This article was written for The ECOWAS Online Campaign dubbed #Standtall organized by ECOWAS Network on Gender Mainstreaming and Energy Access (ECREEE) to raise awareness of the under-utilized potential of young women in the Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) and Energy Sector. The article is available on the ECOWAS Network on Gender Mainstreaming and Energy Access (ECREEE).
Energy is essential to life since it plays a vital role in development, poverty mitigation, and quality service delivery. In regard to this, the Sustainable Development Goal 7 calls for access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all (UN SDGs, 2013). Also, linking energy, gender and Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3, energy, by making available progress in terms of health, education, and poverty gives women more chance of having the opportunities traditionally reserved for men (Havet, 2003). Thus, it brings about improvement in the living conditions of women. Hence, the energy economy requires diversity and inclusion within its structures and processes to meet these objectives.
Nonetheless, there is a concerning lack of an adequate representative female constituent in leadership positions in the sector. Company organograms evince undesirably low numbers of female employees in power and energy organizations across the board because prospective female staffers’ access to employment in the energy sector has been discouraging. The same can be said of the lower number of young girls in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as compared to boys.
Global statistics and that for West Africa, specifically on women in energy are often hard to find, inconsistent and the existing data reports that women’s representation in the energy sector globally is very modest. This reinforces the undisputed fact that the energy economy still remains a male-dominated industry, with fewer women in this sector, and has no equal opportunities to men for advancement to management level positions. Correctly put, women are abandoned to the nether world and are not given significant positions where their authority and influence can have a substantial impact on the industry’s future.
For instance, a summary of females employed in the Tunisian Electricity and Gas Company indicate that, albeit, the stability in the number of women employed and increase in female representation in top positions, there is a reduction of their representation in the implementation of jobs (STEG, 2005). That means the important and business jobs, are still given mainly to men, while the women tend to head human resources, communications, finance or law and under-represented in the technical fields.
Also, a Gender Assessment of the Ghana Energy Sector in 2010 (Ministry of Energy Report, 2010) revealed that women were under-represented in the staff of the energy sector organizations; hence women’s influence in decision-making on energy was almost insignificant. This was attributed to the low increase in the number of women in engineering and energy over the years due to the perception that engineering is a “man’s field”. In all the West African countries, this finding is pervasive, persistent and has a knock on effect in the number of women working in technical and decision-making posts in the energy sector.
In some situations at the company level, men and women either benefit or lose out professionally on the basis of their gender and not ability. Mostly, women become the victims losing out due to their gender. Further to what has been said, remunerations and compensation settings are usually influenced by gender, where specifically male oil and gas professionals are more highly paid than female professionals, but in some few cases, the pay is comparable between both genders (Rigzone and BP report, 2013). The numbers of women are increasingly being found in leadership positions in the energy industry, but that’s is not enough, why shouldn’t it be equal 50 percent?, what are the causes and how can we ensure more young girls and women in the STEM sector.
Creating awareness on the existence of the gender gap and fostering the development of women in the energy arena, so that a greater number attain positions of high responsibility is very crucial to the countries worldwide and West Africa. This will empower young, increase women’s influence in decision-making on energy to have a greater impact on the implementation of policies on energy and energy efficiency in West Africa for the benefit of all and sundry most especially women. This is evident as companies where women are most strongly represented at board or top-management level has been shown to be the companies that perform best (McKinsey & Company, 2007).
What are the factors behind the low number of young girls and women in STEM?
While women are gaining a steady foothold in the energy economy, success has been slower and the statistics remain grim in the STEM field especially the technical areas. The differences between the number of men’s and women’s representation and the barriers and challenges women frequently face in this sector include the following factors:
Women’s problem in the STEM fields– Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM): Men tend to dominate in the tech fields, and for women, the numbers are growing. To begin with, this difference is due to societal conditioning and limited senior female role models in the STEM fields. The factors underpinning this can be traced back to the earlier construction of young women as young girls are rarely urged to pursue Maths and Science.
In addition, there is an existing bias that boys are rational and inherently better than girls. Hence, girls are considered irrational and do not have the capacity to reason. To this purpose, it is considered the most important educational goals for the “rational boy” to study the Science and Maths, while the “irrational girl” dabbles in the humanities improving her home making skills. These stereotypes to a greater extent encumber girls’ prospect of developing an interest in the STEM.
Also, the role of popular culture is a contributing factor because most girls grow up seeing many prominent women mostly as bankers, medical doctors, teachers, nurses and not as prominent women in the energy economy, the important technical fields. Albeit the implementation of STEM programs in schools, these factors explicate the lack of qualified number of women candidates for specific positions in the energy sector, thus the under-representation of women in the energy economy.
Incorrect perceptions with regards to women: Another significant barrier to increasing the proportion of women in the energy industry is the erroneous assessment of women’s abilities to overcome challenges between work and personal life and their ability to execute effectively some types of work and in certain working environment. The handful of women who are employed in the energy sectors are perceived to have more familial responsibilities than their male counterparts.
Women are engaged in the unpaid care work– childcare and simultaneously fulfill their duties at the workplace. With respect to time use and effective execution of assigned duties, women are distinguished to be time deficient and therefore denied the opportunity to undertake certain assignments or positions. For instance, most married women, with responsibility for a house and child (ren) are mostly not allowed to work for long hours, which sometimes involve shift work. Consequently, most women lose out professionally on the basis of their gender and not ability.
One more incorrect perception has to do with the nature of women and their inability to work in perceived dangerous environments. Say, it is assumed to be threatening and inimical for women to work in a refinery or gas station or petrochemical plant. Presumably, there are a lot of dangerous products, dangerous emissions and dangerous gases, which affect women’s bodies and health, especially if they are pregnant or in their period. Additionally, it assumed also that implementing jobs consist of dangerous tasks, which are not highly appreciated by women, like working at construction sites and climbing electricity posts. However, these are not justified reasons to forbid women to work in these technical sectors.
Gender-Based Discrimination: The occurrence of gender-based discrimination within the industry is another noteworthy factor behind the under-representation of women. The selection of employers are mostly not done in terms of a gender balanced pool of talent, skills and the capabilities of individuals to have significant impact on the industry, but rather centred on ascribed gender. This has momentous and influential effects on the inclusion of women in senior management positions, advancement of women and transparency in the structure of remuneration. Accordingly, there is no progressive attitude towards women and most energy industries are not committed to gender balance and to increasing the representation of women at all levels in their organizations.
How do we reverse these as governments, states organizations, and institutions?
To promote female advancement in the STEM fields, increase women’s representation in the energy economy and overcome the barriers and challenges spelt out above; the following potential solutions should be considered.
Initiate programs that will urge women to study the STEM programs: Notwithstanding the institution of the STEM programs in schools to bolster the representation of women in these fields, most women are unenthusiastic to study. To accomplish the aim of the STEM programs, there is the need to employ effective, efficient and sustainable approaches in its implementation. Firstly, there is the need for educators at the elementary levels to make improvements in the core curriculum of the science and technology. Most importantly, interest in these areas need to be cultivated at the young age, and also educators need to work to encourage young girls to pursue opportunities in STEM by engaging them on more hands-on workshops for girls to learn about science and technology.
Another approach is to cushion women in the competition for admission to study the STEM. For instance the governments can pick a leaf from, the Makerere University a public university in, Uganda that has tremendously worked hard to ensure that the girl child is represented in the science subjects through its affirmative action that grants women (girl child) a 1.5 point push to meet the competitive admission requirements into the STEM and other programs.
This is a laudable method to ensure that more women enroll and pursue the STEM programs and eventually turn out qualified candidates to take up opportunities in the energy sector. Moreover, the institution of scholarship scheme(s) to support and sustain brilliant women who have the urge to study the science and maths but may be financially handicapped will be effective in attracting them to study in universities, polytechnics or technical institutes and also to realize their dreams, and unleash their potentials.
Combat stereotypes and mentoring: to empower young women to jump into the STEM field, it is imperative to deconstruct and evince that it is not men who are rational and successful in the science and technology fields. By this, we need to profile women’s success stories and successful experiences that establish the truth that women are accomplished leaders holding key positions in their respective companies or technical arrears. An additional principal thing to be done is professional women of achievement in the energy industry should have mentoring programs to allow for mentoring opportunities to young and forthcoming women studying STEM.
Develop comprehensive Gender Equity Strategy and Action Plan: an important step to increase women’s representation is the development and enforcement of laws and/ or policy that oblige companies to integrate into the energy sector board number of women professionals. Thus, women and men should have equal opportunities for advancement to management level positions in the energy economy. For instance, in the Norway, there is an effective law that requires that 40% of the board members of Norwegian listed companies, including more than three-dozen energy companies, must be women. With respect to this, many companies have been looking for women to put into their boards and to enhance their networks with women executives (Storvik & Teigen, 2010).
The policy will encourage a more inclusive and balanced working environment to support the attraction and retention of women, as well as helping them reach senior management roles. To bolster the representation of women in top positions, there should be women’s network as an internal initiative to help create forums that will assist in the development of female employees. Additionally, there should be the availability of sponsorship and internal training programs for women career development process to help women take the lead in planning a successful career path in the oil industry.
In tackling the forbidding of women in certain positions attributed to family care responsibilities- childcare and women’s time deficit, companies must have flexible working arrangements and see the importance to offer childcare specific benefits for women. The energy companies should uphold a diverse workforce and embrace the approach of acknowledging the influence of people as efficient individuals somewhat than as members of defined groups. Policies of recruiting and promoting staff should be reviewed to ensure that competency tests and other selection criteria are gender sensitive and actually encourage more women to enter the sector and stay employed in it.
Lastly young women need mentors and inspirational role models and so, women in and/ or of energy should form network of professional women of energy. This will facilitate broad involvement of women in the energy sector, benefit from training courses and create a platform and expedite access to career opportunities through national and international conferences where women can be recommended for higher management roles based on their past experiences and success.
Africa has a pending need to support corporate diversity and transformation, remarkably for women with adequate energy skills by providing equal opportunities and appreciating the diversity of ethnicity, age and gender and creating a working culture where differences are valued. This strong believe in diversity and inclusion will enable the world, and West Africa in particular to face the challenges of securing energy for the future. This is important because empowering women economically will alleviate poverty and embedding diversity and inclusion within the energy economy structures. Additoinally, the processes will attract and develop the best most innovative women who will not only contribute to the future of the energy economy in West Africa but also bridge the gap in the existing infrastructure to increase energy accessibility.
Havet, I. (2003). “Linking Women and Energy at the Local Level to Global Goals and Targets.” Energy for Sustainable Development 7(3): 75-79
McKinsey & Company (2007). Women Matter, Gender diversity, a corporate performance driver.
Ministry of Energy. (2010). Gender Assessment of the Ghana Energy Sector. Rigzone and BP( 2013). Global Diversity and Inclusion Report.
STEG (2005). Intégration des Femmes,Intégration Sociale et Gestion Environnementale, Société Tunisiennede l’Electricité et de Gaz
Teigen, M. and Storvik, A. (2010). Women on board, the Norwegian Experience.
UN SDGs. (2013). Open Working Group proposal for Sustainable Development Goals.