Within the UK, where we have a big issue within the residential market of needing to move to low carbon heating systems and there being a huge skills shortage, we need to advocate and promote the industry to children in schools and ensure the education is accessible and desirable to girls of all ages as much as it is for boys.
This article will primarily focus on females/ women within the HVAC sector, and the problems that we are currently facing regarding gender equality and diversity. By focusing on females, and using gender-specific wording, I have no intention of purposefully excluding, misrepresenting or disrespecting individuals who identify as non-binary; furthermore, there is much work that needs to be done into the research and understanding of the representation of any and all gender, sexuality, cultural and ethnic groups within our sector.
A well-recognised benefit of greater diversity is superior team performance on measures such as innovation, collaboration, and critical thinking.(1) Different problem solving approaches, complementary knowledge, skills, and strengths all serve to promote creativity and debate, ensuring more alternatives are considered and additional rigor is applied when identifying solutions. Studies show that the collective intelligence of a group is strongly correlated with gender diversity, and that problem solving is less effective at either extreme (majority male or female) relative to a more balanced group composition.(2)
As James Wates of Wates Group highlighted “We in the construction sector need to rectify a historic lack of diversity in terms of gender and ethnicity. This lack of diversity is visually obvious the moment you walk into many construction offices or sites.”(3)
Specific figures of how many women work within the heat pump sector of the RACHP/ HVAC industry aren’t readily available to scrutinise but, only 12.37% of all engineers in the UK are women(4) — of those, only 4% are registered as members of national associations/institutions, compared to 18% in the EU. The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe.(5)
In 2017, of almost 18 million scientists and engineers in the EU, 59% were men and 41% women.
In Lithuania (57% female), Bulgaria and Latvia (both 53%), Portugal (51%) and Denmark (just over 50%) the majority of scientists and engineers were women.(6)
If we take a closer look at the female staffing levels of the federations and associations that champion our industries, it is clear that the UK is still below average; a spokesperson for the UK Heat Pump Association (HPA) said “it’s not many, no more than 3 out of 20” whereas the European Heat Pump Association (EHPA) has 13 members of staff, 10 of which are female.
When we look at the task that faces us within the heating sector of building services, we see what a mammoth challenge lays ahead. With currently an estimated 85% of our housing stock on the gas grid, heating the places we live accounted for 22% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. With this in mind, the current UK Government have proposed a Ten Point Plan to get us to net zero carbon by 2050 — part of this plan is to make our homes, schools and hospitals greener, warmer and more energy efficient, whilst creating 50,000 jobs by 2030, and a target to install 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028(7) — a big portion of this will go into the 300,000 new homes that the government has committed to delivering by the mid-2020s.
Currently, there are more than 120,000 registered gas engineers (of which the vast majority will be required to retrain or upskill where necessary) and another ~50,000 F-Gas engineers(8) all of whom will be working flat out in order to meet the government target of 600,000 heat pump installations per year.
In 2018, fewer than 1% (1250,000) of dwellings had a heat pump in and, unfortunately, public awareness of renewable technologies and alternatives to gas boilers is very low. Particularly in a country like the UK — the biggest gas boiler market in Europe — where less than three customers in ten have heard of heat pumps(9).
The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks countries based on the latest data on critical things such as air and water quality, waste management, CO2 emissions, and other public health factors. According to the 2020 EPI, Denmark, Luxembourg and Switzerland are the highest ranking countries of the 180 that are measured globally.(10)
It is clear, that a pattern is beginning to emerge; the countries that have a significantly greater representation of women working within their engineering sectors also have a much higher awareness and adoption of not only renewable technologies but, also a greater cultural environmental awareness.
Of a survey conducted by Women in RACHP,(11) respondents were asked to comment on what they see as barriers to equality in within their sector. According to the sample, major barriers are considered to be outdated attitudes, male bias and prejudice (32% of responses). Phrases such as ‘the old boys’ mentality that women can’t be engineers or technical advisors, a ‘general boys club’ attitude, ‘an ageing workforce complete with an old school mindset’. 13% highlighted a lack of qualifications and poor sector awareness of the industry amongst both genders as barriers to entry. Another point highlighted was that there isn’t enough awareness of the industry at school lever level.
In response, to what actions could be taken to attract more women into the industry, better paying roles/ more women in leadership positions/ gender diversity, (28%) addressing social norms: attitudes/ male bias/ prejudice, and (27%) promotion of industry in schools were all ranked as highly important by those surveyed.
Supported by the IOR, the group WiRACHP (Women in Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heat Pumps)(12) aims to engage and attract more talented females and make this industry more appealing to all.
The first approach was to promote the range of available careers and encourage career progression for women through networking, mentoring and learning. Another measure was to share experiences of women working in RACHP in order to create role models that can attract more female talents such as in schools and colleges.
Improving society, through health and education features in the top 5 solutions by Project Drawdown. (13)
Education lays a foundation for vibrant lives for girls and women, their families, and their communities. Educated girls realise higher wages and greater upward mobility, contributing to economic growth. Education also shores up resilience and equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change.
Today, there are economic, cultural, and safety-related barriers that impede 62 million girls around the world from realising their right to education. We should all be doing all that we can to help support and promote the hard work of organisations such as WiRACHP.
“And one final point — we never really know where the next great scientific discovery will come from, nor who will make it. Opening up the thrill and wonder of scientific discovery, creating innovative and accessible ways to reach out to the widest young audience possible, greatly increases the chances of finding and inspiring the new Einstein. Wherever she might be.”
- Stephen Hawking, in his final book; Brief Answers to the Big Questions.
(1) Woolley, A. W. et al., 2010. Evidence for a collective intelligence factor in the performance of human groups.
(2) Woolley, A., Aggarwal, I. & Malone, T., 2015. Collective Intelligence and Group Performance.
(8) BEIS HEAT PUMP MANUFACTURING SUPPLY CHAIN RESEARCH PROJECT Nov 2020
(11) WOMEN in RACHP: Closing the gender parity gap
(12) WOMEN IN RACHP ICCCC2020