Empowering women as clean energy entrepreneurs

In the renewable energy sector, women account for around 32% of overall employment, compared to 22% in the more traditional oil and gas sector. On the one hand, this indicates that women are underrepresented in the energy sector as a whole, but on the other hand, it demonstrates that renewable energy, as a younger and more active sector, offers a chance for change. With energy-related greenhouse gas emissions at an all-time high in 2019 and 800 million people still without access to electricity, the world must continue to move toward greener energy alternatives. Increased gender diversity in the renewable energy sector will enable society to tap into greater innovative potential in order to accelerate this transformation. However, there are still barriers for women to enter the renewable energy business that must be overcome in order to expand participation.

Barriers to women in the renewable energy sector
Supporting women’s participation in this industry is critical for achieving gender equality as well as broader economic, societal, and environmental benefits. According to the IMF, the productivity benefits from closing gender inequalities across the economy may enhance GDP by 35 percent on a macroeconomic level. Studies show; Increasing the diversity of leadership teams has also been shown to boost the quality of corporate innovation and financial performance.

Why isn’t there greater development in the renewable energy sector if closing the gender gap has been shown to have various benefits?

IRENA’s research, Renewable Energy: A Gender Perspective, identifies gender norms, social and cultural practices as important impediments. There is a long-held belief that women are less suited to technical fields than men. Women receive little or no technical training in emerging economies, particularly in rural areas, and it is frequently discouraged. In average, fewer women than men will choose to work in STEM fields, while providing girls with better career information and female role models can assist to raise numbers. This could lead to discriminatory hiring practices or misperceptions that women are unfit for certain jobs, such as considering physical strength as a barrier to installation work. Lack of mentoring opportunities and access to informal networks, unequal compensation, and rigid working hours are also listed as hurdles to career advancement in the IRENA report.

Supporting more women in renewable energy leadership positions can assist to establish a virtuous cycle in which more women enter the field and organizations become more women-friendly. Wandee Khunchornyakong, a female solar power pioneer in Thailand, created a solar power corporation in 1993 that today owns 36 sun farm projects across the country and employs a 60% female workforce.

A central role for women in increasing access to clean energy
Women in rural areas may be able to function as both energy entrepreneurs and energy users as small-scale renewable energy generating and energy efficiency projects become more prevalent. Women can play an important role in the successful deployment of clean energy to replace fossil fuel supply, and they have the greatest stake in expanding access to energy because they are often the most affected. Women can readily communicate with female end-users in certain countries where cultural norms limit interaction between genders, by entering residences to install equipment when male family members are not there. In Cameroon, for example, Hope For a Better Future Vocational Training Institute (HOBEFI) strives to break down traditional gender stereotypes and empower women to aid their communities. We accomplish this by teaching rural women how to design, build, and maintain solar systems that supply energy and hot water to their communities.

Women solar energy entrepreneurs, interviewed by the IEA faced the common challenge of convincing financial institutions to provide finance, as well as creating networks and partnerships for their businesses. In emerging economies, women are often less financially independent than men, on average being less likely to own or actively use a bank account. On the demand side, female entrepreneurs generally have less knowledge of available business opportunities, credit facilities and bank services. Women are generally at a disadvantage since they have less capital to invest or collateral to borrow against. On the supply side, bank managers frequently lack confidence in women’s business proposals, which they perceive as riskier by default. Furthermore, female entrepreneurs in Cameroon are twice as likely as male entrepreneurs to have their loan applications denied.

Mainstreaming gender policy in finance and investment
Access to information, training, networks, and female role models can all help entrepreneurs in the clean energy sector level the playing field. The financial sector, on the other hand, is critical to the success of enterprises. Women-led enterprises are underfunded in general, especially in emerging countries. Because informal and formal networks between investors and entrepreneurs are disproportionately male dominated, investment ecosystems frequently passively exclude female entrepreneurs. It is critical to incorporate gender-based variables into investment decisions in order to remove barriers to women accessing finance.

Gender policies that are integrated can promote women to participate in all asset classes. To help emerging economies gain access to energy, a rising number of projects are focusing on micro, small, and medium businesses. Impact investment and gender bonds are two tools that can help women-owned businesses get access to funding. Gender policies are just as important for large-scale energy projects, and they can have far-reaching consequences. For example, as a gender loan in 2019, BBVA donated 44 million USD for a 48MW wind plant in Turkey. As the project sponsor establishes more gender inclusive hiring and recruitment procedures and expands partnerships with female-dominated firms in the supply chain, the loan terms improve.

The OECD supports policy making for gender diversity in clean energy
In order for projects to succeed, policymakers must consider gender in the context of broader social, legal, and institutional factors. This may entail, for example, determining the consequences for women seeking credit when women are disproportionately underrepresented in financial leadership positions.

The OECD’s Clean Energy Finance and Investment Mobilisation (CEFIM) program assists governments in emerging economies in building an enabling environment for finance and investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency. This involves identifying policy gaps and offering recommendations based on best practices and investor conversations. Gender equality and renewable energy are priority throughout Asia and Latin America, where the initiative is actively active. While recognizing the important role that women may play in the clean energy transition, recent research is examining whether finance and investment policies adequately account for the constraints that female entrepreneurs encounter in obtaining financing.

The OECD Global Forum on Environment recently focused on gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment for environmental sustainability. Speakers at the conference emphasized the many environmental benefits of empowering women, as well as the disproportionate costs they frequently bear. They emphasized, above all, that using indicators and collecting gender-disaggregated data is a first step toward recognizing and measuring difficulties as well as identifying new opportunities. This, in turn, allows for better policymaking that will benefit both men and women.

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