A handful of Women in Renewables in Scotland (WiRES) were invited to the recent Westminster launch of the POWERful Women report, which revealed substantial under-representation of women in Board roles in the energy sector. Here, VICTORIA SMITH, a member of WiRES, talks about her experience in the Scottish energy sector.
“Hello, I’m Victoria Smith and I work in the Offshore Development team for Scottish Power Renewables. I am an Assistant Project Manager supporting Offshore Wind Development in the UK.
I graduated from Aberdeen University in 2009 with an undergraduate degree in Geography and a year of experience as a Gender and Equalities Officer. I moved to Glasgow for my post graduate degree in Urban Development and am still here today enjoying the city’s many quirks.
What does your current role involve?
My role is hugely varied and will change depending on what stage the project is in. During 2013 I focussed most of my energy on managing the Planning Inspectorate examination of East Anglia ONE Offshore Windfarm. This included coordinating consultants and delivering submissions to the examination. The project received consent in June 2014 and I am proud to have been a part of the fantastic team which delivered consent for this project.
During 2014 my role has evolved into managing the post examination matters for the project and exploring our future offshore interests. This will range from early site selection and risk analysis to keeping a watching eye over developments in the industry.
With one foot in the final stages of project development and another in the beginning stages I’m gaining a rewarding experience of the development process. More recently I have taken an active involvement in progressing commercial and landowner agreements required for both offshore and onshore aspects of a project. Juggling these different topics is a day to day challenge of development that will expand as my role takes on new areas.
What is the most exciting part of your job?
Being at the forefront of the project means I am fortunate enough to be engaged when the project starts to take shape. When you see the project evolve through consultation with stakeholders it is a rewarding process as it reminds us of the goals we are all working towards.
I am particularly proud to be part of an industry that is stepping into a new and exciting phase for the UK, where projects are moving from the planning and inception stage and shaping up into reality. This is particularly exciting when we talk with communities about the tangible benefits of the project such as skills development, training and employment opportunities.
How did you get here?
The opportunity for me to join Scottish Power Renewables in 2011 came about after I spent a few months providing administrative support to renewable energy consultancies in Glasgow. A position came up with an offshore wind energy developer, supporting their administration and consultation needs and I happily accepted.
At the time I had been due to travel to China to teach English but the opportunity was too good to turn down. So I declined the place in China and I haven’t looked back since. In March 2013 I was offered the position of Assistant Project Manager in the team and so I joined Scottish Power Renewables on a permanent basis.
What attracted you to work in the renewable energy sector?
I have always had a strong interest in sustainable development; therefore the renewables sector seemed like the perfect fit and since joining the industry I’ve become passionate about the benefits of job creation and security of energy supply.
What challenges have you encountered?
After finishing my post graduate degree I faced the exciting and terrifying prospect of ‘what now?’ So, I threw myself into a part time Teach English as a Foreign Language qualification and any voluntary and work positions that I could get my hands on. This included marketing support at renewable energy consultancies and working in call centres. Looking back, my past experience taught me that I could be flexible and responsive to tackle the challenges that came my way and this mind set has helped me in my current role.
There is a wealth of beneficial experience to draw from administrative support roles and this should not be overlooked by future employers as you seek to progress your career. In order to progress my career it was clear I would need to demonstrate how my past experience was relevant and a platform to further my career. I tackled this by being confident in my abilities, ambitions and making a case for the contributions I could make to the team, and secondly, I was fortunate enough to be working in a dynamic industry with a team that recognise and reward the hard work of their staff.
What do you think are the possible solutions to increase the representation of women in the renewable energy sector?
When I was a Gender and Equal Opportunities Officer at the University of Aberdeen I found the best way to get people interested in what I did wasn’t putting up posters, emails or handing out femidoms…no, it was talking.
So simply put, I believe we should talk about it more, to anyone and everyone who listens and even those who don’t! Ask about the lack of women in engineering, or the lack of men in administrative roles? You can kick start a chain reaction with simple measures and I believe this is one of them.
I also intend to become a STEM ambassador for ScottishPower Renewables as this is something I believe passionately in. Developing the interests and skills of young women embarking on their academic career will bring a huge boost to the numbers pursuing careers in renewables.
What advice would you give to other women?
Be passionate about working in the renewables sector and believe 100% in what we are all working towards: a more sustainable energy sector. This is a fast paced environment that will be challenged in many forums so it’s important to keep your eye on the goal.
See also: Scottish Energy News: http://goo.gl/nxKfHu
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* Meanwhile, WiRES members Claire Addison, Sarah Caraher, and Gail Watt are organising a networking meeting for women in renewable energy at The Newsroom, Leith Street, Edinburgh on 26 February 2015 from 6.30pm-8.00pm. No registration necessary. Contact WiRES on 0141 337 8144.