From Lineman to Lineworker: How Women Are Breaking Boundaries in the Energy Sector

Gender equality improves the lives of girls and women — and the global economy as a whole

Women make up about 25 percent of the workforce at Engendering Utilities Partner Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC), and are represented in most areas — including as line workers. / Clare Novak
“We’re an equal opportunity employer. All applicants will be considered for employment without attention to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, veteran or disability status.”

Does this sentence look familiar? You may recognize these words from the very bottom of that last job application you submitted, and odds are you didn’t think twice about it. That fine print, however, is part of a much larger picture that is so utterly important: equality. It is what millions of women all over the world — from Nigeria to Macedonia to Jordan — are fighting for.

Women constitute half of the world’s population, or nearly 4 billion people, yet they are wildly underrepresented when it comes to formal employment. The energy sector especially suffers from a lack of gender diversity. Why?

“Gender imbalance is often a result of the lack of top-level support…but sometimes it’s unconscious, hidden and more subtle biases in the workplace,” says Aneta Petrovska-Rusomaroski, head of human resources for EVN Macedonia, a major energy company and one of USAID’s Engendering Utilities partners. “Studies show that women get less credit for teamwork, and they are promoted based on past accomplishments while their male colleagues’ promotions are based on their future potential.”

Aneta brings up one of the biggest challenges in advancing gender equality — changing the way professionals think about women in the workplace.

Team members from the USAID Engendering Utilities program meet with Electricdade de Moçambique (EDM Mozambique) staff during utility onboarding trip. / USAID

USAID is encouraging partners to support women as they join the energy sector where men hold the majority of jobs. With our program Engendering Utilities, we focus on increasing the number of women working in the power sector — especially in higher paying technical and leadership positions. Since 2015, USAID has partnered with 11 utilities in nine countries to increase the professional participation of women in utilities.

And we’re continuing that work through the White House with its newly-launched Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (WGDP) ,which is bringing women’s economic empowerment to the forefront of the U.S. Government’s development agenda. Through WGDP, USAID is scaling its Engendering Utilities program.

How does this translate on the ground? In Georgia, Energo-Pro is giving tours of hydropower facilities to interested young women. Kenya Power is encouraging girls to study STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). EVN Macedonia is awarding scholarships to talented female electrical engineering students to enable young women’s participation in the field.

Girls learn about careers in technical fields during Electric Distribution Company (EDCO) Jordan’s Bring Your Daughter to Work Day. / EDCO

The results are in — and these efforts are working.

Queen Esther, a young student from Nigeria, would have never discovered her potential in the STEM fields had it not been for events hosted by EKEDC, her local electricity distribution company. “Now I want to become an engineer because it’s really cool!” she says.

Even small adjustments are creating a lasting difference. EKEDC, for example, replaced the word “lineman” with “lineworker” in their everyday vocabulary, aiming to create a more welcoming environment for women. Its Office of Manpower Planning has been changed to the Office of Workforce Planning. Changes like this let everyone know that both men and women have a place and a purpose in the energy sector.

USAID is also working with partners to tackle the problem at its core by making changes at the institutional level, including implementing bias-free hiring and addressing salary gaps. These systemic changes allow women to work where they’ve never worked before, and add their talents to positions of leadership and authority.

“Promoting gender equality is fundamental to our company. Already, women hold four out of our company’s six top management positions,” says Oladele Amoda, former CEO of EKEDC in Nigeria.

Staff from Engendering Utilities Partner Kosovë Operator Sistemi, Transmisioni
dhe Tregu, SH.A. (KOSTT) welcomed the USAID team during a tour of their facilities. / USAID

The program is so successful that USAID is expanding the number of companies it is working with, and will welcome six new partner utilities over the coming two months to bring the total number of supported utilities to 17.

Gender equality in the energy sector isn’t just favorable for women — everyone benefits. Studies show that when more women are engaged in decision-making and leadership roles, companies are more effective and, in some cases, more profitable. Global, national and local economies all benefit when women have a seat at the table.

All of the Engendering Utilities partners have adopted Equal Employment Opportunity statements — an important first step in achieving gender equality within their organizations.

The next time you see that fine print, know that more and more women can follow their dreams because of it.

About the Author

Alexandra West is a Strategic Communications and Content Intern in USAID’s Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs. Go to @USAID for more.