This International Women’s Day, Data and Tech Can #BreakTheBias in Energy and Beyond

By Katie Mehnert, CEO and founder, ALLY Energy

As International Women’s Day comes around this year, the news on women in the workforce is grim. “Early into the third year of the pandemic, male workers regained all the jobs they had lost since February 2020,” the Washington Post reports. “But the same could not be said of women: Since February 2020, 1.1 million women who left the labor force have yet to return.” And while women’s labor force participation rate has been edging its way back up, it remains about a percentage point lower than it was pre-pandemic.

The implications for the entire economy are seismic. By one analysis, having fewer women in the workforce costs the United States hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Salaries are affected as well. When women leave the workforce, wages drop, including for men.

Corporate bottom lines depend on diversity and inclusion as well. So it’s no surprise that, increasingly, investors are taking up the fight to bring greater gender equality and diversity to corporations. Morgan Stanley found that “63% of U.S. individual investors and 67% of global asset owners identify gender diversity as an area of interest in allocating capital across their investment portfolios.” Also, a study found that investors see value in a company having more women and greater diversity.

My work focuses on the energy sector, in which women and minorities are especially underrepresented despite the financial incentives to achieve greater equity.

At this time of year, corporations frequently highlight some of their female leaders. And executives vow to “do better,” promising to build a workforce that looks more like the overall population. But it’s time to go a step further -- and stakeholders can play a big role in making that happen.

The theme of International Women’s Day this year is #BreakTheBias. There's good news: More than ever, technology and data can play a crucial role in helping organizations do just that.

Data-driven tools boost diversity, equity

Entrepreneurs committed to DEI are developing tools that use data in new ways to dramatically boost gender equality and diversity in recruiting, hiring, retaining and promoting employees. In conversations with executives, investor relations representatives, and earnings calls, stakeholders should ask what technologies they’re using to make this happen.

Getting specific is crucial because not all tools deliver results. One study in 2018, for example, concluded that biases in algorithms can sometimes introduce as many problems as they solve. My company has been very picky in choosing solutions we are building to help the energy industry.

Stakeholders, including investors, should question executives about the track record of any technology they take on. Ask them how and why the technology works. Insist on regular updates to gauge progress.

Embracing transparency to drive culture change

But simply showing how many women or minorities your company has is only the beginning. To hold onto these employees for the long term, especially amid a tight labor market and the “Great Resignation,” you need to build a culture of inclusion. And here, new technologies can also make a big difference.

Despite all the talk about work cultures, the concept often remains very nebulous. It’s time to end that confusion, -- and start measuring. As Deloitte’s Josh Bersin wrote in a column for the Society for Human Resource Management, “Yes, you can measure your culture.”

Just as Glassdoor helps deliver opinions in the way current and former employees feel about a company, technology can provide sentiments and predictive analytics to help guide company leaders on culture.

For example, successful businesses work to create environments in which people find meaning and purpose in their work, along with trust, collaboration and more. Data can keep track of how people feel about all these cultural elements.

As a column in the Harvard Business Review notes, businesses should use technology that segments employee surveys by different demographics, so leaders can get a clearer sense of how minorities and women are feeling. (My company is doing this kind of work in the energy sector as well.) With these tools in place, stakeholders should be able to get numerical updates on cultural improvements.

The good news is that the more we all work together to #BreakTheBias, the more we all stand to gain. This International Women’s Day, let’s take concrete actions and use data and technology to see real change in the year ahead.

Katie Mehnert is CEO and founder of ALLY Energy, Ambassador to theU.S. Department of Energy’s Equity in Energy Initiative, and Fellow to The Energy Institute.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.