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Conversation starter: Fostering women leadership in the power sector

A recent webinar hosted by ESI Africa in collaboration with African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa featured a conversation starter on closing the energy sector’s gender gap featured three experts from across the continent and sector.

  1. Nigeria: Ms Adedoyin Adele-Fadipe, Chief Executive Officer, Central Electric & Utilities Limited
  2. South Africa: Mr Corrie van der Wath, Chief Executive Officer, Matleng Solutions
  3. Kenya: Dr Linda Davis, CEO, Giraffe Bioenergy

Under the theme of The future workforce of women in power, the live broadcast discussed what practical programmes and policies could be implemented 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

Adele-Fadipe introduced some statistics and gave her views and experience on the benefits of mentorship:

  • Percentage of Women Leadership roles in the power and utility sector
    – Board Members 17%
    – Non-Executive Board Members 21%
    – Executive Board Members 6%
    – Senior Management Team 15%
    *Source: EY Global Report 8 March 2019
  • Percentage of Women at Board Level in the energy sector
    – NGO 27%
    – Government sector 7%
    – Private sector 6%
    *Source: IRENA (2019), Renewable Energy: A Gender Perspective

“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.”

61% of millennials surveyed by Deloitte in 2016 said having someone to turn to for advice and development was beneficial – those who stayed were twice as likely to do so because they had a mentor.

The skills set of the future energy leader

Matleng Solutions CEO Corrie van der Wath analysed the risks that the future leadership of the power sector will face, stating that a diverse, female point of view would be invaluable to navigate what is turning into an increasingly complex workplace.

Said van der Wath: “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.”

He 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,” said van der Wath, “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.”

Strategies to draw more women into the sector

Dr Davis said she often asks herself: “why are we not making progress?” She continued: “I am one of the women who, through my own efforts or luck or whatever you want to call it, 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, if I can be completely honest. I don’t have it written down, I don’t have a 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 points. But that said, I try. I mentor several women, but am unsure about the word mentorship. But I would like to honestly think about how strategically we can do that. I would like to 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 very important. It is all about confidence and as Maya Angelou says: ‘to pursue things you love doing’. We really 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.”

Read more about women in energy here

Opportunities for women in the renewable sector

Central Electric & Utilities Limited’s CEO says the renewable sector, in particular, has allowed women to come to the forefront and participate. She adds: “and I have asked myself often why this is the case? More and more you see especially entrepreneurial women entering this space. And I’ve seen that one of the benefits of having women participate, and this is where one of the nuances of being a woman comes into play, because you find that within the renewable space a lot of women participate out of extreme passion. They usually start from rural or underserved communities, really wanting to make a difference, where you have women and children, and they begin to grow gradually towards that. I also find that there is more funding geared towards renewables where women are able to participate.”

Choosing between career and family

In response 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 and therefore harness untapped female talent, Adele-Fadipe admitted that there was a problem to retaining women at work because they don’t have the support. “They are not dropping off by choice,” she stated, “and we have to find a way to keep women at work, I don’t have all the answers though.”

  • Listen to the women leadership conversation starter and full audio recording of this interesting webinar here.

Are you a woman aspiring to do powerful things in the energy sector? Join us at African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa in Cape Town from 12-14 May 2020. Click on the banner below for more information.

Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
As the Editor of ESI Africa, my passion is on sustainability and placing African countries on the international stage. I take a keen interest in the trends shaping the power & water utility market along with the projects and local innovations making headline news. Watch my short weekly video on our YouTube channel ESIAfricaTV and speak with me on what has your attention.