There will need to be an urgent focus on the energy transition beyond the Covid-19 pandemic and the world will need “all hands-on deck”, including women, to achieve success in this regard, says Cape Town-based wind farm developer G7 Renewable Energies project manager Veronique Fyfe.
Fyfe is also South Africa’s ambassador for the Women in Wind Global Leadership Programme and represents South Africa as a spokesperson for gender diversity in the wind energy industry.
She explains that women's participation is critical in advancing “an ever growing and changing industry”.
In this regard, Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) policy and operations director Joyce Lee notes that, “as an industry, we should be empowering all people to reach their full potential, and ensuring we have the most robust talent to drive innovation”.
According to Lee, “businesses make smarter decisions with diverse workforces”.
Fyfe says gender diversity in any sphere means “a larger and more creative talent pool”. She explains that society at large benefits from a stronger female presence and voice in the energy sector.
“Women’s perspectives and priorities may differ from those of men; having them reflected in decision-making on energy technology choices, market design, and scale and scope of specific projects can bring about more balanced outcomes for society as a whole,” she elaborates.
Fyfe highlights, however, that gender biases are still deeply ingrained in society.
The wind energy industry is still male dominated, much like many industries globally, but Fyfe notes that renewable energy provides an opportunity to embody gender diversity and energy transitions, considering that the renewable energy space “is newer than other industries”.
This is where the Women in Wind Global Leadership Programme comes into play.
Established in 2019 between GWEC and the Global Women’s Network for the Energy Transition (GWNet), the programme is a response to the industry-wide challenge of diversity in wind markets around the world.
According to a report co-authored by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), women represent only about 21% of the global wind workforce, and the greatest gender gaps exist for science, technology, engineering and mathematics roles, and senior management positions.
Taking this into account, Lee explains that the Women in Wind Global Leadership Programme “is designed to encourage more women into leadership positions in wind power on an individual level, and advocate for greater diversity and inclusivity in wind power on a sector-wide level”.
The programme largely runs virtually, with mentorships and knowledge-transfer webinars connecting participants from around the world.
However, the programme is not exclusive to women, as the name implies. While the mentors and mentees of the programme identify as women, Lee notes that it is also important to have an open conversation about diversity, “as it is a common goal for common good”.
There is no gender identity attached to the global ambassador role, as long as these individuals “can serve as industry stewards and champions for diversity”. Lee adds that ambassadors and webinar speakers of any background would be welcomed, “in order to ensure the programme is inclusive”.
Other international initiatives include the ENERGIA – with a focus on Africa and Asia – which is an international network on gender and sustainable energy.
There is no body currently in South Africa focusing on gender diversity, but most of the lobbying work to date has been done by the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) and various individuals.
This is set to change, Fyfe indicates, and tells Engineering News that G7’s head of development Karen de Bruyn, in partnership with Women in Wind Global Leadership Programme former participant Mercia Grimbeek, have formed WeConnect.
WeConnect, as the South African association for women in renewable energy, will provide a platform for industry members to be role models and mentor young women entering the industry, and to provide them with the tools to develop their careers, and strengthen networks.