Clean Energy Summit: Women in Renewables Luncheon

I acknowledge that we meet on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. I pay my respects to their elders – past, present and emerging. I would also like to extend that acknowledgment to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the audience today.

Firstly, can we all please thank the Clean Energy Council for bringing us together.

I sat down with Kane last week, and he told me that this lunch has become one of the most well attended events in the Clean Energy Council’s calendar. I can’t tell you how much it pleases me to know that this is the case. It’s a terrific chance to celebrate the contribution of women to the industry, and it’s lovely to see so many people here who want to be part of that story.

We’ve been through an incredible couple of years. In my adult life, I have never seen such momentum and energy in support of women’s equality.

It’s been a long and sometimes painful journey – not just in business, but also in sport, in the creative sectors, and of course in politics.

The election of a set of female independents has, rightfully, led to a conversation about appropriate representation for women in parliament. I look forward to working with my new colleagues. 

Labor, as a party, has already been on a journey that possibly offers some important lessons for other parties and institutions looking to make the transformation that we have.

I became a member of the Labor Party in 1993. It was just prior to the party’s adoption of the first affirmative action rule for women in 1994. At the time it was a radical intervention – the rule committed the party to achieving preselection of women for 35% of winnable seats at all elections by 2002.

Twenty years after that first deadline, women outnumber men in the federal parliamentary Labor party. I know it’s something Prime Minister Albanese is immensely proud of.

It’s a big change for Australia’s oldest political party. I think the thing which has not yet been fully understood is that over time this hasn’t just changed the composition of our parliament – it’s changed the nature of our political agenda. Labor’s senior women were central to bringing through reforms to childcare and introducing paid parental leave in the last Labor government. I predict we’ll be similarly impactful in this one – tackling key issues like pay equity, access to early childhood education, and violence against women. My point is this - when women are at the table in significant numbers – they bring perspectives that in the past were overlooked.

It’s one of the reasons successful businesses are working hard at improving representation. 

We all know the Australian energy sector is in a period of transition.

It seems to me that we should be thinking carefully about the role of female consumers in that transition. Women are consistently more likely than men to tell researchers that climate action is a high political priority. Women are more likely to express support for renewable energy. And of course, in many households, it’s women who are making the decisions about purchasing. This is certainly true in the 16 percent of single parent households – the overwhelming majority of which are headed by women.  And many of whom are amongst our most vulnerable customers.

I know many of your businesses think hard about the nature and shape of future energy services for Australian households. Australian families want to live in houses that are more comfortable to live in, and more economic to heat, cool and run. We know that there are technologies out there that promise to make this a reality – from fully electric homes that both generate energy and consume it, to digitally enabled environments that make it easier for families to make the decisions that cost less and speak to their values. 

In 2016, Accenture found that the average American spent about 6 minutes a year thinking about their electricity provider. I don’t know if that will be true of Australians in 2022. Many families will be looking at their power bills more closely than they have for years. They will be interested in options to transition their energy usage patterns, and I know many in this room will be working on solutions and products that can both help them do this, and help Australia’s climate mitigation efforts. 

Looking at this room, I’m excited that so many women will be a part of this journey. 

For our government, engaging women as full and equal citizens in all of our national decision making is a priority. This is as true for the clean energy transition as any other policy area. For you and the businesses you work in, engaging them as consumers matters too.

A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of standing alongside the Prime Minister and Minister Bowen as we formally notified the UNFCCC of our updated interim target. For too long, Australia has delayed action, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to be part of a government that has ambitious plans for investing in energy infrastructure and rewiring the nation.

But these plans won’t be realised without a skilled workforce that is available when required.

We have seen the impact of skills shortages on industries across the globe, and I know they are already being noticed across this sector too.

I am also aware that the situation is expected to get even tighter, with demand across the sector anticipated to reach unprecedented levels.

However, we need to recognise this as an opportunity.

A need to address skills shortages is a tremendous opportunity for the renewables industry to increase the rate of female participation in its workforce.

And it won’t just close the skills gap.

Years of research has shown equitable, diverse and inclusive workplaces are more productive, innovative and achieve better outcomes.

This is something I have been focussed on for years.

It is not just about increasing numbers, balancing a spreadsheet between women and men in the workforce.

It is of course about harnessing great talent and creating a better workplace that is actually better for the business.

I’m very pleased to know how much work is being done by industry on changing this, under the banner of Equal by 30.

Kane tells me that you’ve placed significant emphasis on preparing women for senior leadership and board roles. This seems like a truly strategic focus on the areas which can make the most difference. I was impressed to learn of the numbers involved in these efforts:

  • An annual scholarship – now entering its 7th year – to support senior and executive level women to assist with securing a board seat in the industry by undertaking the AICD’s course.
  • A mentorship program that has helped more than 25 women.
  • And that’s on top of a Women in Renewables Speakers Guide, showcasing more than 200 women, free tickets for students to CEC conferences and Women in Renewables events just like this. 

Behind each one of these numbers though is a woman who is being given a chance to access speaking opportunities or ideas, get further training or raise her profile.  

From a personal perspective, I am delighted to see the industry has established a scholarship named in honour of Chloe Munro. 

Our early career experiences can shape our sense of leadership – what is truly required to earn the respect to lead.

And as a young woman, I had the good fortune to observe Chloe in action. 

She was making her way in an overwhelmingly male world with intelligence, integrity and a steady confidence. 

As those of us who met her would know, like Ginger Rogers she seemed determined to do as much as the men but backwards and in high heels! 

I list her amongst a group of senior professional women in the public and private sectors who modelled the skills I’d need to obtain if I wanted to make a difference and earn respect. 

I’m so glad to see her honoured in such a perfectly appropriate way.

While we acknowledge there is still a great deal of work left to do, there are indications that the sector is moving in the right direction.

According to a 2021 report by the Clean Energy Council, women make up 39 per cent of the Australian clean energy workforce.

We should take encouragement from this.

While this is proportionately less than the total Australian workforce, it is better than the average for the global renewable energy industry.

So there are positive signs, especially when you see the work being done by a number of remarkable women in the sector…

…some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with in my career.

All of us will be affected in some way by climate change. But as William Gibson said about the future – the effects will not be evenly distributed. Development economists tell us that women and girls in less developed economies will face particularly difficult challenges. 

Many of you will be familiar with the work of the social enterprise Pollinate Energy. 

The Pollinate Group is focused on empowering women to tackle gender inequality.

Pollinate Energy has become the largest provider of solar lighting to impoverished communities across India and Nepal, alleviating exposure to expensive and unhealthy fuels. 

In the process it has financially empowered women micro-entrepreneurs from marginalised communities.

Many years ago, in state government, I had the privilege of working with Katerina Kimmorley, who many of you may know as one of the co-founders of Pollinate.

Working in climate policy with Katerina was a great professional experience.

I saw then what a talented individual she was, and it is no surprise to me that she would go on to make a significant and meaningful contribution that directly tackled female challenges and harnessed women as agents of change. 

The efforts of women like Katerina are a reminder of the power of female representation in the renewables sector.

Ultimately, we understand women are key to building a more inclusive and equitable energy sector.

As part of the Albanese Government, I look forward to working with all of you to create the right settings and make this happen.

Thank you again for this opportunity.

I am looking forward to taking part in the panel discussion that follows.

I’ve known each of them for many years, and I know how exceptional their contributions have been. The one exception is Amelia, and I’m pretty sure I SHOULD know her.

It is an honour to know them, and I can’t wait to hear their insights into this issue.

It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to work with them in this moment.

And, like me, I’m sure they’re all relishing the chance to hear your views and answer some of your burning questions.