The Department of Energy’s Office of International Affairs took another step toward empowering women in the energy sector. During an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)-funded workshop held in Taipei from Aug 5-6, 2019 titled “Path to an Inclusive Energy Transition in the APEC Region: How to Enhance Women’s Empowerment in the Energy Field,” DOE spotlighted our recent APEC-funded project to help mid-career professionals in the renewable energy sector develop necessary skills and training to advance in their careers.
The workshop brought together energy and gender experts to discuss advancing women’s engagement in the energy sector. Experts from Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE), ENERGIA, the Global Women’s Network for the Energy Transition (GWNET), and the Clean Energy Solution Center discussed international initiatives and research to understand and address gender impacts of energy policies and programs, challenges to women’s entry into and advancement within the energy sector, and promoting gender mainstreaming (assessing policies and programs with a gender perspective) in energy. Representatives from several APEC economies also shared their efforts to address gender impacts in their energy programs.
According to a recent IRENA study, women hold just 32% of jobs in renewables and only 22% jobs in the oil and gas sectors, and 45% of those jobs are administrative in nature.
Globally, small numbers of women enter the energy sector; many leave because of gender biases, lack of adequate training and opportunities, inadequate policies to attract or retain women, workplace inflexibility, and unequal pay, among other reasons. Experts who attended the workshop argued that “gender-neutral” energy policies and programs are not, in fact, gender-neutral but instead reinforce gender biases and leave women behind. One expert pointed out that workforce diversity does not necessarily mean inclusivity—policies and practices are needed to ensure that women and other underrepresented groups are engaged and empowered in the workplace.
Some effective tools to facilitate women’s empowerment in energy include:
- Skills development and training
- Showcasing role models
- Providing networking opportunities
- Improving recruitment and retention policies
- Recognizing women’s accomplishments in the field
- Ensuring access to finance and capital for entrepreneurs
Engaging students and communities, including through STEM education, to break down gender biases.
At the workshop, I briefed conference attendees on DOE’s recently-completed, APEC-funded effort on Empowering Women as Managers of the Renewable Energy Sector, which aimed to help to mid-career professionals in the renewable energy sector develop necessary skills and training to advance their careers. The project provided technical training, business skills development, mentoring, and networking to help accelerate the trainees’ professional development and career advancement as leaders in the energy sector. Similar programs focusing on both soft and technical skills, along with mentoring and networking should be replicated in APEC and elsewhere as they have tremendous impact on the individual; will likely have a ripple effect as women often share their knowledge and serve as role models for other women; and will help cultivate skills for developing innovative energy solutions.
Participants underscored that innovation for energy technologies of the future requires a broader talent pool and a more inclusive workforce, and noted that women provide the workforce with diverse perspective and skillsets, innovative ideas, and improved group collaboration. Fortunately, new opportunities are emerging across the value chain of new technologies, and more and more governments and private companies are pursuing initiatives to address gender impacts and increase recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in energy.
Finally, the workshop showcased female entrepreneurs from the APEC region representing the Nowon Energy Zero House (Korea), DOMI Energy (Chinese Taipei), BlueSky Energy Technology (Hong Kong, China), and SunnyFounder (Chinese Taipei). These entrepreneurs launched innovative efforts to advance energy efficiency, reduce energy intensity and promote renewable energy development through integrating sensors, energy data analytics and management, behavioral change solutions, a crowdsource funding platform for RE deployment, and community education. Such examples demonstrate how women are helping mobilize communities to pursue a bright energy future.