“This sector is not only for men. I am going to learn to be a technician!” A woman from Malawi told the story of her journey into the energy field at the Second Annual United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Forum in New York last May. She spoke to participants from the energy sector, 80% of whom were male and explained how, when she first got started in the energy field, she had to fight gendered norms in her country. At the forum itself, there were several all-male panels (MANELS) and those that did include women often included them in the role of moderator.
At the forum, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Nawal Al-Hosany, the director of the $4 million Zayed Future Energy Prize, about gender equality in the male dominated energy field. We discussed the lack of women in the field, and she remarked, “For the past few days you have hardly heard women, except our panel on women’s and children’s health. We had more women on the panel than men, but other than that you will only have one woman maximum on a panel and, most of the time, that woman will be moderating the panel. Like at the keynote addresses in the morning – you haven’t heard the voice of a woman for the last two days. That tells you that we are beginning to have a bit more women in the industry but not in leadership positions.”
On a positive note, Dr. Al-Hosany discussed her experience with the Zayed Future Energy Prize, which has an award category for high school students. She explained, “The good news – the inspiring news is – that we had more females represented in the high school awards. You have more girls schools winning. That is the future, which for me was very inspiring.” She also discussed WISER, the Women in Sustainability, Environment and Renewable Energy Forum, a program that she helped launch. As Dr. Al-Hosany explained, “WISER is a platform that aims to engage more women in the industry, addressing women and youth and assuring that they have the right exposure and have the right role models.”
Dr. Al-Hosany, who has had an extremely successful career in the energy field, reflected on her experiences at conferences explaining, “The one thing I ask at our own conference is ‘Why aren’t there any women in these panels?’ And the answer I always received was ‘there are no women in this industry.’ And I said, ‘Excuse me, have you done your research? Or did you just go with the names you know?’ And then I realized that maybe the media is actually not doing a good job promoting women in the sector. At some of these conferences, you see the same names at every single conference. We want to inspire women to be in the industry and also promote them and get them into higher positions. We organize panels around the world, and we organize key industry related conferences. There is a lack of data on how many women are in the sector. That is something we realize and that we are definitely addressing.”
In order to promote gender equality, the energy field has to take important strides in including women in leadership and technical positions. As IDB Vice President Hans Schulz recently wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post, “To help close the gap, we need to practice what we preach, rather than replicating Latin America’s ‘culture of machismo,’ as the Economist recently put it. The more women are given the microphone, the more opportunities there will be for them to attain visibility and advance to leadership positions. And their advancement should help propel a virtuous cycle, influencing policies and decisions that generate a pipeline of female leaders for future panels.”
For more information about how to promote the participation of women in energy, visit the International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy.