Africa Business Forum 2021 Calls for Enhanced Gender Diversity in African Energy

Energy remains one of the least gender-diverse sectors globally, in which women only account for 22% of the traditional workforce. Taking into consideration senior management positions, this figure is even lower, demonstrating not only the lack of representation, but also of upward mobility within the industry. As the global energy sector undergoes a process of structural transformation – with a global environmental push toward low- or net-zero carbon developments – the current climate presents a pivotal opportunity for the sector to transform its approach to gender diversity, as well. Speaking at the virtual 4th Africa Business Forum 2021, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta shared insight into the role that women must play in Africa’s energy industry and positioned the elimination of the gender gap as vital to industry progression. According to the International Energy Agency, women represent key drivers of innovative and inclusive solutions, and consequently, Africa must draw on all talents to deliver a secure, affordable and sustainable energy future for all.

Gender Diversity as a Success Factor

Women have a critical role to play not only in the growth of the energy sector, but also of African economies at large. The benefits of female participation go beyond the provision of additional labor and extend to key business success factors. Women – and diversity in general – offer the ability to expand the industry through innovation, success and progression. According to the Energy and Economic Growth Applied Research Program, a correlation exists between business performance and gender diversity in the workplace. Studies have shown that companies with strong female leadership deliver a 36% higher return on equity and outperform those with male-only boards.  

“If you leave out women, who compose 50%, if not more, of the population, you have locked out 50% of the workforce and reduced your capacity for growth by 50%,” said President Kenyatta. “One of the key and fundamental things we need to recognize is that we have to include women. Women should be at the center of our developmental agenda.”

Education is Key

One of the primary challenges that inhibits female participation in the African energy sector concerns education. Statistics show that more than 49 million girls and young women leave education at the primary or secondary school level in sub-Saharan Africa. The gender gap is perpetuated by unequal access to education, and in conjunction with limited access for women regarding technical skills and training opportunities, the other half continues to lag as the industry evolves.

“We have to assure access to education,” said President Kenyatta. “No girl should be absent from education. As a government, we must encourage women and young people. and have done that by setting aside 30% of our government procurement to be assigned to this demographic, in order to give them an edge and interpoint into the mainstream economy by ensuring that they are active players and participants.”

Through the establishment of initiatives that seek to expand female participation in energy via training and education, Africa can advance the sector by leveraging the talents and skills of its female population. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), for example, has established the Energy2Equal initiative that aims to empower women in Africa’s renewable energy sector. The IFC works with both large companies and small firms to close the gender gap by helping companies to improve their business performance, foster innovation, attract better talent and strengthen engagement with local communities.

“Women have been denied the opportunity to present and showcase their capacity,” Kenyatta continued. “We need to do everything we can to ensure that women in the country get the same opportunities, if not more, than their male counterparts. Women have the power to drive development and the growth of society.”

Breaking Barriers to Entry

In a bid to increase female participation in energy, it is vital to establish equality in terms of job application processes and evaluation of experience. Women face a higher likelihood of being rejected for employment due to lack of experience and other social factors, which have resulted in the significant inequality that characterizes the sector. Therefore, initiatives such as the Equal by 30 Campaign, an international framework that asks companies and governments to make gender equality central to the transition to a clean energy future – by promoting equal pay, opportunity and leadership for women – can help the industry achieve enhanced inclusion.  

“We are actively trying to break barriers to entry, and we cannot do that without giving women and young people a stepping stone,” said Kenyatta. “It is impossible for someone to get a job if the first thing you are told is that you need experience, when it is the job itself that gives you experience. We need to develop financial incentives through the provision of funds for women and young people, and work with banks to de-risk investments, so that we allow women to rightfully take their place as partners in the future and the development of the African continent.”

AOP pledged its commitment to the Equalby30 campaign to advance the participation of women in the clean energy transition. The campaign aims to achieve a minimum of 30% female participation across all facets of a participating organization, with progress assessed on a yearly basis. To learn more about the campaign and how your organization could participate, please visit https://www.equalby30.org/en