Monthly Archives: July 2014

Women and energy

Professor Catherine Mitchell is Professor of Energy Policy

A recent Ernst and Young report has shown that only four per cent of executive board members of the top 100 utility companies is female. Not only does the sector have minimal women, but it is also primarily older and white in character – with 60 per cent of its management over 40. The report argues that this is worrying in terms of diversity of thinking given that the current big kit, centralised energy model is in the middle of fundamental disruptive change and needs new and innovative thinking and practices.

The E&Y report focuses on business but there are similar problems across the energy public policy interface, whether in Government, civil service, the Regulator, NGOs, academia and so on. The outright daily sexism of energy in the 1980’s and 1990’s – which I endured – has been replaced with a much less obvious version – but it is still very powerfully there.

Look at any ‘mainstream’ energy conference and the routinely male speakers. There are numerous as-well qualified women around but they are often not chosen. One example of the mind-set of energy which has to be overcome is illuminated by an International Women’s Day Conference I organised in 2012. It was not marketed as a women’s conference. The only difference between it and the numerous, other, very well-attended conferences I have organised was that 100 per cent of the speakers were women. Although the topic of the day was very relevant; the women top-notch and interesting; very few men attended. This despite the fact that women routinely attend meetings where all the speakers are men, or where some of the male speakers have less merit than themselves.

Gender issues

Gender issues are complex – as is energy. With apologies for the simplicity of the sweeping statement, on the whole, industries with money are dominated by men. ‘Successful’ women tend to manage to make it first in sectors where the pay or societal kudos is less. I have always thought that Brenda Boardman and I were only able to get into energy academia in the way we did back in the late 1980’s / early 1990’s because we worked on renewable energy and energy efficiency respectively – something which was very uninteresting and unimportant to the general energy world at the time. Nor is it a coincidence that she ran, and I run, a group with many women members.

Some countries and some energy industry structures are better than others. For example, if the industry structure is made up of a few large companies, in a centralised system (as it is in GB) then there is less opportunity for new entrants of any description. More devolved, decentralised political systems – such as the US system with 50 States or the German system with Lander – again provides more opportunities because there are more jobs to be filled. Googling ‘women in energy’ does bring up many support groups, but interestingly the first page of links are all in the US or Canada.

Under threat, Governments, the Regulator, the civil service and companies may choose those who more easily fit in and who do not rock the boat rather than the more uncomfortable person who pushes for change.

In parallel to this, the very competitive British university system promotes academics based on the number of journal articles they produce; the amount of grant money they bring in; and to a much smaller degree, the impact of their work – ie whether anyone takes any notice of what they do. At root, over and above the basic requirement of being reasonably bright, promotion comes down to how many hours someone is prepared to put in and how much travel they are prepared to do, in and around their teaching. In a perfect world, with a couple who equally shares childcare this should not affect women adversely – except for the maternity leave time. Those academics – men or women – that do not have children, or who have a partner more able or willing to spend more than the 50 per cent on childcare will be able to spend more time on producing the outputs on which they will be assessed by. All things being equal, in a job interview situation, the latter would be offered the position. Academics undergo a ‘snapshot’ assessment of this criteria once every five or so years. Together all the ‘values’ of the academics in a university are summed and this leads to the university league tables, the basis of university economics. Academia is undergoing its own revolution at the moment and universities are very conservative places. Without doubt, the anyway very tough world is even tougher for men or women, who would like to have children and spend time with them.

Combine the difficulties of women in academia with the conservative, big tech world of energy and one can see that there are substantial issues that have to be overcome in energy: women have to be chosen for jobs but also those jobs have to be enjoyable and attractive to women.

Athena Swan

‘Sorting out these issues to enable women to take the place they wish to within energy (and society) is complex and multi-facetted. Within academic energy, research councils are starting to make some demands on universities about women on grants, although it has made little difference in practice. Similarly, the Athena Swan programme in STEM subjects has at least opened the gender subject up, even if, again, under the fundamental incentives of academic life in Britain this makes little difference. Within business, the E and Y report sets out how different countries have attempted to stimulate more women on boards, and to get the ‘pipeline’ – the development process in place to enable sufficient meritocratic women to be available at each level within business – underway. For example, Norway legislated in 2003 for a 40 per cent quota for females on boards of state-owned firms by 2006 and on boards of publicly traded firms by 2008.

To me, one very important aspect of change – whether in energy or within society – comes down to the governance process in place, and how that governance process provides incentives which either maintains the system or encourages new ways of doing things. Those that gain from the current systems tend to promote its continuation. I know that within energy there are many brilliant and effective women who are overlooked. I agree with E and Y that new thinking and practices needs diverse input into that thinking. The position of women in society has improved since my youth; as it has improved from the world my mother worked in as a Medical Doctor; and as her time has improved from my grandmother’s world, where she (but not her husband) was required to give up work as a teacher when she got married. But both society and energy are changing much too slowly. I strongly support a quota for women on boards – not just to inject some new thinking now – but also because it will act as a pull for women throughout the rest of society. I also support a research council requirement that all programmes, grants and so on supported by research councils should meet a minimum percentage of members, speakers etc.

I am not someone who believes that the people (usually men) in charge have got there through some ‘objective’, entirely meritocratic process. It is time to even things up a bit.

Will Harvey’s War

FW Harvey was a famous Gloucestershire poet whose work became popular during and after the First World War. Harvey served in the war and a significant amount of his work was written from the front line and prisoner of war camps. Grant Repshire, a University of Exeter doctoral student, worked at the Gloucestershire Archives for his research project. In his time at the Archives, he uncovered an unpublished Harvey novel – Grant discusses what this has led to below…

Any readers who follow our social media accounts about Harvey (@FWHarvey on Twitter, and here on Facebook) will probably be aware that Harvey’s lost novel has been adapted as a play titled Will Harvey’s War at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham as the launch event for the Gloucestershire Remembers WWI community outreach programme (the play runs from 30 July to 2 August 2014). Additionally, the novel has been published internationally by the History Press.

Last night, ITV West Country News aired a piece on the project. It includes an interview with me, the doctoral researcher, but more importantly with the cast and crew at the Everyman Theatre who are preparing to bring the novel to life:

You can view the full the video with accompanying article on ITV’s website.

This play is one of the most exciting secondary effects of the studentship’s dedication to preserving and making accessible FW Harvey’s personal papers. It serves as an example of how universities can use collaboration-based outreach programmes to successfully engage with communities, extending the value of academic research beyond academia and into the larger world.

The project has already preserved Harvey’s papers at the Gloucestershire Archives, making them available to any researcher – whether they are academic, amateur, or simply casually interested. Now, thanks to this play, an even larger audience in Gloucestershire will learn about Harvey who was an important figure locally and nationally during the war, one the community was and should still be proud to call a Gloucestershire Lad.

The play has extended the reach of one document found in Harvey’s papers to hundreds, and its publication as a novel has the potential to extend its reach to exponentially more.

Grant’s studentship was funded by the University of Exeter’s Research and Enterprise in Arts and Creative Technology (REACT) initiative. REACT, which is backed by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds collaborations between creative economy companies and arts and humanities scholars at its partner universities.

These collaborations will make innovative use of academic research and technological know-how to share academic knowledge with new audiences, generate economic value in the creative economy and move forward the scope of digital technology.

This post first appeared on the FW Harvey blog.

Value creation and waste reduction in a circular economy

The Business Leaders Forum (BLF) is a regular event run by the University of Exeter. Aimed primarily at chief executives and senior management, it is a membership-based organisation that enables influential business people to stay up-to-date with current trends in business. Julie Whittaker, a Senior Lecturer in the Organisation of Markets at the University of Exeter Business School, gives her thoughts on the latest meeting, which had the topic of a circular economy.

Experts have urged businesses to grasp new opportunities that can help to combat the twin challenges of rising resource prices and waste costs.

The call came at the latest BLF, hosted by the University of Exeter, where it was highlighted that companies which fail to come to terms with these challenges are in danger of becoming less competitive. To take advantage of the new prospects, businesses need to position themselves as part of a circular economy, within which, in principle, all materials are cycled infinitely.

A diagram illustrating the circular economy. Courtesy of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

James Walker, Head of Innovation for Net Positive at Kingfisher plc spoke about the steps his company, a large multinational retailer (which includes B&Q and Screw Fix) have started to take in moving the economy away from the take-make-waste linear pattern towards a more circular process in which goods are designed with either recycling, or even better, reuse in mind.

James told attendees that electric drills are used on average for only 20 minutes in their whole life. He suggested that a better deal, both for the customer and the retailer would be to offer a box of tools for specific DIY tasks for hire rather than for sale. This would mean fewer tools manufactured and at the end of life the materials in the tools could be more readily recovered.

We might question what this could mean for current tool manufacturers? As with most structural economic change, there are likely to be both gainers and losers.

A circular economy is beneficial to the natural environmental, but James was keen to emphasise that while previously businesses have been motivated to reduce their environmental impact on ethical grounds, today it was a business necessity to adjust to the new market conditions.

The second speaker, Devon based Mark Hodgson, a sustainability consultant with QSA Partners outlined the different types of circular economy business models, explaining how they can be adopted, giving South West examples.

These models not only place a greater emphasis on providing services rather than products (eg providing access to tools rather than tool sales) but also give attention to design for reuse and recycling. Drawing on the example of Co-Cars (the Exeter car club he helped to establish) he illustrated how digital technology which provided easy access and monitoring of car use, enabled the circular economy business models to be commercialised.

The University of Exeter Business School will be running workshops on the new circular economy business models, in the autumn. Anyone interested in learning more should contact Julie Whittaker by email on .

Health and Medical Research Showcase

On Friday 27 June, around 300 people were welcomed to the University of Exeter Forum for the Health and Medical Research Showcase, an annual research event organised by Research and Knowledge Transfer and the University of Exeter Medical School. PhD student Joana Viana was there…

The aim of this event was to gather together people from the most diverse areas of medical research to present their work and discuss new ways for approaching these areas.

The day started with a welcome and introduction by Professor Angela Shore from the Medical School, followed by three keynote presentations.

Dr Francesca Palombo from the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences explained how the study of dynamical and complex biological structures using spectroscopy can help reveal pathological alterations in diverse diseases such and cancer and cardiovascular disease.

The second keynote speaker was Dr Richard Chahwan, from the College of Life and Environmental Sciences, who talked about how mutations on the DNA molecule are essential in the context of efficient immune response.

The final speaker, Professor Chema Valderas, from the Medical School, presented his views on patient-centred health care and explained how aspects such as multimorbidity and patient reported experiences of care can help assess patient-centredness in the clinic.

During the poster sessions, more than 160 people from across all the University’s six colleges displayed their research to the public. The sessions were highly dynamic, with a large amount of high quality scientific discussions among researchers and other members of the general public.

The event brought together people from the most diverse fields of research, presenting a great opportunity for people from different colleges to meet and network over lunch and coffee, opening doors to new topics of discussion and creating space for new collaborations.

Top row – Inês Castro’s winning poster – ‘Peroxisome dynamics in health and disease’.
Bottom row – Philip Waters (L) and Giles Cory (R) were both highly commended for their posters.

After a science-full day, Professor Nick Talbot, Deputy-Vice Chanecllor Research and Knowledge Transfer presented the awards. The winner of the Best Poster was Inês Castro with a poster titled ‘Peroxisome dynamics in health and disease’. Her work focuses on the complexity and dynamics of peroxisome behaviour, which play a crucial role in several aspects of cellular environment and organelle interaction. She explained that the molecular characterisation of important proteins that regulate peroxisome morphology can help in the understanding of disorders with defects in the dynamics of this organelle.

The posters of other two researchers received high commendations for their creativity. These were ‘Making the message stick – how RNA tells cells where to go’ by Giles Cory and ‘In search of the giant’s underpants: how story-based play in nature can help children be physically active’ by Philip Waters.

All in all, it was a very successful day and we can only hope that opportunities like this to create bridges between colleges will continue to arise.