Proactively increasing gender diversity in the renewable energy sector remains necessary
Women Energy Connect (WE Connect), a platform focussed on increasing inclusion of women and underrepresented genders in South Africa’s renewable energy sector, has opened applications for its annual mentorship programme.
Currently, the sector provides 9 000 jobs, with only 15% filled by women. School leavers and young graduates are also underrepresented1.
Globally, women represent only 32% of the renewable energy workforce2.
The WE Connect programme matches mentors and mentees using a values-based approach to ensure that relationships between mentors and mentees are meaningful and, therefore, sustainable.
“Maintaining long-term support for diversity in the renewable energy sector is vital because the industry is destined for exponential growth,” says WE Connect director, Kalnisha Singh.
“South Africa’s decades-old energy crisis is relentlessly widening the gap between rich and poor. Only wealthier households can afford to install individual alternative energy sources to mitigate load-shedding and power outages. Their children are the ones who can continue to study when the national grid is down.
“In any case, all future generations’ health, education, and jobs hinge on the decisions being made in the industry now. Also, among the poor, women are disproportionately more affected by lack of access to energy3. If women and underrepresented genders don’t help shape the industry, it will not be fit for purpose.
“The WE Connect mentorship programme is one element of a broader platform we offer that fosters inclusionary networking across the industry. Through the mentorship programme specifically, we aim to build lasting relationships among today’s leaders and those whom they help prepare for future decision-making. In that way, the industry as a whole will become organically representative. Diversity will be baked in, along with the innovation and progressive leadership that diversity provides.”
The first WE Connect mentorship programme, in 2021, had 11 pairs of participants. All participants have remained in contact. One mentee gained access to an international scholarship to complete her doctorate. Through the larger WE Connect platform, one mentor was invited to participate in a game-changing new renewable energy project.
“From the outset, the mentorship programme has delivered the kind of results for which it was designed,” Singh says. “It’s driving not only inclusion and personal development but the possibility for overall industry innovation and thought leadership. That benefits the whole of South Africa.”
Because the renewable energy industry originated outside of South Africa, the local industry has tended to be a follower rather than an innovator. However, a first-of-a-kind project has been approved in the South African Energy Risk Mitigation Bidding Rounds. Five different technologies will be integrated in a single project.
Singh points out that, being only 12 years old, the South African renewable energy sector can still avoid the structural and systemic biases that underpin other industries. “The power of diversity and inclusion could propel the local industry to the status of a global leader.
“This year’s WE Connect mentorship programme is pivotal to ensuring that inclusion of women and underrepresented genders becomes automatic.”
The WE Connect platform is one of 12 such platforms globally and is recognised by the local industry regulators – the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) and the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) – and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy.
The WE Connect mentorship programme creates and facilitates opportunities for mentoring, knowledge sharing, skills development, access to market, and business support.
Overall, WE Connect has three main objectives: creating access for youth to the renewable energy sector; supporting in-career professionals; and supporting value chain development.
Anyone wishing to participate in the WE Connect mentorship programme can go to https://www.womenenergyconnect.org/mentorship/
2. Renewable Energy Agency (RENA) Gender Report 2020