Tetra Tech’s GEDSI specialists support governments and communities to change policies, laws, and practices and raise public awareness about issues affecting women, girls, and marginalized groups worldwide. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Engendering Industries program is one such effort. Working with leadership and management teams at nearly 100 companies in 38 countries, Tetra Tech supports these partners to improve gender equality and opportunities for women in male-dominated industries such as the energy sector.
Boosting women’s participation leads to tangible economic empowerment outcomes, such as formal employment opportunities and higher income. Greater gender equality also improves organizational business performance, helping companies meet their bottom lines by recruiting the best people for every job, enhancing employee satisfaction, reducing turnover, and driving productivity. In addition to Engendering Industries, Tetra Tech’s GEDSI work in the energy sector includes providing technical support to gender specialists across our international energy services projects.
Since the Engendering Industries program launched in 2015, what kinds of changes in gender understanding and equality have you seen among the utilities Tetra Tech works with in developing countries?
If we look just at energy utilities, we see a traditionally male-dominated sector—only 25 percent of the energy workforce is women. We are making changes throughout the employee life cycle to increase opportunities for women in what are usually more lucrative technical and leadership positions. Lately our utility partners have shown increased revenues now that they have more women in the field and in leadership.
One of our program graduates from Jordan is now the country’s first-ever female director general of a power utility. When she was hired, her male managers refused to train her. Now she’s running the utility and implementing what she learned through Engendering Industries to make it a better place for women to work. A partner utility in Kosovo hired the first woman to work in one of their power stations—they previously thought women wouldn’t like that type of job, so they never recruited women.
Utilities also are becoming role models for each other. In the Dominican Republic Edesur Dominicana, a large power utility, is raising awareness about gender-based violence. The CEO told the Ministry of Labor that paternity leave is critical for the workplace environment and for shifting cultural norms about childcare expectations for men and women. That’s influencing changes nationally and having a ripple effect. A manager at the Nigerian utility Eko Electricity Distribution Company committed to talk to his employees in the field regularly about gender norms and sexual harassment. We look forward to witnessing more of these changes across the industry.
How can changes in energy jobs and workplace culture support gender equality in the industry?
Pervasive cultural norms about what is acceptable for women to do or not do, such as manual labor, still exist in many places. But with technology advancements, many tasks that were once considered heavy manual labor may have changed and now require lucrative skill sets, which may be attractive to women and open opportunities to them.
But that isn’t enough—Engendering Industries is showing us that utilities can get a richer talent pool when they demonstrate that women can get a job, thrive, and grow. CEOs at partner utilities have publicly stated that gender equality is one of the key pillars of their business strategy. That has proven to attract more women, who see these employers as a place where they can be safe and respected and have opportunity for upward mobility in their career. That goes a lot further than the natural technological progression of the industry.
How does Tetra Tech’s work with utilities reflect the evidence that gender equality improves utility business performance?
We see this quite a bit at many of our utilities, and BSES Rajdhani Power Limited (BRPL) in India is a good example. All of our partner utilities experience revenue loss. Energy theft and nonpayment of bills are some of the most challenging, critical business issues that many utilities face. At BRPL, they would keep sending men to read meters and collect bills, and the men would be turned away from homes where women are home alone and don’t want to let a man inside.
Shivani Kumar, the general manager of customer care and one of our Engendering Industries participants, had an idea to train a team of 40 women in collections and reevaluated their approach. They got to know community members on a first-name basis, talked about the importance of paying the bills, and listened to reasons why people had trouble paying. This woman-led team got to nearly 100 percent collections in that area.
Now BRPL is replicating the approach in other areas, and other utilities are also doing it. It’s not just about collecting bills. It’s about taking the opportunity to innovate and improve by harnessing ideas from a diverse group of people.
How does Engendering Industries training help leaders increase opportunities for women working in utilities?
One of the criteria for our utility partners on Engendering Industries is that senior management demonstrate not only that they understand the business value of gender equality, but also that they are willing to take a leadership role and be a champion in this area. Companies send three senior managers to our program, including influential people who can make changes in policies and practices. Too often, when an organization is doing work on gender equality, they send the most junior person to do it—someone who can come up with sound plans but does not have the power to make changes. When you have an active, engaged team of leaders who can push that work forward, magic happens.
We also delivered a train-the-trainers program where we partnered with five local universities with highly skilled faculty in Nigeria, Kenya, Vietnam, Colombia, and Eastern Europe. They learned how to facilitate a one-week intensive program centered around the Engendering Industries Best Practices Framework. Program participants leave with a gender action plan and then get five virtual coaching sessions on change management while they implement it. The goal is to create momentum, because little changes create more momentum to do more.
How else is Tetra Tech contributing to gender equality in the global energy sector?
Tetra Tech has many projects where gender is an integrated component. For example, based on lessons from our implementation of Powering Agriculture, the Water and Energy for Food (WE4F) Grand Challenge supports innovative entrepreneurs and approaches at the nexus of energy, agriculture, and water. Tetra Tech integrated gender into the criteria for innovators applying for funds and has a gender specialist to help innovators improve their products, outreach, marketing, customer service, and internal operations. Our experts are also experienced in integrating gender into broader projects that are focused on institutional reforms, such as looking at opportunities for mentorship or workforce development. Within the project framework, we make sure that women’s organizations and female policymakers are involved in changes in the energy sector.
Now we are working on ways to systematize and strengthen our approach, both in gender-specific energy programming and embedding lessons from Engendering Industries into our other programs. On the USAID Sustainable Energy for Pakistan project, we applied Engendering Industries’ assessment principles and developed a mentorship program for women with energy employers. And on the USAID Sustainable Energy for Indonesia’s Advancing Resilience project, we are working on finding potential energy employer partners to support with gender equality best practices.