My first (ever) blog post is about participating and presenting my research at the Nordic Energy Equality Network (NEEN) Workshop, 25th and 26th of September in Copenhagen.
This was the second time Nordic Energy Research organized a Workshop to discuss and envision a network to support gender equality and diversity in the Nordic Energy sector. You can read more about this at the Nordic Energy Research homepage.
Similarly with the first workshop held November 2017 in Stockholm, these two days provided insight into unsolved (or in process to be solved) challenges regarding gender balance in the still very male dominated Nordic energy sector. The various presentations and the following discussions between women and (a few) men from the Nordic countries who are working in the field of energy, focused on aspects such as HRM and recruiting, work safety and leadership as well as the role of diversity from a larger, sustainability and climate perspective. There were also many inspiring personal stories and experiences. As a good example, women in Iceland are already teaching the rest of us Nordics how to make gender equality top priority in the energy industry! Check out ‘Women in Icelandic Energy’ as well as all the other presentations at the NEEN homepage.
As a take away from Copenhagen, it is clear that a Nordic network addressing gender and diversity issues in the energy sector has the opportunity to bring together expertise and good practices from many impactful actors. It can thus participate in raising awareness and provide support for others looking for solutions, hopefully on a global scale. There are many gender and diversity driven transformations going on in Nordic energy companies, as well as interesting research, not to forget NGOs and national networks. Providing a bridge between research, policymakers and businesses is necessary and Nordic cooperation provides a lot of opportunity for this. Vaasa might host the next NEEN workshop and it would be great to hear more about what Vaasa University, as well as other actors in our energy cluster are doing to promote equality. I think we have some good examples!
How does my research fit into the gender and diversity discussion?
This time, I was not only participating in the workshop, but also invited to talk about my research, which focuses on marketplace mythologies, consumers’ energy behavior, energy marketing systems and sustainability transitions. The title for the presentation was “gender and diversity perspectives on the solutions being developed to reach the climate goals”. Preparing the presentation was pretty challenging, as gender and diversity perspectives are not really the focus area of my research. Having said that, these issues are almost inevitable with sustainable development as research perspective; questions of gender equality and diversity (inclusiveness) are central when we are aiming at changing consumers behavior towards more responsible. Not to forget that the climate goals, be it on global scale as the COP21 (Paris agreement), European level EU 2020 or National strategies, are all connected to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
When we study energy transitions as socio-technical shifts, where the human, socio-cultural aspects co-evolve with technological solutions, understanding gender and diversity perspectives is not almost “obligatory” but also useful. Why? Well, there are many “levels” to this answer and I will only touch upon a few central to my research. Firstly, from an energy behavioral perspective gender has an effect on buying decisions, user practices, acceptance of new ideas and technological solutions. Just as an example, women are considered more altruistic than men, meaning that they are more open towards socially responsible practices, whilst again men are more technologically oriented and interested in new solutions that way. There is obviously a lot more to this research but that is another story, which I am writing about in my dissertation by the way…
So yes, we need to discuss equality and diversity in energy transitions because we need to break old paradigms!
Another level of answering the “why” goes back to basics in innovation processes; they all require creativity! More diversity into the teams looking for solutions means expansion of thinking, might force too narrow minds out of their boxes and, what I love the most talking about, breaking old paradigms. Diverse thinking is central when the aim is to change a dominant paradigm e.g. the agreed upon worldview in a society – ‘how things should be’. This is usually when it gets messy, just like wicked systems challenges are: Like webs of interactions where the reason for certain ways of doing things have got lost in the process, we just continue doing things the way we have always done. We need to become aware of outdated habits and mindsets if we really want change.
What I call an outdated mindset is the way our dominant social paradigm (of Western industrialized societies) tie our beliefs about well-being to economic-material growth. Thus, to be accepted and heard by decision makers in the ruling socio-technical system, we are usually forced to express “why we should do something about global warming” in economic terms. Thus, the outcome is, that to become worth solving, climate challenge has to produce economic-material growth. Anyone who has done his or her homework on what sustainable development really entails knows this logic does not work anymore; the notion of growth needs to find a new home in regenerative thinking, not material depletion.
Treating climate change as another business opportunity is like planting an apple tree when you have promised pears. You cannot solve this urgent, global challenge where the future existence of humans on planet earth is at stake with the same mindset that led us to into it. Planetary and human well-being and quality of life seems still as a “cute” side effect in a game where nations compete with each other to make most economic profit by providing new, technological solutions and services. With all the suffering and loss climate change is already causing, this discourse about global warming as business opportunity is, I’ll try to say this nicely, a very narrow and very arrogant perspective.
Last but not least, equality and diversity are not a woman against man issue, thinking that is so old school by the way, it is creating new “safe” spaces where diverse perspectives are respected and new solutions to wicked systems challenges arise. It might help us getting out of the current sustainability transitions dilemma, where technological lock-ins and too narrow pathways produce unsustainable outcomes. My hopes for the future of NEEN is that it could become a platform that supports diversity and allows space for those wicked, difficult and hard questions as well as working on the answers. To make sure we learn which fruit grows on which tree!
The author of this blog is a project researcher Petra Berg, whose doctoral dissertation focuses on marketplace mythologies and consumer behaviour within energy markets.