The vital role of women in energy

Why a gender perspective is essential to a sustainable future

By Fiona Wilson, Senior Regional Manager, Clinton Climate Initiative

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Women in Energy convening at the Africa Energy Indaba (AEI), a conference in Johannesburg, South Africa that brings together energy professionals from across the African continent to work toward an ambitious goal: solving Africa’s energy challenges related to access, affordability, and sustainability.

I’ve seen firsthand that women’s leadership is essential for the task of building a sustainable energy future.

On the first day of the conference, I joined three other women energy leaders to speak at the opening panel discussion where we asked: Why is a gender perspective relevant in the energy sector?

At the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI), I’ve seen firsthand that women’s leadership is essential for the task of building a sustainable energy future. CCI’s Islands Energy Program is bringing together governments, utilities, small businesses, and communities to achieve renewable energy transition in island nations. Throughout the geothermal, solar, and wind projects that CCI assists on, we noticed a gender gap in leadership. In fact, a recent EY survey found that women made up only five percent of board executives across the global power and utilities sector in 2015. Many of the stakeholders with whom we engage across these sectors are women — including engineers, policymakers, and entrepreneurs — but there are almost no women CEOs of utility companies, Ministers of Energy, or heads of energy regulators in our partner nations, meaning we are missing out on essential perspectives and innovation.

To address this gender gap, in 2016 CCI launched the Women in Renewable Energy (WIRE) Network, which is leveraging the talent of rising women leaders by giving them a seat at the energy table. In addition to an online platform and knowledge-sharing forum among women energy professionals around the world, the WIRE Network connects 20 Ambassadors to mentees who share professional development opportunities, technical knowledge, and support for each other’s goals. These women were already leaders, but the mentorship amplifies the long-term impact of their work and catalyzes the spread of their insight to the rest of the network.

I am thrilled by the impact these WIRE Network members are having today and the ripple effect their leadership will have on energizing the women of the future.

In South Africa last week, I listened to the inspiring insights from the panelists and attendees in the audience who rose to speak. They were a diverse group of leaders — from energy ministers, CEOs, and technology experts to financiers, nonprofit leaders, and entrepreneurs — and it was clear that women are affected uniquely by access and cost of energy in the workplace and their home.

A gender perspective is not just relevant, but vital, to creating our energy future.

I walked away knowing that no matter who is at the table, the inclusion of women is critical to creating sustainable solutions to Africa’s energy challenges. A gender perspective is not just relevant, but vital, to creating our energy future. I’m excited to see what these women accomplish in 2017 and in the years to come.

For more information on the Clinton Climate Initiative’s Islands Energy Program, please visit our website here.