A few months ago I led a Leadership & Management Training for a multinational infrastructure company with offices across Africa. During a session on Diversity and Gender Sensitivity, I learned that the company had a staff strength of 180 in their Ghana office, out of which only 8 were women. These 8 women were mainly administrative and support staff.
I asked how it was possible that they had no women among their technical staff and the answer was jarring. I was told that the technical staff were made up of engineers who engaged mostly in field work and for the duration of time they’re onsite, they are housed in facilities built for that purpose. Now this company claimed they could not hire women engineers because women couldn’t be housed in the same facilities as the men and they also couldn’t go to the trouble of building separate female only housing.
So, a company with a far reaching, continental wide, rock solid reputation discriminated against hiring women engineers simply because they couldn’t go to the trouble of housing them.
This staggering inequality is only a small example of how women have being denied opportunities for years because of their gender. It begins from junior management to the highest executive positions, a lack of female representation in the workforce…and no industry is it more glaring, than in the energy industry.
Gender and Energy Facts and Figures
- Women make up 20 to 25% of the workforce in the overall energy industry.
- Women in energy comprise just 24% of all C-suite positions in the sector
- Only 6% of countries in the world have women ministers overseeing national energy policies and programs
- Women accounted for less than a third of those employed in scientific research and development (R&D) across the world
- High reliance on biomass for cooking in many countries means that women and children without clean cooking access spend an average of 1.4 hours/day collecting fuel
Women and children bear the greatest burden of this energy poverty. In advancing gender equality, social inclusion, and women’s empowerment in the energy sector, the intersection of gender, energy and sustainable development need to be considered.
In order to have women equitably represented in the energy sector as both participants and beneficiaries, the work needs to be done at all levels. Beginning from ensuring girls are educated, to encouraging girls pursue STEM degrees and careers, hiring more women and creating paths to leadership, including gender considerations into policy, regulation and frameworks and making sure such considerations are implemented.
Progress is slow, but governments and organizations are beginning to discover that inequality is bad for business.
In Nigeria, the Kaduna State Government has announced a full implementation of free education at secondary school level for girls, which will benefit 191,445 female students. In Australia, the Queensland Government has created an initiative called The STEM Girl Power Camp, which encourages girls to participate in STEM by engaging in a range of exciting STEM experiences and inviting them to inspire other students by being a STEM ambassador in their school and community.
These and many other examples of the prioritization of girls education, especially girls education in STEM, show a significant intention to make sure the world has a future where women are equally represented in the energy sector.
I recently authored a policy document for the Independent Pan-African Youth Parliament which was submitted to the African Union which included suggestions such as: Create Safe Workspaces to Support Women’s Ascendancy to Leadership Roles and Ensure that Women’s Development Efforts are Secured in a Sense of Leadership Purpose than Likability
In a nutshell, in executive management tiers, there is a glaring scarcity of women and this increases the visibility of the few who have managed to get there. A safe space for learning, experimentation, and community is critical in leadership development programs for women. Organizations need to build communities in which women in similar positions can discuss their feedback, compare notes, and emotionally support one another’s learning. Identifying common experiences increases women’s willingness to talk openly, take risks, and be vulnerable without fearing that others will misunderstand or judge them. An excellent example is the GE Women’s Network for female employees of the General Electric Company.
“Rejecting Likability”….a phrase made famous by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her Facebook post turned novel “Dear Ijeawale”, is not just an essential Suggestion for every woman to live a fulfilled life but is absolutely critical in the workplace. How women are perceived, rather than their technical skills or leadership style is usually the determining factor in how quickly they ascend the corporate ladder.
In order to balance the competence versus likability trade-off — the seeming choice between being respected and being liked — women are taught to downplay femininity, or be less aggressive, or to try to strike a perfect balance between the two. This leads to so much time and energy spent in managing perceptions, which can be ultimately self-defeating.
“Anchoring in purpose enables women to redirect their attention toward shared goals and to consider who they need to be and what they need to learn in order to achieve those goals. Instead of defining themselves in relation to gender stereotypes, whether rejecting stereotypically masculine approaches because they feel inauthentic or rejecting stereotypically feminine ones for fear that they convey incompetence; female leaders can focus on behaving in ways that advance the purposes for which they stand.”
Recently, there has been a general upswing in the area of including gender considerations into energy policies and regulations and nowhere has this been more evident in the world than in Sub-Saharan Africa. “Energizing equality: The importance of integrating gender equality principles in national energy policies and frameworks” found that sub-Saharan Africa is by far ahead of every region in the world, in ensuring energy policies are gender-equality compliant.
Organizations like ECOWAS and the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE) developed the ECOWAS Directive for Gender Assessments in Energy Projects in 2017, with the support of Power Africa and the U.S. Clean Energy Solutions Center of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The Directive aims to ensure that vulnerable and marginalized populations are included as both beneficiaries of and participants in the energy sector. The standout attribute of this Directive is that it can be enforced at national levels, in Member States that have recognized ECOWAS law within their national systems.
Countries like Mauritius, Rwanda, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Benin and Botswana, among others; have recognized the role of women as energy consumers and producers and have enacted policies that includes participation between women at the grassroots levels and other stakeholders.
Regarding the multinational company I initially mentioned which refused to hire women because they were unable to house them, I made the suggestion that they could begin by offering internships to women engineers which wouldn’t include accommodation. After which I was brought on as a Gender Consultant to carry out a number of duties which involved:
- Designing monitoring and evaluation approaches for mainstreaming gender using the logical framework approach
- Mainstreaming gender into selected programs and projects
- Training of technical directorate staff in gender mainstreaming, analysis and gender budgeting and reporting;
Their first cohort of on-site women engineers will begin postings in January 2019.
Ensuring girls and women are equitably represented and empowered in the energy industry is a collective effort and one that cuts across all levels. It is imperative that governments and organizations take steps to address the gender disparity in energy and seek ways in which to responsibly engage women and ensure their continued development in the sector.
Image from Shale Magazine: Women In The Energy Sector, 19 Jan 2015, https://shalemag.com/women-in-energy/
Adaku Ufere is an award-winning Thought Leader in the Energy & Gender space. She is committed to working towards finding solutions that address and lead to the eradication of energy poverty, experienced by women in developing countries.