[Column] Maagatha Kalavadakken: Empowering progress through diversity: Fostering gender inclusivity in South Africa's energy transition
The energy sector is the cornerstone of any nation's development, the link between energy and human progress is undeniable, as it powers our homes, industries, and aspirations. As South Africa strives to achieve its economic and sustainable growth goals, one crucial element cannot be overlooked: the active and meaningful participation of women.
Globally women account for only 16% of the traditional energy sector according to IEA and numbers are equally marginal in South Africa. Nonetheless, women are now emerging as key drivers of change, innovation, and progress within the sector. Recognising and harnessing their potential is not just a matter of gender equality; it's a strategic imperative for a brighter energy future.
As a woman working at Wärtsilä, a global leader in energy solutions, I have witnessed firsthand the complex challenges and opportunities for gender diversity in the industry.
South Africa's Women and the Energy Transition: A Critical Perspective
Despite the just energy transition's focus on addressing job losses when coal plants retire, gender equality has often been overlooked. Achieving full gender equality in the energy sector remains a complex challenge linked to education, societal norms, and corporate policies.
But diversity won’t happen by itself. Companies and industries play an important role in tackling the stereotypes and promoting gender equality. This year at Wärtsilä, we celebrated women during International Women’s Day in March, with our event “Innovating sustainable societies and metaverse,” showing how women are making a difference and continue to do so as focus shifts to South Africa for Women’s Month.
Energy poverty remains a significant challenge in South Africa, particularly in rural and underserved communities. Women are often at the forefront of these communities, managing households and contributing to their families' livelihoods. Their involvement in the energy sector can provide essential insights into the unique energy needs of these communities. Women-centred initiatives can lead to the development of energy solutions that are not only affordable but also tailored to the specific requirements of these populations.
By engaging women, South Africa can take meaningful steps towards bridging the energy access gap and improving overall quality of life. Wärtsilä recognises that addressing energy poverty requires more than just technical innovation; it necessitates a diverse and inclusive workforce. When I joined Wärtsilä, I was drawn to the company's commitment to providing sustainable energy solutions while nurturing an environment where women can thrive.
Representation matters, especially in sectors where women have historically been marginalised. When women see other women occupying leadership positions in the energy sector, it sends a powerful message that their aspirations are attainable.
The journey towards gender equality and women's empowerment in the energy sector requires collaborative efforts from government, businesses, educational institutions, and civil society organisations. It calls for the creation of mentorship programs, scholarships, and training opportunities specifically tailored to women in energy. Furthermore, businesses should embrace policies that promote diversity and inclusion, creating an environment where women can thrive and contribute their best.
Nevertheless, I remain hopeful, knowing that Wärtsilä's commitment to empowering women extends beyond mere words; it is demonstrated through action, unwavering commitment, and a belief in the power of diversity. Wärtsilä is already leading the way with a university program that actively trains both men and women, aiming to create a more inclusive future. Through various Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) programs, Wärtsilä actively strives to increase female representation at all levels. Special attention is given to hiring programs, aiming for gender equity, and appreciating the unique perspectives and creativity that women bring.
As living proof of this commitment, I have personally experienced the support and opportunities Wärtsilä provides.
My Empowering Journey with Wärtsilä
Working as a financial analyst in a traditionally male-dominated industry was not without its challenges. However, joining Wärtsilä marked a turning point in my career. The company's strong focus on advancing women resonated with me deeply. From mentoring to professional development opportunities, Wärtsilä has nurtured my growth.
My work involves understanding energy markets in Africa and Europe, proposing viable solutions through financial modelling, and finding the best fit for our customers. This has deepened our understanding of power systems in different regions, allowing us to contribute meaningfully to their development.
South Africa stands at a pivotal moment in its energy evolution, and women are poised to play a transformative role. By recognising the importance of women in the energy sector and actively supporting their participation, South Africa can tap into a wellspring of creativity, innovation, and leadership that will drive its sustainable energy future.
Gender equality is not just a moral imperative; it's an essential step towards securing a prosperous, inclusive, and vibrant energy sector that benefits all South Africans.