Empowering women to power the green transition

Over the last 20 years, OECD countries have made real progress in moving towards gender equality. But imbalances persist. Women continue to earn less than men and they are less likely to participate in the labour market and hold managerial positions.

Policy makers now need to double down their efforts to close the gap and overcome an emerging gender divide in the green transition. A new OECD report shows that men vastly outnumber women in green jobs.

What are green jobs?
We can define green jobs based on the tasks they entail. Jobs are classified as green if at least 10% of tasks contribute to environmental objectives such as preserving the environment and reducing emissions.

These jobs are in high demand, as governments and businesses invest to go green. Increasing women’s participation in green jobs will yield a double dividend, reducing gender inequality and addressing labour market shortages. Why are there fewer women in green jobs and what can be done to bridge the green gender gap?

For every 10 employees in green jobs, less than 3 are women

Across OECD countries and regions, 72% of green jobs are held by men. Strikingly, there is no OECD country or region where women are equally represented in green jobs, although the Baltic states get closest. Italy is at the other end of the spectrum, with men five times more likely to hold green jobs than women.

There are also regional differences. Capital regions such as Vilnius Region, Australian Capital Territory, Île-de-France, Stockholm, Wellington and Warsaw, have a higher proportion of women in green jobs. To achieve parity, at least 20 million women in the OECD would need to switch to green jobs. This disparity means that women are missing out on new green opportunities, as well as a chance to close the earnings gap, as green jobs tend to offer up to 20% higher pay than other jobs.

There are national disparities in improving women’s representation in green jobs

Share of green jobs held by women, 2021 or last available year

What is driving the green gender divide?

Women are underrepresented in the occupations that matter for the green transition.

In engineering professions (physical and engineering science technicians, engineering professionals), which are among the most common green jobs, women constitute less than 1 in 4 workers.

Women are also rarely employed in construction jobs that will be needed for a successful green transition. This is linked to the fields of study that women and men choose in higher education.

Gender biases start young

These divergences start from a young age. Despite girls routinely performing well on science and maths tests at school, they are less likely than boys to aspire to a career in STEM-related occupations. At the age of 15, boys are already twice as likely to expect to work in a green job as girls (21% and 10%, respectively).

While a similar share of girls and boys aspire to be architects, boys are over four times more likely than girls to indicate engineering as their profession of choice.

Gender norms contribute to girls perceiving STEM subjects negatively. Biases manifest themselves in outdated teaching methods, lower expectations of female performance and a lack of female STEM teachers and role models.

Research shows that parents are more likely to expect their teenage son to pursue STEM occupations rather than their daughters. The result is girls and women choosing to avoid these fields, fearing the obstacles they may face.

How to STEM the flow of inequality?

So what can we do to help bridge the gap? Policies for a just transition must provide targeted support measures to broaden the access of women to green job opportunities. These measures could include early career guidance, upskilling programmes and updated academic curricula.

Some countries have implemented initiatives aimed at increasing female participation in STEM. In February 2023, the UK launched a GBP 150,000 scheme which will train women who have taken long career breaks to return to STEM-based careers.

Early intervention to prevent gender-based stereotypes from appearing at childhood is also important. For example, award-winning engineer Kerrine Bryan publishes children’s books aimed at combatting gendered perceptions of male-dominated industries, with titles including “My Mummy Is An Engineer” and “My Mummy is a Plumber”. Opening mindsets and expectations will be essential in encouraging young girls to enter career fields that are key to the green transition.

We cannot leave women behind in the transition to a net-zero economy. Increasing female representation in green jobs would promote gender equality as well as unlock huge untapped potential for the green transition, alleviating labour market shortages and skills bottlenecks. Ensuring equitable access to green opportunities for both men and women will be vital to deliver a just transition for all.

Find out more about our work on green jobs here.

Register for the launch event for our forthcoming report Job Creation and Local Economic Development 2023: Bridging the Great Green Divide.

While this blog focuses on green jobs, it is important to note that men are vastly overrepresented in polluting jobs, some of which may disappear or undergo significant transformation due to the green transition. Over three-quarters of polluting jobs are held by men. To ensure a just transition, regional and national governments can support these workers by providing career guidance and retraining opportunities.

Junior Economist at | Website | + posts

Ada Zakrzewska is a Junior Economist / Policy Analyst in the Local Employment, Skills and Social Innovation Division in the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities. She has co-authored the 2023 edition of the Job Creation and Local Economic Development report that focuses on the impact of the green transition on the labour markets. Before joining the OECD, she worked at the London School of Economics and for the Government of Ethiopia as an ODI Fellow. She holds an MSc in Economics from the London School of Economics.

Policy Analyst at OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities (CFE) | + posts

Lana Fitzgerald is working for the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities where she supports work in policy research and advice. She has an undergraduate degree in European Studies from Trinity College Dublin, where she specialized in French, Spanish and cultural history. She also holds a certificate in Social Sciences and Humanities from Sciences Po, Paris. She is interested in matters of tourism, cultural policy and local development.