Influential female energy figures, Monika Inde Zsak and Bettina Bachmann, have called upon women to join them in the energy industry to play their role in the global energy transition.
Zsak and Bachmann made the call in a video series from impact investor, EV Private Equity, which gave insight into what it’s really like to be a leading lady in energy. They hope to inspire the next generation of females that can support the world’s sustainable future by sharing their own drivers for their roles in energy.
Specialising in digital solutions and software, Bettina Bachmann has held several international strategic leadership roles, including a Vice President position at Shell in subsurface and wells software. Now, Bachmann sits on a number of technology company advisory boards, lending her specialist knowledge to the development of innovative strategies.
Monika Inde Zsak currently leads corporate venture activity and internal innovation at BKK, one of Norway’s largest utility companies. Zsak has a demonstrated history of leading teams and advising management on sustainability practices within the Nordic energy and renewable sector.
In the series, Zsak shared her passion for her career: “I’ve always been fascinated by energy. It’s the backbone of all modern society. You wouldn’t have computers or the advances of today if it wasn’t for an energy supply. Being part of an industry that has that effect on everyday life is pretty fascinating.”
“My job is exciting, it’s innovating, it challenges me, but my real motivation is my three kids. I want to look them in the eye and tell them that my time working was spent looking for solutions to climate change that will enable them to have a better future,” she says.
Bachmann adds, “All of my roles have been rewarding in one way or another, and that has to do with the fact that this topic of energy has always been there as a higher purpose for me.”
However, despite representing 48% of the global labour force, women only account for 22% of the traditional energy sector and 32% of renewables, making the energy sector a mostly male-dominated field (IEA, 2020). It remains clear that to achieve a diverse and fair transition, diversity and equality is needed.
Although never being individually discriminated against, Bachmann discusses the struggle of being a minority in a male dominated industry, and how these experiences weighed on her.
She says, “I never had the feeling these barriers were specific to me, I just had to deal with the situation. The challenges that were difficult, not just on myself, but also on the other women in this industry, are those that come out of being a minority. They are not necessarily a gender issue; they are a diversity and inclusion issue that impacts every minority.”
“To some extent, I got used to these challenges and made an effort to become a part of the guys to blend in, and struggled with the fact that, yes, I can accept this, but I would still always stand out. There was no way around it. I wanted to stand out because I was great at this, or I could do this very well, or if I was a good team member – all those things that we want to excel at. But first and foremost, I stood out because I was a girl,” Bachmann continues.
To combat these gender-related barriers, Zsak and Bachmann shared the actions they think the energy industry needs to take to forge diversity and encourage more women to embark on an energy career.
Bachmann says, “We lose too many women during the ages of 30-45. This isn’t specific to the energy industry, it’s in banking, law and finance. I believe the stress and the pressure on women during those times is huge because they still bear the larger part of family duties and work.”
“We, as a society and within industry, should get feedback from that age group on what the right work/life balance is for them, and what would enable them to share this responsibility in a fair way. As soon as this happens, men and women would have both equal opportunities to grow and develop in this age period, which is an extremely important time in one’s life, both career and family wise. Once you establish this, you can truly pick the best from both genders on a board room.”
She adds, “You need to make women feel more comfortable in the board room. It’s no secret that there are still boards in very large companies that don’t have any women, or have the one or two token women. For those companies, it will get hard to attract good women leaders, because none of us like to sit on a board alone where we are just the alibi woman, and no one expects us to contribute properly.”
Zsak agrees: “You can’t be what you can’t see. Making women visible in top positions and being role models for the other women is very important. I can take an example of my own company, BKK, where both the CEO and CFO are strong, competent, inspiring women. I think that absolutely makes a difference.”
Zsak expressed her positivity around her career in energy and praised her mentors for their support but called upon companies to fully commit to diversity in the boardroom and measure it accurately.
She says, “My experience in the industry, it’s always been rather positive. I’ve always had leaders that have cheered me on, both women and men, and I think that’s what is most important – having a supportive network that inspires you to take the next steps in your career. It’s becoming increasingly visible that the energy industry needs diversity to be able to solve climate change issues and to be able to foster innovation in boardrooms and amongst leadership teams.”
“What gets measured, gets done, right? Measuring diversity, disclosing, and following up on it is very important. It’s also crucial to change boardroom management often enough, so you have the opportunity to have a presence on that board as a woman,” continues Zsak.
Zsak and Bachmann hailed the decision they made to choose their career path in energy, and outlined the crucial role and opportunities both men and women can seize as we transition to a low carbon economy.
Bachmann says, “I can say that if I had the option again, I would choose to work in the energy industry. In my formative years, we had the oil price shock, and today we have the climate crisis where we need to enter a whole new chapter to achieve an affordable, secure and sustainable energy supply for an ever-growing global population. The challenge is bigger than it ever was. I think everyone who understands that, and feels capable of making a contribution to it, should jump at the opportunity to become active in the industry that really does make a difference.”
Zsak adds, “The transition that we are going to make, and all the money floating towards the renewable energy industry, shows this is an industry experiencing extreme growth. You have the challenge of innovation, and finding new technologies, which needs effort from both men and women to be able to solve these problems. An energy career revolves around setting an example that you are able to create a sustainable future. Energy is part of everyday life, and if you want to be a part of the solution and make a change, this is the industry where you can make a difference and have a say.”
Watch EV Private Equity’s female leader in energy series from Monday, 8 March on its YouTube channel.