Two people standing in bucket by power lines (Claire Novak)
Women make up about 25 percent of the workforce at Engendering Utilities partner Kenya Power and Lighting Company and are represented in most areas  —  including as line workers. (Claire Novak)

Women constitute half of the world’s population, but they are wildly underrepresented when it comes to formal employment. The energy sector especially suffers from a lack of gender diversity.

A program from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) hopes to change that.

“Gender imbalance is often a result of the lack of top-level support … but sometimes it’s unconscious, hidden and more subtle biases in the workplace,” said Aneta Petrovska-Rusomaroski, head of human resources in North Macedonia for EVN, a major energy company and one of the partners with USAID’s Engendering Utilities program.

Petrovska-Rusomaroski brings up one of the biggest challenges in advancing gender equality:  changing the way professionals think about women in the workplace.

Workers in safety vests and hard hats listening to another worker speak (USAID)
Team members from the Engendering Utilities program meet with Electricidade de Moçambique (EDM Mozambique) staff. (USAID)

USAID’s Engendering Utilities focuses on increasing the number of women working in the power sector  —  especially in higher-paying technical and leadership positions. Since 2015, USAID has partnered with 11 utilities in nine countries to increase the professional participation of women.

How does this translate on the ground? In Georgia, Energo-Pro is giving tours of hydropower facilities to interested young women. Kenya Power is encouraging girls to study science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). EVN is awarding scholarships to talented female electrical-engineering students in North Macedonia to enable young women’s participation in the field.

Girls gathered around electrical sphere (EDCO)
Girls learn about careers in technical fields during the Electric Distribution Company in Jordan’s Bring Your Daughter to Work Day. (EDCO)

Queen Esther, a young student in Nigeria, would have never discovered her potential had it not been for events hosted by EKEDC, her local electricity-distribution company. “Now I want to become an engineer because it’s really cool!” she said.

Four people in hard hats standing near large electrical equipment (USAID)
Staff from Engendering Utilities partner Kosovë Operator Sistemi, Transmisioni dhe Tregu, SH.A. (KOSTT) welcomed a USAID team during a tour of their facilities. (USAID)

“Promoting gender equality is fundamental to our company. Already, women hold four out of our company’s six top management positions,” says Oladele Amoda, former chief executive of EKEDC in Nigeria.

Studies show that when more women are engaged in decision-making and leadership roles, companies are more effective and, in some cases, more profitable. Global, national and local economies all benefit when women have a seat at the table.

This article was written by USAID’s Alexandra West. A longer version appears on USAID’s website.