Celebrating International Women’s Day 2021 – A discussion with Zoe Barnes

Author: Spencer Ogden
Date posted05/Mar/2021
Author: Spencer Ogden
To celebrate International Women's Day, Spencer Ogden is celebrating and promoting the contribution of female talent in the energy sector, sharing their advice on creating a more equal and fair industry for the future. Zoe is a partner at an energy consultancy, on secondment as strategy manager for an offshore wind developer and director at a national program promoting supply chain in the UK. Read Zoe’s spotlight interview.

This year's International Women's Day theme is 'Choose to Challenge'. A challenged world is an alert world, and from challenge what comes change. What does the International Women's Day slogan #ChoosetoChallenge mean for you in your work life? 

Challenge to me is about pushing yourself to think big. When you have a concept or idea, think about the scope, its possibility, even if at the start it may seem impossible. When you think big it is surprising how much can be achieved. 

This is something I have learnt from my colleagues. Rather than continuing just to think of ourselves as a consultancy of a dozen people doing well, as we were five years ago, they said, “OK, we got the UK consultancy side of the business going well, what else can we do?”. If we want to be an offshore wind developer, why not? If we want to take on other geographical markets, why not? This attitude has led to growth that I couldn’t have imagined on the day I walked in the door.

Also, take up opportunities that come your way, even if they look out of your league or intimidating. Never be too afraid to try. I think this is something women sometimes don’t do as often as men. We need to be more bullish about our own capabilities.

Why did you choose to work in the renewable energy sector?

I chose to work in renewables early on, when I was at university studying biology and environmental science. Initially the plan was to become a conservationist. However, whilst this is an important role, I just had a feeling that going down this route I would be treating a symptom and not the cause of much environmental decline. So, I went into renewables, as it offers a solution to an environmental problem.

I did not choose my particular roles, but I took opportunities within the sector as they arose. That is what I think careers are about. As a graduate, my first manager gave me some very sage advice, he said, “Careers are like surfing: you line yourself up and when an exciting looking wave comes along, you paddle as hard as you can and then you ride it for as long as it is fun.” I have always tried to bear this in mind during my time in the renewable energy sector.

Women are still significantly underrepresented in the renewable energy sector, why do you think it is important that women take up roles within the sector in the near future?

The sector needs to attract really good people (both women and men), to solve the challenges of a fast growing and evolving sector. We need skills and experience from other sectors as well as those starting their careers, bringing passion and new perspectives to the sector.

The lack of women in the sector is a missed opportunity in two ways: women should have the opportunity to be part of a sector that will pay a huge part in our economic transition to a low carbon future simply as a matter of equality; and secondly, the sector can’t afford to miss out on potential talent because women may not consider that there is a rewarding career path there.

On the first point, renewables may have started out as a niche sector but it is inevitable that it will become a huge part of our economy in the coming decades. This represents a significant opportunity for skilled professionals, and men and women alike deserve the chance to help shape that future.

Secondly, the fact that the renewables is in such a significant growth phase means that it needs all the talent it can get, not just in the mid term but right now. If the sector doesn’t offer the flexibility required by many women, it will continue to lose out simply because of lack of access to a pool of talent that could really help drive the progress of the industry.

What is the most important piece of advice you'd give to a woman thinking of starting a career in renewable energy?

I would say, absolutely go for it, it is a great sector to be in and generally very progressive and culturally very good for women. 

Renewables is an excellent sector, moving very fast with a lot of opportunity and need, due to the shortage of skills in the sector.

Do you think there is a stereotype attached to female engineers?

From my experience, no as I think the sector is very open-minded and I have not seen any discrimination. 

I think there is a stereotype that all roles in the renewables are technical roles. There are a large number of roles in offshore wind and the wider renewable energy sector that do not require engineering or technical degrees. There is not enough awareness of this.

On International Women's Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?

Renewables is a really fast growing sector which presents a huge amount of opportunity. In such a fast-growing industry, traditional job role progression and career paths do not exist in the same way. New roles and technical areas are being created all the time and if you have talent, the opportunities for an interesting and challenging career are huge.