Taniya Krishna gave this riveting speech at a seminar hosted by the African Women in Energy and Power (AWEaP) on 20 may 2021 whose theme was “Advancing and supporting the participation of women entrepreneurs in the Energy and Power Sector”. 

Progress on gender equality in the energy sector has been modest at best, and now the effort to narrow gender gaps faces new challenges in the form of automation trends and the regressive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenge for women is that long-standing barriers make it harder for them to adapt to the future of work in the power and energy sector. 

Gender inequality in the energy workforce isn’t new and we can’t afford to overlook the potential candidate pool. As business starts to ramp up again, talent holes are appearing. For the energy sector, attracting and retaining talent is a skills gap solution staring us in the face.

I would like to focus our conversation today on three key aspects:

Empowerment = Advancement + Transformation

In doing so, I will cover aspects of culture change required, mentorship, role transformations and a cross sector strategy and implementation of legal quotas.

Culture –  This cultural change begins at the top and is two-fold. We need more women at the executive level, so they can be role models to younger women everywhere, showing them it’s possible to break the glass ceiling. If we can’t lead from the top, the energy sector will find itself with a limited approach to an executive talent pipeline. Cultural change can be complicated but utilizing the softer benefits of digitalization could allow companies to make quicker advancements when it comes to incentivizing women to join and stay in the workforce. It’s vital the industry does more to attract females to pursue a career not only in engineering but also, finance and business, which starts with a culture shift.

Mentorship – Next, we need to create an inviting, open workforce across typically male-dominated roles, like technical, offshore and international assignments. If you’re the lone woman in a department of men, you already feel like you stand out. That breeds extra pressure to perform. Women need senior sponsorship in these roles, so they’re offered the same opportunities to advance. Getting this right could impede the number of women leaving the industry mid-way through their careers and build the pipeline of senior talent.

It’s so important that women know they are welcome in the energy sector. We need more women across all levels of our organizations for the sector to prosper. This includes making strategic decisions in the boardroom to designing new technology and maintaining it in the field. The industry needs to keep working toward a truly gender diverse sector until it becomes a reality.

Cross sector strategies for advancement – Gender equity requires a cross-sector strategy to successfully include women in the renewable energy workforce. Empowering women means facilitating professional advancement while promoting system transformation. In order to advance women’s careers, it is necessary to improve access to employment and financial resources, to invest in women’s human and social capital through education, skills development and the creation of valuable professional networks.

Transformation whilst establishing and implementing quotas – this is required to make women visible in leadership roles creates role models that portray different social, cultural, ethnic or gender traits. If the saying “you can’t be what you can’t see” holds true then there are benefits of promoting women in senior decision-making roles based on quotas that can inspire other women to challenge gendered career paths. These efforts should be matched with significant investment in training and scholarships to encourage more women to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and business disciplines at all levels of education, and providing support via mentorship, knowledge-sharing and skills development.

Economic advancement alone is only part of the answer. Empowering women requires a wider system transformation to tackle gender stereotypes and cultural biases that obstruct women’s entrance, job retention and career advancement in the renewable energy workforce.

Recruitment practices: There is critical importance to designing inclusive recruitment practices to facilitate women’s entrance in this sector, such as making it a common practice to write job descriptions in a gender-neutral language. Such small steps can greatly contribute towards creating flexible and inclusive work environments that should account for many women’s dual role as professionals and care givers. Safety on the workplace is also paramount. Crucially, employers should enforce zero-tolerance policies on sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination.

The use of a baseline and good monitoring and indicators for gender equality increases transparency and accountability, and this type of evaluation should be undertaken as regularly as other financial and performance evaluations. Existing resources and toolkits are already in place in the energy sector, and although there is no one-size-fits-all strategy these constitute a good starting point for businesses, regulators and organisations across the industry.

Also of importance, is the supporting of coalitions that advocate for greater gender inclusion. These range from international women’s networks and associations, to supporting champions of any gender identity who stand up for gender equality and employee-led diversity and inclusion strategies on the workplace.

There’s still a long way to go to level the playing field, as women only account for around very small percent of the global power and energy workforce. Creating more opportunity for women and the next generation in the energy sector is an aspiration that can lift not only the African continent but the global economy whilst contributing to a more just society. It is a goal we need to meet collectively.

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Taniya Krishna is the CEO of Ixowave  (a women only owned renewable energy company)