Prospects for Women in the Power and Energy Industry
Written by Dr. Omowunmi Mary Longe,
IEEE PES WiP Representative, South Africa Senior Lecturer, University of Johannesburg
We live in a time and season of history where early career seekers only want to pursue a career in a field where they are sure will pay all their bills conveniently in the future, and give them social dignity. When it comes to engineering, the concerns even seems to be more dominant among the female younger ones, who fear that they may not survive in an environment that is still male dominant. So, we hear them ask questions such as: Can I get a good job as a female engineer? Can an employer trust my ability and expertise as a female engineer? Won’t I end all these my ‘screwdriver and wire’ in the kitchen alone? Will a get a good man to marry me as a female engineer? Can I start an engineering firm as a woman? Can I ever rise to a leadership position as a female engineer? How will men submit to my leadership in engineering? Won’t practicing engineering affect my feminism? How will I cope with engineering tasks as a pregnant and nursing mother? These questions are endless!
Therefore, in an attempt to answer some of these questions, the IEEE PES Women in Power (WiP) South Africa decided to host her maiden programme on July 31, 2020 with a female speaker working and leading in the power and energy sector of the country. The speaker, Engineer Scebile Ntombela is the Plant Refurbishment Manager at Eskom, and also the Power and Energy Section Chair of the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE). Her tasks at Eskom include ensuring continuous improvement of plant to comply with current technological practices, safety standards, and desired operating performance, such that the existing plant useful life is extended. Due to COVID-19 lockdown and restrictions on physical gatherings, the event went virtual.
In her presentation, she mentioned the power and energy sector as among the least gender diverse sectors. Therefore, closing this gender gap will be vital as women are key drivers of innovative and inclusive solutions. The envisioned clean energy transition for the country would also require innovative solutions and business models to be adopted and greater participation from a diverse talent pool. She further highlighted some reasons for the need of gender equality in the power and energy sector, which include the role of gender diversity in identifying problems, and tackling power and energy problems innovatively. Also, more diverse groups are better placed not only at tackling various challenges, but also at creating competitive advantage by encouraging businesses to consider new methods and practices.
According to the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), the number of registered candidate females has increased from 1,938 females in 2013 to 5,879 females in the 2017/18 financial year thus, reflecting a 203% increase over the five year period. However, the male counterparts increased from 7,313 to 16,890 registered candidate engineers over the same period thus, reflecting 131% increase. This shows a closing up in the gap between male and female practicing engineers in the country.
Women in Leadership roles in the power and utility sector according to EY Global Report 2019 were 17% board members, 21% non-executive board members, 6% executive board members, and 15% senior management team members. IRENA reported in 2019 that 27%, 7% and 6% women are at board levels in the energy sector in the NGO, government and private sectors respectively. The stats might not be as colorful as desired, but the few women in the industry are making a difference and paving the way for future inspiring female engineers. Participation of women in STEM fields have been affected by gender stereotypes, insufficient female role models in leadership in the sector, and wrong perceptions about women in STEM. The Department of Energy, South Africa has drawn up a model shown in Figure 1 in order to promote gender equality in the power and energy industry of the country.
She further highlighted some energy programs with gender lens in Africa that the participants can explore, and they include the Power Africa and the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), Women in African Power network, Engendering Utilities, Divaine Growth Solutions, and African Women in Energy and Power (AWEaP). The webinar didn’t end without her mentioning some female engineers in the country that can be considered as pacesetters for us, among which are Lerato Motsamai (founder and CEO of PETROLINK, and Girl Ignite Africa Academy), Dorah Modise (CEO for Green Buildings Council), and Valerie Geen (Director on the Board of the Southern African Energy Efficiency Confederation). She also emphasized the need for women in STEM to encourage one another and early female career seekers in STEM, participate in mentorship programs, and voluntary associations that promote women in power and energy sector.
In conclusion, promoting the participation of women and girls in science means changing mindsets, fighting gender biases and stereotypes, which limit the expectations and professional goals girls have in STEM from early childhood. The webinar had thirty-eight (38) participants from five countries – South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, India and United States of America comprising fifteen (15) IEEE members and twenty-three (23) non-IEEE members. Looking forward to greater representation of women in the power and energy sector.