The energy industry has traditionally had a male bias in its culture and career opportunities. However, the energy transition from conventional to renewable that is taking place today provides a unique opportunity to address this gender bias.
While the main focus in the energy sector is currently on addressing gender energy inequality as seen in the male-female composition of the workforce, the increasing focus on working towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals concerning affordable and clean energy is bringing multi-dimensional aspects into the spotlight.
In addition to the contribution of women in the transition to green energy as part of the labour force and through senior leadership positions, the importance of female consumers in making sustainable consumption choices is also coming to the fore as critical to a successful transition to a low-carbon economy.
Gender equality for the workforce
The energy industry remains one of the least gender diverse. Currently, in the renewable energy sector, women account for just around 32% of the workforce globally. This includes 45% working in administrative positions and just 28% in STEM-related roles.
Gender inequality is most evident at higher levels of management where key decisions are made. According to gender surveys by IRENA, women represent no more than a quarter of directors across the renewable energy sector and around 8% of senior management positions in the wind industry. The situation is similar in the solar energy industry.
Women in the energy industry face biases similar to those in other core sector industries with limited job opportunities due to stereotypical gender roles bound by cultural and social norms.
Those in the industry face a challenge from limited opportunities for career growth due to the absence of an inclusive and inflexible corporate culture.
Ensuring that this gender gap is closed is important as women are key drivers and enablers of innovative and inclusive solutions.
The transition to clean energy is creating new jobs with the potential to give opportunities to a more diverse workforce, where women are not left behind.
It is important to ensure that the inclusion of women gives companies access to talent and critical skills arising from a woman’s unique perspective and expertise.
This promotes innovation that is a critical facet of the drive towards sustainable clean energy and the fight against climate change. Studies suggest that women also improve collaboration while more qualified women in an organisation’s leadership are linked to better performance.
Gender equality for the consumer
Globally, including in the developed nations, it is women and girls who are primarily users of household energy.
It is estimated that around 30% of households live in energy poverty, which limits a woman’s access to education and economic opportunities while exposing them to health risks from a lack of access to clean cooking solutions with exposure to pollution from using wood, coal or charcoal for cooking and heating. This is a big concern and is highlighted by the United Nations as part of their Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs).
Access to renewable energy has the potential to act as a catalyst that empowers women economically. Access to clean and affordable modern energy alternatives will benefit women’s health and well-being while contributing to gender equality.
It would allow women to be financially independent and promote socio-economic development. Hence it is important for women to participate in key decisions and lend their unique gender perspective in the design and execution of renewable energy projects so that it meets the needs of every individual, regardless of their gender.
Stimulating access to energy could help 50% of the labour force to be more productive and more engaged. A more inclusive energy policy will help shape an equal and balanced society
Life is energy and energy must belong to, reach and ensure gender equality to the women who give life.
(The author is Co-founder & Chief Strategy Officer, Sunpower Renewables.)
Originally published in Business Today on March 08, 2022
This International Women’s Day, Sunpower Renewables plans to #breakthebias with its commitment to provide solar-powered electricity to over 10,000 homes in over 100 villages to ensure that women and girl children in India can be truly empowered to be ‘atma nirbhar’. Through clean solar-based energy, the company aims to solve women’s core issues; be it in education or self-care and break the shackles of the past and help them emerge as custodians of their future.