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EIT InnoEnergy: Role of women in energy

EIT InnoEnergy Master Student - Malavika Venugopal

Meet EIT InnoEnergy Master Student - Malavika Venugopal

Not so long ago, Malavika Venugopal worked in Southeast Asia as an engineer in the petroleum refining and power industry. Her role involved communicating with several plant managers to ensure that the wastewater is treated well enough before being exposed to the environment. She had no difficulty in performing well during the interviews for the role or even during the formal training for it. However, what she did not anticipate is that, when she would start working, the senior male clients would be surprised that a female field engineer consults them in a hard hat and blue jumpsuit.

Some facts and studies

According to IRENA’s 2015 survey among private energy companies, women represent 35% of the workforce, with roles predominantly in the administrative force. Only 30% of the managerial positions are held by women. Another report by Tomson Reuters state that the energy sector ranks last for gender diversity on corporate boards compared to other industries.

While this can seem as a random collection of facts and figures, it is important to talk about the potential that can be achieved by having a diverse group of employees at an organisation. Examples from the energy sector specifically, state that integrating women in the workforce has a greater productivity, return on investment and customer satisfaction. Additionally, having a broad diversity improves the quality of ideas and work that is being put in.

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A study performed by McKinsey Global Institute states that despite women representing 50% of the global working-age population, only 37% of the global GDP is generated by women. 75% of the world’s unpaid jobs are performed by women and if women play an identical role in the labour market as men, the global GDP for the year 2025 can potentially increase by 26%. Majority of this global disparity in workforce comes from the lack of energy and economic advancement in developing countries. When the lack of electricity forces humans to perform menial tasks that can otherwise easily done by modern technology, these tasks predominantly fall on women to perform. This reduces the potential for women to study or work outside their homes. While this has been acknowledged as a problem, it has not been associated with the economic potential.

Europe vs world

The same report by McKinsey states the gender parity in western Europe is 0.71, second only to North America and Oceania region. When Malavika Venugopal started her Master’s in Europe, she did find a sharp difference in the attitude towards women in the energy sector here compared to her previous experience in Asia. Despite the male-female ratio still not being 50-50, what Malavika Venugopal has learnt that she can personally reach her potential without being stereotyped for being a woman in the energy industry. She can call herself lucky not to continue experiencing difficulties, however, there is still a lot that needs to be changed in Europe and the rest of the world to promote females in the energy industry.

The experience that she is gaining at the EIT InnoEnergy Master programme motivates her to work harder, striving towards a managerial position, so as to empower and educate other regions around the world about the potential that is being wasted. The renewable energy industry is at the peak of its growth, and by properly engaging in cultural and gender diversification, this sector can be the pioneer in influencing other sectors to do the same. In no way Malavika Venugopal is saying that women should be preferred over our male colleagues, but the opportunities must be equal for both, and the obstacles associated with stereotyping women in workforce must be removed. While some females take the workplace bias as a motivation to change the status quo, for others it might be the reason they choose to change industry or stay at home. This is by no means conducive for a growing economy.

Importance of awareness

At the end of the day, bridging the gender gap is not a short-term goal that can be achieved immediately. Government, policy-makers, industries and academia must come together to educate young and old alike about the importance of equality and the rights and responsibilities held by every human being. No aspiring male or female should think of their gender before choosing the career track they are passionate to pursue. Building the trust and policies to enable this freedom is what EIT community must collectively aim at as a society.

As Sanna Marin, the Prime Minister of Finland puts it, 'We are a five-party coalition with all women leaders. It looks different than we are used to, but I hope that in the future it doesn’t get as much attention, because it should be seen as normal'.