Nathyeli Yethzi Acuna Castillo
Closing gaps in women’s employment in the energy sector
Background, challenges and context
Energy issues can affect women and men differently, given gender distinctions in roles and responsibilities in their households, communities, and markets. The World Bank Group works to empower men and women as users of energy and providers of energy services by integrating gender considerations into energy operations, knowledge development, and technical assistance.
One of the focus areas of the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) Regional Gender and Energy programmes is to increase the number of women in technical and leadership positions in the energy workforce, especially utilities, which are significant employers in many countries. A growing body of research shows a correlation between business performance and gender diversity in the workplace, including in the energy sector. For example, a 2016 McKinsey study across 14 African countries found energy companies with a larger proportion of women board directors had significantly higher earnings than those with less diversity.
Research overview and objectives
EEG co-funded an ESMAP project on closing gaps in women’s employment in the energy sector, delivered across South Asia and Africa. The objective was to identify successful strategies for narrowing employment gaps between women and men in power sector institutions.
There were two main implementation approaches. In South Asia, the focus was on the development of a regional professional network, targeting women professionals in eight countries. In Africa, the research was tied to identifying gender gaps in specific institutions and designing measures to mitigate them. The Africa research examined the career trajectories of women in energy utilities across Ethiopia, Kenya, and Zambia and noted their challenges.
Because lack of data has been a key barrier to understanding and overcoming gender inequities in the energy workforce, both teams made significant efforts to collect data upon which they could base their analysis The project involved stakeholder mapping and engagement across the sector (including with policy makers, private/government utilities, other energy institutions, NGOs, schools, and universities). Baseline surveys were conducted with power utilities and some energy ministries, along with key informant interviews and focus groups with staff.
The team mapped gendered employment gaps and barriers in each country’s energy sector, and identified possible migratory actions, and stages of a woman’s career development. These involved such things as school-to-work transition programmes, role models and professional networks to attract more women to the sector/utility, and creating women-friendly facilities, instituting quotas and/or affirmative action interventions, and reforming recruitment and promotion practices to retain and promote women already working within the sector.
In South Asia, rapid baseline assessments were conducted for each of the eight countries in the World Bank’s South Asia Region (SAR): Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Data was collected from over 100 energy and academic institutions. Over 500 female and male power sector professionals and engineers contributed to the study through interviews and focus group discussions. These assessments were a first attempt to understand the complex and multidimensional problem of the underrepresentation of women in the SAR power sector and were carried out specifically to inform the design of a regional professional network.
In Africa, three pilot countries were selected for research: Ethiopia, Kenya, and Zambia. A baseline survey tool was piloted by the distribution companies in each country, as well as the largest generation company in Kenya and the regulator and Ministry of Energy in Zambia.
The survey tool was sent to energy institutions (primarily public and private power utilities) in Pakistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Zambia. It was completed by 12 organisations – half in Pakistan, and half in the three African countries. In total, the organisations employ over 90,000, of whom roughly 56% were in Pakistan. By analysing each utility’s policies along with the sex-disaggregated data, the team created a gender snapshot for each company participating in the research. By aggregating the data by country/region, the team was able to clarify women’s roles in the sector and identify job categories with greater gender discrepancies.
Research results, key messages, and recommendations
- Representation in utilities is low for women in all roles (3-25%) and even lower for women in technical roles (0.1-21%).
- Women tend to work in the middle- to lower-level non-technical (i.e. administrative) positions, but an encouraging number of women are now in senior and leadership roles.
- There is low female enrolment in engineering education (0.5-31%), contributing to the small pool of qualified job candidates.
The following barriers to women’s employment in the power sector were identified:
- Lack of female role models and mentors for students and professional women.
- Limited opportunities for networking and exposure to new jobs – especially in the energy sector.
- Limited opportunity for fieldwork/training professional development (leadership/soft skills).
- Inadequate facilities (i.e. separate toilets, safe transportation).
- HR policies that are not always gender friendly (i.e. limited day-care services/flexible-leave).
A regional platform for networking, recruitment, information exchange, training, and mentorship opportunities – the South Asia Women in Power Sector Professional Network (WePOWER) – has been developed to address these barriers and support women’s advancement in the power sector and promote gender diversity within utilities and energy projects. During the interviews, women (and men) were overwhelmingly supportive of establishing a regional network (there were no regional or national professional networks exclusively focused on women in the power sector).
WePOWER is working with local and international partners, including power sector utilities and engineering programmes, to address the gender employment gap in the power sector. The aim is to support higher participation of women in the energy sector and utilities, foster higher retention and professional development, and promote normative change regarding women and girls in STEM. Although the initial focus was on women engineers and technical employees, the plan is to extend the network to all women employees in the power sector. There are four key pillars:
- STEM education: Raise girls’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and maths, increase female enrolment in engineering programmes.
- Recruitment: Raise awareness of viable jobs/opportunities in the power sector through job fairs and networking events.
- Development: Foster personal and professional development opportunities, such as mentorship programmes, leadership training/coaching.
- Retention: Support instituting family-friendly HR policies, providing reintegrating services for returning mothers and access to facilities such as day-care services, separate toilets, and safe transportation services.
In addition to the above, a cross-cutting pillar – Policy and Institutional Change – works to institutionalise and enforce gender considerations at national and institutional levels, crucial to achieve long-term normative change.
In the South Asia region, there is also a focused initiative to work with utilities and power sector organisations to institutionalise gender data collection. In addition, the South Asia Gender and Energy facility (SAGE II) – jointly led by energy and social development teams at the World Bank – is promoting gender mainstreaming in World Bank projects as part of the corporate requirements. For example, SAGE II is supporting the Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board to improve its HR practices and policies to target and recruit more women.
In the companies surveyed in Africa:
- On average, women made up 21% of the workforce – higher than in South Asia, but slightly below the 2019 global average of 22-25%.
- Women made up 14% of technical employees (range of 7-20%).
- The data confirms the existence of occupational segregation by position, with most women working in non-technical positions.
In terms of company policies:
- All energy companies had non-discrimination policies.
- All energy companies had anti-harassment policies with grievance mechanisms in place.
- Flexible work options were generally not available at the time the data was collected (prior to the COVID pandemic).
- Childcare options were limited.
- All energy companies had gender committees with focal points, but not all staff were aware of them.
- Mentoring programmes were limited or non-existent (for women and men).
In Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Electric Utility has committed to increase the percentage of women in the utility, including in leadership positions. The utility will provide scholarships for a targeted group of current women employees to obtain graduate degrees and has increased the percentage of women in its senior management group. In Kenya, KenGen conducted further analysis to develop a gender strategy and has extended its Pink Energy Initiative to help women develop professionally across the organisation.
Survey findings from Pakistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Zambia
- On average, women constituted 21% of the overall workforce in energy utilities in the African countries, and 4% in Pakistan.
- The average share of women working in technical positions was 15% in the African countries and 2% in Pakistan. Most women work in office-based corporate functions, such as HR, finance, and customer service.
- The majority of employees in the respondent companies, including women, work in junior or non-supervisory positions.
- In the three African countries, women are more likely to assume managerial roles, particularly in mid-management, accounting for 25% of those positions (although variations between companies were significant). In Pakistan, women represent 7% of mid-level managerial positions, and even less at the senior and executive levels, at 2% and 4% respectively.
- The utilities provide technical and professional training opportunities for employees. In the past 12 months, women accounted for 11% of total trainees in Pakistan, and 31% in the three African countries – both higher than average female staff representation. The higher figures in the African countries are impacted by Kenyan companies responding to the country’s Constitutional requirement that states no gender should constitute more than two-thirds of the employees in publicly owned companies (follow-up interviews revealed that this dictate is interpreted broadly, affecting everything from training opportunities to representation in union leadership).
- In terms of maternity and paternity policies and other leave-related benefits, all utilities essentially followed national laws and guidelines, but did not exceed them.
- Around half the organisations in each sample provided childcare facilities or financial compensation to employees at headquarters but not in field offices.
Flexible work arrangements were not generally available in the surveyed institutions, which might contribute to the low percentages of women working in senior or supervisory positions. Lack of childcare, flexitime, and telework for working parents is likely to have a larger impact on women, who traditionally bear greater responsibility for childcare. The data was collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.