Nurturing a more inclusive future for energy innovation - Hindustan Times

Nurturing a more inclusive future for energy innovation

Mar 02, 2024 06:03 PM IST

This article is authored by Preeti Bajaj, MD & CEO, Luminous Power Technologies.

Nurturing a more inclusive future for energy innovation would require a healthy and competitive participation of both men and women in the energy space. The energy sector, with its intricate challenges and vast potential, stands at the cusp of change, and as we navigate the path forward, the role of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) becomes not just beneficial but essential. Women's participation tends to be more prominent in new energy domains than the traditional energy sectors. As per the International Energy Agency (IEA), women constitute less than 16% of the workforce in traditional energy sectors, despite comprising 39% of the global workforce.

Energy (Representational Image) PREMIUM
Energy (Representational Image)

Gender diversity drives innovation, opens new pathways for technology deployment, brings valuable perspectives to social and economic development and provides a richer pool of talent for key and emerging industries. However, as in many parts of the world, the energy sector in India remains one of the least gender-diverse sectors, mostly male-dominated. Women are breaking the glass ceiling and the transformation is indeed beginning at the educational level.

Female students are often outperforming their male counterparts in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) domains. Presently, there is a notable influx of women STEM graduates, outnumbering their male counterparts, with 180 female students pursuing a master's degree in science for every 100 male students. As per the All-India Survey on Higher Education, of the 55.5 lakh students enrolled in the Science Stream in 2021–22, female students outnumbered male students (29.5 versus 26 lakh).

While women are progressing in STEM education, they still do not make a sizeable representation in scientific research and engineering domains. Amongst major economies, India reports one of the lowest female labour force participation rates, with women accounting for 27% of India’s STEM workforce as per the Global Gender Gap Report 2023. However, the energy sector is driving the change and promoting DEI aggressively around the world. As per the same report, energy and materials segment are at the top in prioritising women in their DEI activities. The flipside of the coin is this is the sector where women are also scarce at all levels of seniority.

The nature of women's roles within the energy sector also needs to be examined. Women may most likely be occupying non-STEM or administrative positions, even in ostensibly inclusive segments like renewable energy. As per the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), women participation in STEM, non-STEM technical jobs and administrative jobs ranged in the renewable energy sector from 28% to 45%.

Today, amidst several global uncertainties, women form a significant portion of the workforce across key sectors and bring unique perspectives and skill sets honed through historical roles in efficient resource management and crisis response. For the energy sector to shape a sustainable future, it must actively promote diverse ideas and perspectives from both genders, fostering inclusivity at decision-making levels.

Diverse viewpoints contribute to a richer pool of ideas crucial for innovation and problem-solving. Organisations that champion diversity and inclusion are often at the forefront of innovation. From a business standpoint, policies fostering inclusion and above-average diversity correlate with increased revenues driven by innovation. Consequently, organisations within the energy sector must take the lead in fostering inclusive growth.

As the landscape of new energy spaces expands globally, the transformation is underway, particularly in the renewable energy sector. According to the IEA, the percentage of women-led start-ups has doubled from 5% to 11% between 2000 and 2019. Companies are proactively implementing policies promoting diversity, including equitable employment practices, such as equal pay, cultivating a leadership culture that champions diversity and fostering open communication. Establishing specific quotas for gender representation within the organisation can be a powerful strategy. This involves setting numerical targets or percentages for the inclusion of women in various roles, ensuring a more equitable distribution across the workforce.

Transform recruitment processes to eliminate biases and promote inclusivity. This may involve blind recruitment strategies, where identifying information is removed from resumes during the initial screening. It also entails creating diverse hiring panels and utilising diverse networks to attract a broader range of candidates. Organisations are implementing various inclusive measures to promote diversity.

In India, companies are going beyond the stated mandate to provide generous and flexible maternity and paternity leave policies, which is crucial to enable a healthy work-life balance and encourage the participation of both genders in the workforce. Post pandemic times have seen an even greater focus on compressed workweeks, job-sharing arrangements, or remote work opportunities. Flexibility fosters a more inclusive environment, accommodating diverse lifestyles and needs. Special programmes are being designed for parents returning to the workforce after an extended break. These initiatives may include retraining opportunities, mentorship support and gradual reintegration plans. Mentorship helps individuals navigate their career paths, gain insights from experienced professionals and build valuable networks. Encouraging mentorship for both men and women promotes a more inclusive culture. Organisations have been focusing more on conducting regular training programmes focused on diversity and inclusion for all employees. These programmes can raise awareness about unconscious biases, promote understanding of different perspectives and provide tools for fostering an inclusive workplace culture. Training sessions can be customised to address specific challenges within the energy sector.

All these measures are helping the energy sector to enhance diversity and ensure balanced representation, fostering a workforce that reflects a broader range of backgrounds and experiences. Offering childcare support, flexible hours, return-to-work programmes and other such policies are helping integrate a better work-life culture. By providing equal access to mentorship and furthering diversity training, organisations ensure that professional development opportunities are distributed equitably. A recent Barclay’s report, India’s Breakout Moment, reported that India can grow at 8% gross domestic product (GDP) if more women join the workforce. It is for the energy sector to seize the opportunity and be a frontrunner in nation building by adding more women to its workforce and in leadership roles. In doing so, the sector will be nurturing a more inclusive future, building a workplace culture that reflects the richness of varied perspectives and unlocking its untapped potential to innovate.

This article is authored by Preeti Bajaj, MD & CEO, Luminous Power Technologies.

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