The global renewable energy sector could quadruple in size by 2050 – providing 40 million jobs – according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). But to tap into the talent of the female workforce, there is still some work to do.
IRENA found that only about 35 per cent of people employed in the global clean energy industry in 2016 were female, and representation of women on power and utility companies’ boards was only 16 per cent.
The number of employees reached a new record of 10 million worldwide, and Australia’s renewables industry is also burgeoning. But women make up only 22 per cent of the local workforce. The Clean Energy Council (CEC) is leading a push to increase gender diversity in the sector through its Women in Renewables (WiR) initiative.
The CEC’s Policy and Project Manager Maryanne Coffey told create the moral and business cases for diversity and inclusion are well documented, and engaged employees do better work and are less likely to leave.
“Through diversity and inclusion we hope to lead the way to a better, smarter and cleaner future for all,” she said.
Addressing the balance
For the past four years, the CEC has offered scholarships to encourage increased diversity in the renewable energy sector.
Their Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) Scholarship, which is currently open, aims to increase the number of female board directors by supporting a senior woman employed by a CEC member company to complete the AICD Foundations of Directorship course.
Last year’s recipient was Vanessa Ratard, a Senior Project Manager at engineering company Ekistica. Among Ratard’s achievements was her leadership in developing a handbook for off-grid hybrid power generation at mine sites.
Ratard said the scholarship had helped to open new doors and broaden the range of opportunities available to her.
“It can be tough working in outback regions to stay in touch with what’s happening in the capital cities, and I’ve been grateful for the support and the networks provided by the scholarship I was awarded,” she said.
“It has been a great honour and an opportunity to learn new skills and meet some really inspiring professionals across the industry.”
This year, the CEC is also offering a second program that supports a female renewable energy employee at one of their partner companies to complete the seven-day Your Leadership Voice (YLV): Women in Focus course run by Monash Business School.
The YLV scholarship aims to improve the leadership skills of female professionals working in middle management or managing staff in a small or medium business.
Coffey said both scholarships are open to professionals with an engineering background.
“Both programs would be valuable to engineers and we would encourage any woman who feels it could benefit their career to apply,” Coffey added.
In future, Coffey said the CEC would welcome the opportunity to form partnerships and offer more scholarships, and encouraged other organisations to consider starting their own scholarship programs to increase diversity.
The WiR initiative also encourages people working in the renewable industry to sign a ‘panel pledge’ to only participate in panels that include representation from both genders.
While Coffey looks forward to a future where gender is no longer an issue, she believes that scholarships and mentorships are currently important to increase women’s representation in the renewables sector and wider workforce.
“The stats don’t lie. Particularly at middle management up, women are not seen,” she explained.
To help address this issue, the CEC pioneered an e-mentoring program for women this year, with five intakes between February and June. The nine-month program gave participants access to online modules, webinars and handbooks. Each female mentee was also paired with a male or female mentor from the industry.
Career advancement opportunities such as those offered by the WiR program also have a role to play in increasing women’s confidence when applying for more senior or directorial roles, Coffey said. She explained that many of the applicants for the AICD scholarship are board-ready.
“Women tend to not put their hand up, or they want to have 150 per cent of what they need,” said Coffey.
“It’s about providing opportunities.”