Hey, #energytwitter: Women have some suggestions for you

Women energy and climate professionals are often the target of mansplaining” on Twitter. It’s time to do better.

(Sheldon Cooper/Getty Images)
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Canary Media’s Friday Social column explores the intersection of energy, climate and social media. Canary thanks Silverline Communications for its support of the column.

Last August, I wrote a Friday Social column called An ode to #energytwitter.” In it, I described how I saw the online community that convenes around the hashtag: as a utopia of diverse individuals coming together to express opinions and help each other in the interest of promoting progress…in the wonky world of energy.” In retrospect, I might have been a tad naive. 

I’ve since realized that I was writing in an echo chamber (the positive echo reverberated back). The problem, of course, is that #energytwitter is a lot like me — it’s very white and very male. Those who don’t fit into these categories sometimes experience #energytwitter quite differently than I do. I was wrong to paint such a rosy portrait, and I’d like to fix the record now.

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Let’s look specifically at gender: In 2019, Onanalytica used a seemingly algorithmic-based approach to determine the top 100 renewables and future of energy influencers” on Twitter and other social networks. All top 10 are men. Three women make it into the 1120 range, but men still take up 85% of the top 20 spots.

One factor at play is that the renewable energy industry as a whole has a gender diversity problem. According to a study by the International Renewable Energy Agency, women make up just 32% of the renewable energy workforce.

But that doesn’t completely explain why #energytwitter is so male-dominated. These two tweets may shed more light on the issue:

Rebecca Leber, a longtime climate journalist who now reports for Vox, and Leah Stokes, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara who focuses on energy and climate policy, both gave me a thumbs-up when I asked about highlighting their tweets here. They are experts in their respective fields, yet they encounter men on Twitter who are quick to reply to their tweets and correct” them. It’s often obvious that the men haven’t even bothered to read their work. If they had, they’d realize that their corrections” are unwarranted.

This reminds me: Did you know that one in eight men think they could actually score a point against Serena Williams in tennis? That’s insane. Williams is one of the best tennis players of all time, if not the best. And yet, statistically speaking, three men that live on my street believe they could thwart Williams and her 128.6-mile-per-hour serve.

Why is that? Ponder that question before you go trying to correct women online.

There is a name for this knee-jerk replying phenomenon (beyond straight-up misogyny): #energytwitter has a Reply Guy problem.

In 2018, scientists @sbarolo and @shrewshrew came up with a taxonomy for nine types of Reply Guys they identified online:

While you can find examples of all nine types across #energytwitter, the most prevalent is the Mansplainer.

As the taxonomy outlines, Mansplainers mean well, but they can’t help but explain stuff the woman who is tweeting already knows, which is belittling at best.

I’ve spoken on background with several prominent women from the industry about their experience on #energytwitter, and it’s clear that the mansplaining and sometimes all-out harassment they encounter causes them to censor themselves on the platform. 

Liz Delaney of renewables developer Borrego explains here:

Of course, this problem is not specific to #energytwitter, or even just to Twitter. Journalist Amanda Hess wrote an article in 2014 called Why women aren’t welcome on the internet” that sadly rings just as true in 2022. About online harassment, she writes, These relentless messages are an assault on women’s careers, their psychological bandwidth, and their freedom to live online.”

This week’s news of Elon Musk buying Twitter certainly doesn’t offer much hope for ending gender discrimination on the platform, given Musk’s own history of sexist tweets.

I maintain that #energytwitter can be a wonderful place, but we need to do better. Let’s set an example for other subcommunities on Twitter to follow.

The scientists behind the Reply Guy taxonomy have some good advice for the Reply Guys, and I think it applies to all of us men of #energytwitter: Stop replying; start listening.”

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Silverline Communications, the supporter of this column, is a climatetech and ESG communications firm with deep experience in all facets of the clean economy. Learn more about how Silverline connects clients with stakeholders on social channels and beyond.

Mike Munsell is director of growth at Canary Media.