril Kirshenbaum About the Author: Sheril Kirshenbaum is Director of The Energy Poll at The University of Texas at Austin where she works to enhance public understanding of energy issues and improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Follow on Twitter @Sheril_.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. jerryd 12:51 pm 10/29/2013

    I wouldn’t worry about women as they follow the money.

    And it’s becoming increasingly clear for more and more, RE, PV is the way to go for lower costs in many places and they know a cleaner future is better for her family.

    Also the young are much more educated than older women so that will naturally work out with time. Same with males too.

    All you need to do is give them a turnkey choice with a service plan that saves them money and they will jump on it.

    Women mostly are more pragmatic that men and like conserving in general thus more likely to adopt new things vs most men who find it hard to change.

    Those have been my observations over 50 yrs. I’m especially impressed by the younger, under 30 generation who gets it as they know it’s all going top be on their shoulders soon.

    They are not happy either with the mess we have left them, energy and otherwise. But they have the solutions if the older ones get out of the way.

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  2. 2. jgernand 1:07 pm 10/29/2013

    [MALE] If these are accurate portrayals of the actual survey questions, I find it hard to believe that the word choice focusing on “energy” isn’t responsible for a significant proportion of the observed difference.

    If asked about building insulation, environmental regulations on power plant emissions or oil drilling, electricity prices, or energy efficient appliances might the gender gap not be smaller?

    A casual observer in the American public might not hear “energy” outside of talk about oil imports, fracking, and the Fukushima disaster. The [appropriate] connections between all these topics and others under the umbrella of “energy” isn’t necessarily a concept that has fully been communicated or generally understood, yet.

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  3. 3. ekikonen 9:53 am 10/30/2013

    [FEMALE] I was searching some ideas or articles about the topic (women and energy sector) and ended up here. In Finland (located in Europe) the amount of girls in technical schools increases year by year, but still technology sector needs more women. The energy sector is part of it. I think all is based on how girls are brought up. Old stereotypes are strong and it takes a lot of time to change them.

    I work as a energy specialist and for us female professionalists working on the sector it is important to be examples, share the information and encourage our friends, kids and family to be more conscious about the facts: what it takes to produce electricity, how our own choices affect and also the fact that energy sector is not a bad career choice.

    There is a lack of energy knowledge also among mens, and if all targets of energy efficiency, climate issues etc. are going to be reached, it needs a lot of work. There is still over 50 % men that do not have enough energy knowledge.

    And I agree that women are decision-makers at home, and while the households consume as much as 1/5 of energy, it is something that should not be ignored.

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  4. 4. jerryd 3:32 pm 10/30/2013

    Let’s not forget the 1/5? energy going to family/personal transport making them over 2/5ths the US energy use.

    Now her buying power for everything else, much of which cost is energy, again let’s her control at least another 1/5th.

    So she has a lot of clout in how energy is made, used.

    And her children, shopping keep her up to date. ;^))

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