Notes from the Conference “Energy without Gender: Daily Battle,” organized by the team of the Women’s Energy Club of Ukraine.
How do we promote women’s professional development in the sector of technology as early as at the level of education? What are the benefits of gender balance for the economy in transition? And why is a woman in the role of a crisis manager a good decision for a company and the state? Experts, government officials, top managers of energy companies and heads of international programs talked about this during the conference “Energy without Gender: Daily Battle” organized by the Women's Energy Club of Ukraine (WECU).
The crisis was discussed during the conference no less than gender. It made sense, given Ukraine is currently undergoing an economic, social, environmental and COVID-19-driven crisis. On the one hand, these circumstances have aggravated the position of women in the gender equality aspect. Yet, conference participants also believe that crisis situations drive opportunities for development and reinforcement of women’s professional positions, including those in the sectors of energy and high-tech industries.
"The crisis has changed our lives, and we will never return to pre-crisis standards. The world will not be different any more. When you realize this, it is easier to move on. Studies in various fields have shown many negative consequences of limitations imposed due to quarantine. They have primarily affected women. Household work, including cooking, cleaning and taking care of other family members, is mostly done by women. At the same time, we are witnessing an increase in domestic violence, the deterioration of the economic situation of women, and the difficult psychological state of women,” said Kateryna Levchenko, the Commissioner for Gender Policy.
Member of the WECU Board Oksana Aliieva supports her colleague’s interpretation of the gender discrimination problem: “If we do not see something, that doesn’t mean this thing doesn’t exist.”
However, the experts focus on the opportunities that arise in times of crisis.
"We need to see the opportunities ahead of us, particularly in energy, as opportunities for new investment," agrees Kristen Panerali, Head of Electricity at the World Economic Forum's.
The climate crisis is prompting not only the need for a discourse on making the economy “greener,” but also real immediate action. The European Green Deal has become such a set of measures designed to introduce carbon-neutral management. Ukraine currently supports the Deal and claims this on the diplomatic level, but it has not yet made any resolute legislative and managerial decisions. However, experts are convinced that it is only a matter of time.
Alexandra Tomczak, Member of Cabinet of the Executive Vice President for European Green Deal Frans Timmermans, agrees that “green restoration” and gender equality must be implemented simultaneously.
“’Green restoration’ is an opportunity for us to live better. Empowering women is also part of the ‘living better’ plan. New jobs in new sectors will create an opportunity to build an equitable society for women and men, where gender balance will matter both as a personal belief and at the level of the systemic attitudes,” says Tomczak.
“We need to speak up and make sure that women’s voices are heard in every sector, especially when it comes to smart approaches, renewable energy, the right tax initiatives. We have no right to waste women's potential. In Germany, we actually have a higher percentage of women in these aspects. But it is very important that women not only work and participate, but have a significant influence on decision-making. This is a key indicator of equality,” says Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, MEP.
Alexandra Tomczak says that the need to change gender strategies and attitudes is an urgent problem in the EU as well.
"In the EU, 40% of respondents believe that the main role of women is to be the guardian of the family, and men should first of all earn money for a living. Stereotypes live everywhere. But we are trying to overcome them. The first way is changes at the institutional level leading by example. Since the beginning of last year, we have a very balanced composition in the European Commission. The President is a woman, and the First Commissioner for Energy is also a woman. In general, from 2019 our priority has been to become a community of equality in all respects. Second, to understand what needs to change, you need adequate input. We conduct research on the gender aspect employment, collect data, and we have set up an equality group at the European Commission, which will include staff from all sectors and will work to integrate gender issues into all areas. We published a gender equality strategy in March this year, and we hope that by the end of the year, we will be able to offer solutions to overcome the gender pay gap and pension gap at the legislative level (since women in Europe make on average 16% less than men, while the pension gap reaches 30%),” shares Alexandra Tomczak.
However, the situation in Ukraine is less positive. The problem of gender inequality stems back from school, where girls cannot choose high-tech majors, since parents judge them and teachers fail to support them. Therefore, experts emphasize the importance of quality career guidance for girls, as well as mentoring and community influence.
Michelle Branigan, Executive Director of Electricity Human Resources Canada, is convinced that everything is tied to education and the environment.
"If a girl wants to become an electrician, and her teacher does not support her, she will abandon this idea. If a girl does not see successful women in the energy sector in her environment, she will not risk mastering this field. After all, how does she know what it means to work in this field if there is no one to ask? Therefore, there should be options to receive this information easily: open houses at energy enterprises, public service campaigns, career guidance, and finally, an aunt, a neighbour or an activist working in this sector, who can answer the questions that interest a girl who wants to make a career in energy,” says Michelle Branigan.
“Mentorship and practical examples are the most important aspects of a girl’s readiness to choose education in engineering. It is difficult for a young girl to associate herself with successful women in energy if she has not seen such women. That is why we are currently working on a book on renewable energy for children aged 9-11. In the book, we portray women so that children could get used to the fact that a woman in this sector is a normal phenomenon. We need to work on the visibility of women in the sector. This can be done by engaging women as experts. When conference organizers say they have not found women who are ready to speak about this subject, it means they did not do a good job looking. There may be databases of experts, gender clubs, successful women need to become mentors for their younger colleagues, support them psychologically and organizationally. A man may not help if the situation involves sexual harassment, for example, while a woman who has had this experience or is simply better at empathy will provide the necessary support,” says Oksana Aliieva.
Personal stories when a woman feels the need to share experience, help and feel support, often trigger the activity of women’s unions or mentorship programs. This has been the story of Laura Hagg, senior governance advisor with Partnership for Local Economic Development and Democratic Governance (PLEDDG project).
“Back in the ‘90s, I used to work for a company in Denver. I worked on energy policy, I was interested in this topic, I studied it. I asked a lot of questions. So, at a meeting, my manager (a conservative elderly man) asked me to slow down and show less enthusiasm in my work. I was terribly outraged. And after that, I joined a few women from the energy sector in a kind of women's club, we met every week and one of us shared her situation, experience, problems. And we gave each other advice and support. It is highly important and useful to have such a community of like-minded people,” said Laura Hagg.
“The most important thing to achieve success is to let go of fear. Be bold and do something different. Of course, when you try to do this, your idea will not necessarily work out. Let it be, one of them will. This applies to private and professional life, activity as an activist in the community. Try to be resilient, bold, strong and kind to yourself. The biggest risk is not seeing the opportunity to do something. If we have already united (at this conference, in women's professional communities), then this opportunity should be used. We are among practitioners who are willing to share expertise and experience — just use 1 or 2 ideas that you hear and implement them in practice. Act!” says Larisa Galadza, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Canada to Ukraine.
The event was supported by Heinrich Boell Foundation, Kyiv Office — Ukraine, the Embassy of Canada in Ukraine; projects Promoting Energy Efficiency and Implementing the EU Directive in Ukraine and Effective Public Finance Management, implemented by GIZ Ukraine on behalf of the German government, DTEK, CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang — Ukraine, Baker Tilly, the international technical assistance project “Partnership for Local Economic Development and Democratic Governance” (PLEDDG project) implemented by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities with the financial support of the Canadian MFA, TIU Canada and Scatec Solar Ukraine. Information support was provided by the American Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Ukraine.
Author: Svitlana Chernetska