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EBRD 2017 Annual Meeting: making green growth work for women

By Larry  Sherwin

Potential for greater inclusion in renewables

This year’s EBRD Annual Meeting in Cyprus includes the launch of the Bank’s first “Economic Inclusion Strategy”, a subject which was at the heart of discussion at a Business Forum panel on prospects for women in the green energy sector.

Whereas technical and management positions in the traditional oil and gas energy sector are male-dominated, the renewable energy sector was seen by panellists as opening up prospects for attracting increasing numbers of women with technical skills.

“Green growth offers us an opportunity to do things differently,” noted Michaela Bergman, EBRD Chief Social Counsellor.

Traditional prejudices exist in the oil and gas sectors, a fact which has been recognised by the industry.  Mark Elborne, President and CEO, GE UK and Ireland, said that it had become a business imperative to support diversity at the entry level. 

“Business is beginning to get it”, he said.  “There is squandered potential, wasted talent if companies and national governments don’t work together to create a diverse pipeline.” 

He said that a system of incentives and targets is needed to drive behaviour and increase the numbers of women with technical skills. In this connection, he noted GE’s commitment to have 20,000 females in technical roles by the year 2020 – with 14,000 the current number.

In spite of increasing commitments by western corporations, panellists agreed that there is still a long way to go. Professor Bipasha Baruah of Ontario’s Western University contrasted the relative low numbers of women in technical roles in the OECD countries with impressive numbers in India and China where 35-40 per cent of engineers are female.

She also made reference to the dramatic change of females in the work force in the post-Soviet countries. In communist times, some 60 percent of technical roles were occupied by women. With the unravelling of central planning, there has been a dramatic decline in this figure with one glaring exception; in Estonia, significant numbers of women continue to pursue technical careers.

How to increase numbers of women in technical fields in other countries?  Prof. Baruah said that corporate policies aimed at diversity do work and could improve the situation. 

Lamya Abdel Hakim, Sector Head of Private Power Projects and the Egyptian Electricity Transmission Co. agreed and stressed the role that education can play. Educational programmes should be tailored so that girls and young women understand the career potential of a technical education.

Why is the green energy sector different from oil and gas? Renewable energy jobs are seen to be socially useful and have a positive cachet among younger people.

“Green energy has no image problem,” said Prof. Baruah.  “It can be seen as a force of social change and can help to change everything – education, career path, jobs, society.”

Does greater inclusion necessarily follow from new, green technologies? This question remains but the signs are positive.

Indeed, there was agreement that renewable energy can change the economic paradigm and support the objective of gender equity.  

“The future,” concluded GE’s Mark Elborne, “is non-hierarchical – something which creates great opportunities for women.” 

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