HomeIndustry SectorsFinance and PolicyWomen in energy affected disproportionately by COVID-19

Women in energy affected disproportionately by COVID-19

The world of work is profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and this is especially true for the energy sector and women in particular.

Clean energy is key to providing essential services to all people as are the frontline workers in the health sector, with women disproportionately affected in this sector.

Even before the pandemic hit, women were three times as likely to be doing the unpaid work in a household and this has increased as risky and time-consuming procuring food and fuel and more hygienic practices all result in more work.

At the same time, more women are leaving formal employment to take care of their families. This is according to the annual Women in the Workplace study from LeanIn.org and consulting firm McKinsey & Company. They also stated that at least one in four women in the US are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce because of COVID-19.

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Christine Lins, Global Women’s Network for the Energy Transition Executive Director, points out the energy sector being male-dominated even before COVID-19 is not observed only in emerging/developing countries but also industrialised nations. About 32% of renewable energy workers are women, compared to 22% in the overall energy sector, according to an International Renewable Energy Agency study Renewable Energy: A Gender Perspective.

“While women performer better in the renewable energy workforce, their share of employment falls below that of the economy at large that is 40% to 50% in most of the OECD countries. They are particularly under-represented in STEM-related jobs (28%), a much lower share than in administrative jobs (45%),” said Lins.

Women in energy may be integral to decision making but hold fewer positions of power

Folake Soetan points out her personal experience as acting chief executive officer of Ikeja Electric Plc supports Lins’ statistics: “In my time in the energy sector I have found that women are an integral part of energy planning and technical project execution, but they have held disproportionately fewer leadership positions. A significant number of these companies fail to acknowledge the impact of the input and output of these women.

“Women bring different leadership skills and behaviours and it’s not just about diversity of gender, it’s about the diversity of thought as more balanced teams make better decisions. This is invaluable in such an industry like ours that is reliant on new ways of working to boost productivity levels and unlock efficiencies,” explained Soetan.

Lins believes empowering women in the clean energy sector is crucial for its success. “Globally we have about 11.5 million people working in the renewable energy sector today. This figure is supposed to rise to 42 million in 2050. Attracting and retaining the best female and male talents in the clean energy sector is key to ensure a successful, speedy and just energy transition and is key for the success of this booming energy industry.”

Diversity in the workplace makes business sense

Having women in leadership positions can change the diversity of a particular workplace, not only to inspire other women to rise but also to show that anything is possible. “In this male-dominated sector I believe that men need to see women in leadership roles so they can start identifying women on their teams who have the potential to lead within their company. This will allow them to appreciate that women can lead and understand how women lead.

“But, more importantly, women need to be in a diversity of positions because our voices are important and we need to engage in the conversation pertaining to the much-needed development in the sector. Diversity and inclusion of women at the top, makes good business sense, so, we must be intentional about recruiting women to come into our industry and rising to the top,” said Soetan.

Ifeoma Malo, chief executive officer of the Clean Tech Hub Innovation Services in Nigeria explained there is an abundance of research and data to show that when women are included in leadership and decision making, we get better outcomes. “Women are increasingly being recognised as change agents in the energy sector, particularly across Africa, and this is translating to real gains in better and faster economic opportunities that lift families and communities out of poverty and create increasingly new economic opportunities,” said Malo.

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Lins, Malo and Soetan will take part in the third Women In Energy webinar for 2020, Women in leadership: taking your career in energy to the next level on 23 November, hosted in partnership with ESI Africa.

They will join Lebogang Chaka, acting managing director of Ntiyiso Consulting, South Africa; Makole Mapita, executive director of Mahlako a Phahla Investments; and moderator Haruperi Mumbengegwi of the AfDB’s African Legal Support Facility. The panel will discuss how mentorship can help women in the workplace and relay some of their inspiring (or not) experiences in the workplace.

Theresa Smith
Theresa Smith is a Content Specialist for ESI Africa.