Why Recognize International Women’s Day?
- Mar 8, 2021 6:47 am GMT
Engineer, Yewande Akinola believes the best focus for studies is in energy engineering because it’s the basis for all other sustainability activities, whether in construction or agriculture. Recognizing the diverse energy needs and opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa, she says, “Where there isn’t that much oil, you can see solar panel farms popping up, wind turbine farms, and there’s that accelerated renewable response because of a lack of a natural resource...” But Akinola has come face-to-face with another deficiency in the area that needs be addressed. “I’ve seen young people say, ‘Actually, I don’t think I can do this because I don’t see many people like myself.’”
Yes, the boardrooms of corporate America lack female representation and the energy sector is not immune to this plight. But globally and beyond the boardroom, the goals of gender equality have not been realized. Going as far back as 1909, International Women’s Day was created in connection with the Women’s Rights Movement and was later adopted by the United Nations in 1977. The UN saw the need to not only close the gender gap but have equal representation within their own organization. A commitment to the equitable distribution of positions between men and women at the UN Headquarters was made in the past and the Beijing Platform for Action called for women to hold 50 percent of managerial and decision-making positions at the UN by the year 2000. The most recent data shows that 44.2 percent of professional and higher-level staff are women, up from 32.6 percent in 1995. Could such a commitment to gender equality be applied to the energy sector and why is it important?
What is Gender Equality?
Gender equality in the workplace is equal pay, equal representation, and equal opportunities in education and employment for women and girls. Truly, it encompasses so much more but the road to get there is long and arduous and requires diligence and external support. According to Women In Solar Energy (WISE), founded in 2011 by solar industry veteran Kristen Nicole, 20 percent of senior executives were women and 26 percent of the workforce in solar are women. According to Women in Wind, women make up 21 percent of the workforce and 32 percent in renewables overall and 22 percent in traditional energy industries.
Why Is It Important?
Put plainly, ’Gender Equality is important because it is fundamental to all persons — women, men, girls and boys — fully and freely exercising their fundamental human rights and freedoms, to their living lives with dignity, agency and voice, and for the “development” and preservation of inclusive, equitable, democratic and peaceful societies.’ That’s the textbook answer but the International Energy Agency(IEA) agrees. “Gender diversity in the energy sector is vital for driving more innovative and inclusive solutions for clean energy transitions all over the world. Widely regarded as one of the least gender diverse parts of the economy, the energy sector needs to shift the dial by drawing on all talents to deliver a secure, affordable and sustainable energy future for all,” wrote Nick Johnstone, IEA’s Chief Statistician and Marta Silva, IEA Energy Data Officer. Common results were found in a survey in Germany that revealed 'women are underrepresented in management. While the boards of German community energy entities are comprised of 35 percent women, almost half of the Japanese community energy entities do not have a single woman in management.'
What are the Challenges?
The primary challenge is changing the minds, hearts and attitudes of people in positions of authority that shoulder the responsibility to implement change. IRENA and Women in Wind authored the report, “Wind energy: A gender perspective” and stated that perceptions of gender roles and cultural-social norms form a major barrier to gender equality. United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in cooperation with UN Women conducted a survey of Asia-Pacific members and associate members. The Beijing+20 respondent countries highlighted institutional–related obstacles pertaining to ‘policy, legislative and implementation “gaps”, opposition to the adoption of gender equality-related policies and legislation, inadequate communication, coordination and capacity impeding the mainstreaming of gender across the government sector, insufficient technical, political and financial resources, and most relevant to the energy industry, a lack of understanding of, and appreciation for, gender equality amongst politicians, policy-makers and public servants.’ That ‘lack of understanding’ is systemic but the Beijing Platform for Action views gender mainstreaming as a key strategy for realizing gender equality. In recent years, the number of women in leadership roles has grown and so has industry support for diversity. With a greater presence in leadership roles, women in the industry are creating partnerships, training, mentoring and grant programs. Thanks to grants like those by the GCRF Africa Catalyst program, and partnerships like The Higher Education Partnerships in Sub-Saharan Africa Program and the Institution of Engineers Rwanda, there has been an increase in the proportion of female internship applicants from 5% in 2018 to 25% in 2019. A good mentor shares their experiences and helps less experienced colleagues navigate a successful career path. Understanding the unique challenges women will face in this industry is crucial. Engineer, Yewande Akinola, mentioned at the onset, encouraged the next generation of female engineers by saying, “If I’m receiving this amount in grants, it’s because somebody believes in me—somebody thinks that I have a role to play in ensuring that engineering can become the tool for that economic development in my country.” It takes a conscious effort to remember to appreciate the experiences that make you unique, but they will pay off in the end, she said.
March 8th is International Women’s Day. Share initiatives, partnerships and programs your utility has adopted to create an equal opportunity every day.
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