By Priya Dadlani
Just as renewable energy is beginning to take a much bigger share of the world energy market, the number of young women pursuing science and math degrees in the United States is falling.
In the late 1990s, more than a third of people working in energy jobs in the United States were women; today it’s less than 18 percent.
To help change that – and not just at home – the U.S.-based Clinton Climate Initiative has launched a project, focused on the Caribbean, called the Women in Island Energy Leadership Network.
“Integrating women in leadership and vision is hugely important because if you don’t, you are doing a disservice to women across the world,” said Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, set up by her father, former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
The new network hopes to overcome what Clinton described as an “imagination gap” that keeps young women from imagining themselves taking a big role in power industries expected to be part of a clean energy future.
It will “connect, convene, and promote women leaders” in energy companies and initiatives in the islands, and work to support them – particularly young women – in joining the renewable energy workforce in the Caribbean.
Clinton said supporting women to take up energy jobs is not just the morally right thing to do but also smart business practice as some business studies suggest teams with both men and women can be more successful.
“Men and women have different viewpoints, ideas, and market insights, which enables better problem solving, ultimately leading to superior performance at the business unit level,” a 2014 Gallup poll noted.
Charmaine Gill-Evans, an engineer at Barbados Light and Power, said attitudes among women were the main thing holding them back.
“Access to education is equal across genders (in Barbados) so there is no reason to not … raise your hand for an opportunity.” she said in an online webinar introducing the initiative. “It’s more about your attitude than anything else”
Why focus on the Caribbean? In part because the islands are particularly vulnerable to climate-related natural disasters and sea level rise, and because island states around the world have been leaders in pushing for action on climate change, including more use of renewable energy, participants in the webinar said.
Many Pacific Island nations, for instance, have pledged to get at least half of their electrical power from solar, wind or other renewable sources by 2020, and other island nations have set goals to become “carbon neutral,” which means they would emit no more climate-changing gases than they can take back out of the atmosphere by planting trees or by other means.
Asked what advice she would give her younger self, Janice Carr who works as a parish manager at Jamaica Public Service, said, “Find a mentor, and stay connected to your true self. Do not compromise your integrity.” And most importantly, “Network, network, network.”