Today, 11 February, we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This day is a reminder of the need to make the work of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) areas more visible, creating female references that can contribute to the choice of these areas as professional careers. It also seeks to encourage the elimination of barriers faced by women in STEM professions, promoting gender equality in the scientific field.
In this article we talk about the role of women in renewable energy.
The energy sector has a predominantly male presence, mainly due to the conception that science and engineering have always been more associated with men. The percentage of women in technology careers has always been low, and currently only 25% of engineering students in Spain are women.
In the world of work, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IRENA) report “Renewable Energy: A gender Perspective”, women account for 32% of full-time jobs in renewable energy companies. However, if we take a closer look, only 28% have jobs related to science, technology, engineering or mathematics. In contrast, 45% are in administrative positions.
According to a study by Ernst and Young on gender parity in the corporate environment, in Spain only 14% of positions on the boards of directors of large companies and listed companies are headed by women (data analysed at the end of 2014). In the energy sector, where we find a more accentuated masculinisation, we only have 8% female representation on boards of directors or executive positions.
In contrast to these data, the ILO (International Labour Organisation) report “Women in Management: The case for change” states that almost three quarters of companies that promote gender diversity in management positions have increased their profitability from 5% to 20%, with improvements in creativity, innovation and openness, leading to an increase in reputation.
Another report, “Women in Business 2019: towards real progress” corroborates this data, establishing a correlation between companies’ equality plans and improved results, indicating that those with formal policies have 35% of women in management positions.
The energy sector is one of the major drivers of technological development, and a powerful tool to fight the now inevitable threat of climate change. The transition to a decarbonised and sustainable energy model can only be just if it includes all perspectives, without leaving 50% of the population behind. Women play a relevant role in this energy, environmental and digital transition, contributing their talent and their point of view to face the challenges of the sector: the development of new business models based on circularity; the evolution of consumers into prosumers; aggregation to offer flexibility services to the electricity system; the promotion of distributed generation, self-consumption and storage technologies; the development and scaling of electric mobility; and the decarbonisation of diffuse sectors.
Despite the enormous potential of the sector and its multidisciplinary nature, women continue to face difficulties in accessing it. The main obstacle is the perception of gender roles, which remains a socio-cultural blight that influences many of the fundamental career choices girls make. Other difficulties women often face in pursuing STEM careers include pay inequalities, the glass ceiling, the difficulty of work-life balance and the imposter syndrome.
It is therefore crucial that there are female role models in this field who motivate and encourage young women to take an interest and not give up what they like. And it is not because these references do not exist… But the work and names of female scientists and engineers often go unnoticed.
There are many examples of women who have excelled in the field of electricity and energy. These are just a few of them:
Maria Telkes invented the first solar heating system in 1948.
Herta Marks Ayrton (1854-1923). Of English origin, married to the physicist William Edward Ayrton. A tireless fighter for women’s suffrage, protector of women persecuted for demanding the right to vote and a great friend of another excellent scientist, Marie Curie. Herta specialised in electrical engineering. Her work on the electric arc led to improvements in urban lighting systems. In 1899, she was the first woman to read the results of her research before the Institution of Electrical Engineers, a privilege denied her by the Royal Society because she was… a woman. It was the Irish engineer John Perry who read Herta Marks Ayrton’s work at the Royal Society in 1901.
Edith Clarke (1883-1959), of American origin, was the first woman electrical engineer, the first to obtain a degree from MIT in 1918 and the first professor of electrical engineering. She wrote the manual Circuit Analysis of A-C Power Systems, a reference textbook in the field of power engineering. In an interview she stated: “There is no demand for women engineers… but there will always be a demand for anyone who can do the job well”.
Maria Telkes (1900-1995) was born in Budapest, where she obtained her PhD in physicochemistry. She moved to the United States, working at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). She was an extraordinary inventor in the field of solar energy; she designed what is known as the first solar heating system installed in a house in Dover in 1948. She also designed the first thermoelectric generator in 1947, a solar cooker with a design that, with some variations, is still used today, and even a solar distillation system that was included in army medical kits to make water drinkable. He made great advances in research on materials for storing thermal energy, including molten salts. In 1952 her work was recognised when she became the first recipient of the Society of Women Engineers award. She also received the 1977 Charles Greeley Abbot Award. The work and efforts of this great woman can undoubtedly be described as an enormous contribution to the quality of life of all mankind.
There are currently several associations promoting women’s equality in science, research and STEM areas. Some of them are:
AEMENER (Spanish Association of Energy Women). It is a non-profit organisation that brings together women and men, mostly professionals, linked to the energy industry, and whose mission is to collaborate in achieving a more egalitarian society, strengthen the presence of women in the sector, promote employability and female talent. They aim to ensure that the presence of women is balanced in multidisciplinary teams and at all levels.
AMIT (Association of Women Researchers and Technologists) is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation made up of women researchers and technologists from various disciplines who carry out their research, technological or science management work in Spanish public and private research bodies and centres. Its mission is to achieve equality in science and technology by creating networks, demanding data, organising debates and making women scientists and the results of their work more visible.
At Intergia we are positive about women’s equality, and we believe that the richness of multidisciplinary teams that include all perspectives is necessary and essential for the company’s project to move forward.