More than 600-million people in Africa do not have access to electricity and this creates opportunities for more women to get involved in the energy sector, African Women in Energy and Power (AWEaP) South Africa chairperson Bertha Dlamini said during the inaugural women in energy seminar, held alongside the Power and Electricity World Africa 2019 conference.
She said there were opportunities for women to help scale up the infrastructure that is needed to meet electricity demand.
Further, she noted that an era of rapid technological change is also coming at a pivotal time in the expansion of African power infrastructure.
Although problems in the energy sector are being addressed, she indicates that the pace is currently too slow. The sector is dominated by local oligopolies, with very few local companies or women and youth being involved, she said.
Therefore, she called for the inclusion of women in the sector to be scaled up, across the entire value chain.
“It is time to accelerate active, meaningful women's participation in the entire value chain of the African power and energy sector.”
To this end, AWEaP focuses on three pillars to engender equality, mainly through driving entrepreneurship, providing affordable and clean energy to communities, and creating sustainable employment for women and youth through their participation in the sector.
The organisation furthers its goals through a number of mediums, including vocational training, in-country training, mentorship opportunities and online portals.
It sets out to involve 100 women entrepreneurs a year across 22 of its targeted countries.
Matleng Energy Solution chairperson Nelisiwe Magubane, meanwhile, lamented that the energy sector is one of the least diverse in the economy. She indicated that this is owing to technical, structural and cultural factors.
Quoting an EY study, she noted that, in 2018, women comprised only 20% of the energy workforce management, only 17% of senior leadership, and only 9% of executive positions.
She also emphasised that, at the current pace, it will take 42 years to reach 30% women participation, and 72 years to reach at least 42%.
Historically, women's participation has been held back by elements including a lack of buy-in, especially by male-dominated senior executive leadership, and a lack of committed resources.
Therefore, initiatives to increase women's participation must be accelerated and must be properly resourced.
She emphasised the importance of gender parity in the sector, as in other sectors, with studies showing that companies with women in their boardrooms outperform peers in their return on investment.
Moreover, she enthused that women have been proven to come up with initiatives and inclusive solutions within the energy sector.
In pursing gender parity, she highlighted the importance of starting with the education system.
She also called for programmes to be inclusive, with male colleagues as part of the solution to increasing women participation.
Moreover, these must be meaningful, structured programmes that address all the required outputs.
She also called for commitment to gender equity, from the top level.
Importantly, she emphasised the need cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship to capitalise on opportunities, especially in South Africa, which has historically followed a more conventional approach to jobs.
There is also a need to set an empowerment agenda, which needs to be monitored with penalties for noncompliance.