Commentary: Gender diversity in energy sector is critical to clean energy transition

By Cecilia Tam
IEA Senior Energy Analyst
8 March 2018

Women make up substantially less than half of the workforce across the energy sector and continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions (Photograph: Shutterstock)

The energy sector remains one of the least gender diverse sectors in the economy, despite recent efforts to promote and encourage women’s participation. Women face structural and cultural challenges and the lack of women in leadership positions in the clean-energy sector compounds the difficulty in recruiting and retaining female leaders.

This is especially important given the role that women can often play as key drivers of innovative and inclusive solutions. As such, gender diversity and the broad participation of women in the energy sector are needed for a successful clean energy transition. For this reason, governments and industry need to act to address these obstacles and overcome barriers to full participation and career advancement. One option would be setting measureable targets and adopting policies and programmes to help foster change.

In 2015, world leaders committed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SGD), including SDG 5, which aims to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030.” To achieve gender equity in the energy sector would mean achieving the 3Es: equal opportunity, equal pay and equal leadership. But meeting this gender equity goal in a little more than a decade will require strong commitment from governments, industry and other energy stakeholders to implement actions that would accelerate the participation of women in the clean energy sector.

Some governments are making this promotion of women’s leadership and participation in the energy transition a key priority. For instance, the Clean Energy, Education and Empowerment Technology Collaboration Programme (C3E), an initiative of the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM), provides a vehicle where countries, industry and organisations can work together to find concrete, visible and measurable actions that promote women’s participation and leadership in the energy sector.

C3E has been active since 2010, but recently adopted the IEA’s Technology Collaboration Programme (TCP) mechanism to organise its activities. Established last by found members Canada, Italy and Sweden, a new work programme for the C3E TCP revolves around four areas of focus: data collection, career development, awards, and dialogue. Given the synergies with the IEA’s own activities in this area, the IEA is providing both organisational and analytical support.

There is an urgent need to improve the knowledge on workforce, skills and education of women in the activities related to clean energy. The IEA and C3E TCP will collect information on women’s participation in the clean energy sector workforce and develop indicators to measure progress. A workshop will be held on 11 April 2018 in Rome, hosted by Italy in collaboration with the IEA and the C3E TCP, to share experiences on data collection and methods of assessment to analyse gender diversity as well as the employment opportunities to women offered by the clean energy transition.

The IEA also recognises the importance of harnessing all talents and closing the gender gap, given economic and social benefits in doing so. As part of its modernisation strategy, the IEA promotes gender diversity across the organisation. The IEA’s Gender Diversity Initiative aims to increase IEA’s involvement in substantive gender-related programmes including input to the C3E TCP activities, support the career development of all staff equally, and make the IEA a more obvious career option for women. 

To encourage more women to pursue careers in clean energy, the IEA has recently established a new Fellowship programme to support the agency’s gender diversity strategy and the C3E TCP’s work programme. The Fellowship will provide on-the-job experience for a promising female student to work on leading energy issues related to women’s education and skills development, energy access or clean energy deployment. It will also provide the IEA with direct input from the next generation of aspiring women leaders. The IEA is currently recruiting its first IEA C3E Fellow, and hopes to make this a permanent programme, subject to funding availability.

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