African women make a sizeable contribution to the continent’s economy through entrepreneurship or NGOs. However, constraints such as unprogressive business regulation are often holding women back from fulfilling their potential.
Africa could add $316 billion or 10% to GDP between 2019-2025 if each country makes advances in women’s equality, states McKinsey’s 2019 report The power of parity Advancing women’s equality in Africa.
The report also highlights that some African countries have made substantial progress towards parity in both work and society – development on one is not possible without advances on the other. As an example, Rwanda has tripled women’s representation in middle management. And Botswana has cut maternal mortality by about 58%. On the legal protection of women, Egypt has tripled its score, while Guinea and Liberia have doubled their scores.
To narrow down the progress and figures in the energy sector, ESI Africa, in collaboration with the 20th edition of African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa’s conference and exhibition, featured a conversation via a webcast, which looked at closing the energy sector’s gender gap. Our guest panel comprised three industry experts from across the continent and sector, namely:
• Adedoyin Adele-Fadipe, the CEO of Central Electric & Utilities Limited in Nigeria
• Corrie van der Wath, the CEO of Matleng Solutions in South Africa
• Dr Linda Davis, the CEO of Giraffe Bioenergy in Kenya
Under the theme of The future workforce of women in power, the live broadcast discussed the implementation of practical programmes and policies to provide empowerment for women and the advances in mentorship to foster leadership opportunities. Here follows what transpired.
Women leadership: Mentees learn by seeing, doing
“Women are still underrepresented because there is a limited female leadership succession pipeline,” said Adele-Fadipe, adding that “one of the ways to improve female representation in succession planning is leadership mentoring that transforms potential into leadership. The mentorship allows a mentee to be navigated through her current role to prepare for what is ahead, particularly by giving time and advice based on personal experience and skill. The mentor also provides a platform for interaction to create a path to leadership. Mentees learn by seeing, doing, being exposed to networks and sponsorships and seeing other women being effective and powerful representatives in the corporate world.”
Sixty-one per cent of millennials surveyed by Deloitte in 2016 said having someone to turn to for advice and development was beneficial. In essence, those who stayed were twice as likely to do so because they had a mentor. Weighing in on the conversation, Van der Wath analysed the risks that the future leadership of the power sector will face, stating that a different, female point of view would be invaluable to navigate what is turning into an increasingly complex workplace.
“Future risks that the sector is facing include climate change and the so-called GIG economy of short-term labour contracts. In the United States, 36% of the workforce are in flexible employment, have more than one job and they work on demand. In the next three years, this is going to go up to 52%. A future leader will manage a very diverse workforce, in terms of where they come from, their availability, their terms of labour and so forth,” noted Van der Wath.
Skills set of the future energy leader
Van der Wath also explained that the skills requirements of the sector had changed to benefit women: “The power industry has become a lot less physical and more technological, which has levelled the playing field for more players, including women. The global environment has become very aware of the role that women can play by the diversity that they bring to solve industry-related challenges.” The skills set of the future is mental flexibility, he stated, adding that “to be able to understand the difference between a complex world and a complicated world. The ‘one’ of the past was a complicated world; the ‘one’ of the future is complex.”
When the conversation touched on some of the strategies that are needed to draw more women into the sector, Dr Davis said she often asks herself why we are not making progress. “I am one of the women who, through my efforts, has been able to rise to the top in the energy space, also the executive space. And I have asked myself if there is a methodology for me to mentor girls and women and say, ‘this is how I did it, and you now need to do it this way’. I struggle with that.” The point Davis is making is that there isn’t any documented formula to follow. Regardless, she has mentored several women but questions the use of the word mentorship. “I would like to think about how strategically we can implement mentorship and develop a code or a manual for young women to be able to follow to be able to make it in the energy space.”
According to Van der Wath: “Implementation is crucial. It is all about confidence and as Maya Angelou says: ‘Pursue things you love doing’. We need to give women better support because we need their diversity in solving the problems of our uncertain world. That is where mentorship and coaching come in.”
Shining the spotlight on renewable energy space
According to the CEO of the Central Electric & Utilities Limited, the renewable sector has allowed women to come to the forefront and participate. Adele-Fadipe said: “We see entrepreneurial women entering this space where [their passion leads them to] usually start from rural or underserved communities, really wanting to make a difference. They begin to grow gradually towards that. I also find that there is more funding geared towards renewables where women can participate.”
Adele-Fadipe added that the renewable energy space allows women to participate from any medium such as from community development or as NGOs. However, she acknowledged that access to funding is a critical issue, “especially for women who are returning to work having been away for reasons such as raising children. Having access to specific funding that recognises your growth away from entrepreneurship is very important”.
She urged the industry to start designing funding programmes that speak to the unique situations that women find themselves in when they return to work or venture into the entrepreneurship approach.
“Another important aspect is building an ecosystem around technical partnerships, operational partnerships, financial partnerships and OEMs who can tailor-make solutions for women in different areas. Perhaps one of the most critical parts that I’m passionate about – that is, women building ecosystems – when I say women, I don’t mean the exclusion of men.
In my career, I wouldn’t have got to where I am today without the support of some fantastic men who pushed me to the front. So we need to get to a point where we recognise that we need ecosystems, irrespective of male or female, as long as there’s a common vision to empower women within these specific circumstances,” advised Adele-Fadipe.
Expectations of choosing between career and family
The panel also responded to a viewer’s question on what the power sector could do to help women overcome the perception that they have to choose between career and family. Dr Davis referenced a book by Sheryl Sanberg, COO of Facebook, in which she advises: “Choose your partner very well because that is the most important decision that you are ever going to make”. Dr Davis recalled a conversation she once had with her partner regarding gender roles. “A few years ago my husband asked me “why do you think it’s your responsibility to feed me?” and then he said to me “that is not your job”. He continued to say “I’m an adult, I can make food for myself when I’m hungry”. However, she admitted that this is not the reality of other women who come to her offices.
On that topic, Adele-Fadipe added: “There are statistics that I’d like to allude to that concern retainment and double burden management. At entry-level in the energy sector, 27% are women. By the time they are in their mid-careers, it’s 25%. By the time they get to a senior executive level, it’s 17% and by the time they get to a CEO position this has dwindled to just 1%.” In conclusion, the McKinsey report warns that for Africa to seize considerable economic benefits from empowering women, decisive and systematic action will be required from all stakeholders – from governments to CEOs. ESI
Additional content to this article was obtained from: McKinsey Global Institute –The power of parity: Advancing women’s equality in Africa