UK Energy Suppliers Falling Behind on Women Board Members

By Bloomberg

May 23, 2023

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Seventeen of the UK’s biggest energy companies still don’t have any women on their boards despite government and industry calls for greater diversity in corporate leadership, a void that may threaten the sector’s ability to attract talent and investors for the green transition.

Only 29% of board seats at British firms are held by women, an increase of just 2 percentage points from last year, according to a joint report by professional group POWERful Women and PwC UK. The companies with male-only boards, including Ovo Energy Ltd. and Octopus Energy Ltd., make up 21% of those surveyed.

The dearth of women in boardrooms isn’t a problem only for energy providers, and the power and utilities sector is doing better than oil and gas. Yet newcomers like Ovo and Octopus touted themselves as agents of change in a business scrutinized by ESG investors, and their poor performances are putting the industry on course to miss the FTSE Women Leaders Review target of 40% representation by 2025.

“The fact that we still have almost a quarter of energy companies with all-male boards is simply unacceptable in 2023,” said Katie Jackson, chair of POWERful Women. “At this critical time when the energy system is changing, companies need to change too.”

  

The survey of 80 UK energy providers, which employ about 190,000 people, showed that Northern Powergrid Plc and Repsol Sinopec Resources UK Ltd. also have male-only boards.

An Octopus Energy spokesperson defended the company’s record, saying it’s the only UK provider that pays women more than men, and there are eight women in the senior management team. 

A spokesperson for Ovo Energy provided a similar response, saying that the company’s C-suite leadership includes women in various roles. Its website advertises a program to hire women as smart meter engineers and touts being named the best place for women to work in Britain. The photo accompanying that announcement shows mostly men.

A Repsol Sinopec spokesperson said the company is undertaking a number of initiatives to boost women leaders, without elaborating.

Harbour Energy Plc and Electricite de France SA’s local unit have some women board members, though they still fall below the 40% target. Fewer than one-third of UK energy companies met that FTSE threshold, according to the report.

By comparison, Shell Plc reported 55% representation, BP Plc 46% and Centrica Plc 44%.

“Female leaders have a key role to play here, particularly in making sure that the sector appeals to future generations of women and girls,” said Elisabeth Hunt, PwC’s energy & infrastructure tax deals leader. “A fundamental shift in tone is needed to attract these future generations.”

(Updates with OVO’s comment in the seventh paragraph.)

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.

By Priscila Azevedo Rocha

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