Power of Women’s mentoring – A force of change across Energy

As part of a three-part series, we explore the power of Women’s mentoring in changing the face of Energy – Creating a tribe as a force for change.
This first interview of a three-part series features the founder of Women’s Utility Network and CEO of Energy Bridge, Jo Butlin. We discuss the fundamental challenges for female leadership and progression in energy and the importance of mentorship to increase diversity and inclusivity within the workplace.

Jo Butlin is a prominent leader in the Energy sector. She started her career at EON where she held many senior leadership positions over her 12 years of tenure. She has capitalised on the extensive experience developed through commercial and consultancy exposure and has since formed her own consultancy energy firm, EnergyBridge. EnergyBridge is a boutique consultancy which provides support to a multitude of clients from new entrants to established businesses, to help them to navigate the ever-changing energy landscape. In addition, Jo also spearheaded the Women’s Utility Network, an organisation which hopes to positively combat the complex diversity problems within the energy industry, and support women’s career progression within the utility sphere.

A scarcity of women is evident in many sectors and Energy is no exception. Oil and gas have the lowest representation of women seen by fewer than 25% of entry level jobs being undertaken by women. Renewables and Utilities have a marginally larger share of women in the industry but are still significantly underrepresented. There is considerable evidence that those energy companies with a larger percentage of women, tend to outperform their competitors. OFGEM aim to have a 50% representation of women by 2025 universally, across all prongs of the recruitment ladder. Role models and mentorship are thought to be an effective way to target underrepresentation and develop strong support structures to foster women’s growth in the industry, as Phoebe Eaton (Associate Researcher) and Jo Butlin (CEO Energy Bridge) discuss…

Phoebe Eaton: Throughout your career, what have you observed as fundamental challenges for female leadership in Energy?

Jo Butlin: In some ways it is very difficult to point to any one thing that holds women back in Energy. Certainly, from a personal perspective, having worked in the sector for over 25 years, I have never felt that I was being held back or had doors shut in my face because I am a woman.

However, what has become clear through the work that we have done in the Women’s Utilities Network (WUN) is that all women have career stories, which we largely laugh about now, which are genuinely shocking, and cumulatively have a negative impact on confidence and progression. Few people can believe today that I was called into my managers’ office early in my career and told to get some shoulder pads and high heels. Or that the head of the organisation that I then worked for, likened women having babies to a hobby, such as going fishing. We have all experienced sexist remarks and misogyny in our careers, and in the main, just accept it and move on.

The challenge though is that as women progress in their careers, they are often the only woman in the room, and the cumulative incidents and comments call for ever more resilience. The sense of tribe and support that comes from being one of many is lost and women get increasingly isolated and ultimately exhausted by always being ‘the only’ and therefore standing out as different and pushing against the tide. Many leave the corporate sector before they get to the top. Small things, like golf days, banter about football and trips to the pub are not intended to be exclusive and can be a lot of fun- but they are naturally biased towards male interests. No one is doing anything wrong by organising them, but there is an impact.

“25% of entry level jobs being undertaken by women”

Phoebe Eaton: A significant argument for tackling the underrepresentation of Women in Energy is a joint effort across the whole energy sector from everyone. What are your experiences of males in the industry?

Jo Butlin: Most male work colleagues I have worked with are great, very supportive of women in the workplace, and not at all sexist. But they often do not get the intangibles that impact women’s’ careers – because they do not have a woman’s perspective and are part of the dominant male tribe. So the challenge persists and change is very slow.

Phoebe Eaton: As an ardent/strong/vocal advocate for female mentorship- how has your experience of personal mentors overtime influenced this?

Jo Butlin: I have personally benefited a lot from having some great mentors, coaches and advocates over my career. Some were formal, some informal and some simply great line managers. All provided me with support, challenge, and a different perspective- and ultimately were a big feature in enabling my career to progress as it has. Having someone on your side, who understands you in a work context, makes a huge difference to what you are and can become. Now, I tend to be the one doing the mentoring and side chats, and it is even more rewarding when people I support achieve great things. All women (and men) should seek supporters (ideally outside their organisation) who can help on their career journey.

“I have personally benefited a lot from having some great mentors, coaches and advocates over my career”

Phoebe Eaton: The WUN mentorship scheme has been driving positive change since it was established in 2018, how are you making strides (or striving to) to be impactful for female mentorship?

Jo Butlin: Naturally, I was always against the idea of women only networks, perhaps influenced by one internal one that I went to early in my career which turned out to largely consist of whingeing and finger pointing. WUN was set up with a very different focus and initiated because of the woeful representative statistics in the sector. From day one all the founders were very clear that the network had to provide practical help and support to women in developing their careers. Four years later, we have over 3,500 members, are growing rapidly, and have some great success stories to tell. The mentoring scheme has been a focus right from the start and we have had almost 150 women accessing our 50+ mentors in this time. Building confidence, addressing imposter syndrome and supporting career moves are common themes in mentoring relationships.

Our podcast series, started in 2021, features real women working in the sector, telling their stories- whether about themselves or a particular topic. Listening to others who have succeeded in their careers telling stories which resonate with women, provides both support and inspiration.

Finally, our events have a tangible buzz. Putting a large group of motivated, ambitious and talented women in a room together is hugely inspiring and the content that is heard, and the connections that are formed, give people a huge boost in confidence and importantly the sense of a common tribe.

Having been ‘the only’, women are increasingly finding the support, networks and inspiration to help develop their careers. I believe that building on this will ultimately be the biggest transformative feature in changing the nature of leadership and diversity in the sector.

“Women are increasingly finding the support, networks and inspiration to help develop their careers”

The energy landscape is more tumultuous than it ever has been, and the workforce need to be adaptive, proactive, and eager to make changes providing an excellent opportunity to embrace change as a sector. The presence of inspirational leadership within the sector is crucial to attract strong and diverse individuals. 

Interview series for Pullmann Global led by Phoebe Eaton, Associate Researcher at Pullmann Global | March 2023

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