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Taking Action toward Gender Equality in the Energy Sector

Co-author Jeannelle Blanchard

Tetra Tech vice president Jeannelle Blanchard, and former energy and gender advisors Sandra Chavez and Karen Stefiszyn, explore a mix of tools and approaches to integrate women into the energy sector.

All opinions expressed in this post are the authors’ own.

Despite an increasingly accepted business case for gender equality, women’s talents and insights remain under-utilized in the energy sector, where only a quarter of the workforce is female. What is behind this lack of representation and how can women’s participation, visibility, and leadership in the sector be enhanced?

One possible explanation for this data is an unconscious gender bias based on preconceived notions of women’s roles and capabilities. Predominately male-decision makers consciously or unconsciously perceive women to be less capable of or interested in performing technical roles traditionally held by men. This bias limits opportunities for women in the energy sector while reinforcing the myth that women do not have the requisite expertise. Similarly, the optics of all-male panels (or manels) at global development conferences that focus on energy issues can send the message that women are not thought leaders in the industry.

From a purely bottom-line perspective, recent studies show that gender equality and women’s economic empowerment are good for business. A 10-year study found that companies with 3 or more women in senior management score higher in organizational effectiveness. Still, women have made little progress in the energy sector over the last decade. The World Economic Forum reports a slight increase (1.8 percent) of women in the global energy workforce, but only a 0.5 percent increase in energy leadership positions between 2007 and 2017. So, what actions can be taken to help women both pursue careers in the energy sector and reach leadership roles in the field?

Building and tapping into the talent pipeline

The idea that not enough qualified women work in the energy sector is inaccurate. While globally fewer women are joining Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines at the tertiary level and entering the energy sector, corporations and utilities can take steps to boost recruitment of qualified female candidates.

Identifying and establishing networks is one way to discover female talent. As an implementing Power Africa partner, Tetra Tech was integral in the establishment of the Women in African Power group, a network of female energy sector professionals in Africa and beyond that the public and private sector can tap into for talent.

The recruitment of women needs to be deliberate and underpinned by a talent acquisition strategy that maximizes the pool of qualified female applicants. For the Powering Agriculture energy grand challenge, Tetra Tech developed a guide to ensure that gender is integrated into the human resource life cycle from workforce planning through to staff retention and not undermined by unconscious bias.

Operationalizing gender equality in everyday work

Gender mainstreaming in business requires looking at the experience and interests of women and men and reimagining these realities in ways that challenge existing social structures and place women and men on even footing.

Among the many tools and resources to facilitate gender mainstreaming, the United Nations Global Compact has seven Equality Means Business principles for women’s empowerment informed by real-life business practices and input gathered from across the globe. The Inter-American Development Bank developed a Gender Gap Analysis Tool to help companies move beyond good intentions and take a hard look at their corporate policies.

The Powering Agriculture guides also go beyond human resources and provide a business case for gender equality paired with practical advice on how to integrate women in five other areas: financial services, marketing, monitoring and evaluation, product development, and deployment of clean energy solutions.

Similarly, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Engendering Utilities program shows electric utilities how to increase the participation of professional women in their businesses while still helping utilities meet their core business goals. USAID’s Mexico Low Emissions Development Program II, implemented by Tetra Tech, developed an infographic to promote gender‐inclusive language in technical reports that shape governmental policy.

At a corporate level, Tetra Tech is working to help women get interested in STEM earlier on through its STEM Program and ensuring that women across the company have access to the necessary resources and support to grow their careers through its Professional Women’s Network.

The path to gender equality in the energy sector is different for every organization, depending on size, culture, and geographic location. Recognizing that gender equality makes good business sense and overcoming individual unconscious biases and institutional barriers requires strategic and deliberate action.

About the authors

Headshot of Jeannelle Blanchard

Jeannelle Blanchard

Jeannelle Blanchard is a vice president at Tetra Tech.

She has 20 years of experience implementing clean energy and utility reform projects worldwide. Throughout her career, she has worked with both donor organizations and private companies in the energy, environment, water, and tourism sectors. Ms. Blanchard currently serves as the program manager for a global Powering Agriculture grand challenge that funds 24 organizations deploying clean energy solutions for the agriculture sector in 23 developing countries.
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