Smarter Investments: Integrating Women Into the Energy Value Chain

Helping Mexico’s clean energy industry close its employee gender gap and improve performance
Oct 20, 2017 9:00 AM ET

International Energy and Innovation Blog: Connecting the developing world

Tetra Tech’s Sandra Chavez, a senior clean energy associate, discusses her experience examining the role of gender in her work in Mexico’s clean energy industry. This blog was both inspired by and prepared with input from Graciela Calvo, gender specialist for Tetra Tech’s clean energy work in Mexico.

I studied engineering in Mexico to pursue my passion for clean energy. I entered the workforce at the top of my class, reflecting my great interest for sustainable development. However, upon graduation I discovered that my male peers—who until that point I had considered my equals—had received more job offers with salaries 20 percent higher than those of the offers that I had received. This was the first time that I had personally encountered the gender inequality that still prevails within both the energy sector and the workforce.

In Mexico, women account for more than half of the population, but only represent 37 percent of the labor force. This share shrinks to 21 percent female representation in the water and energy sectors. These numbers are indicative of a heavily male-dominated field, which may negatively influence women’s perceptions of their participation in this sector. Recent surveys reveal that 11 percent fewer young women are interested in studying engineering than their young male peers.

While working on the U.S. Agency for International Development Mexico Low Emissions Development Program (USAID MLED-II), I had the opportunity to integrate a gender perspective into clean energy development, taking into consideration gender-based needs, interests, and concerns of men and women. Graciela, the project’s gender specialist, taught me that gender inequities are not only present in the workforce but also very prevalent in application of human rights.

Graciela explained to me that gender is a socially defined set of roles, rights, responsibilities, and obligations for men and women. Closing the gender gap is a cornerstone of sustainable development and can contribute to a thriving society through a multiplier effect by sparking economic growth and reducing poverty. In agriculture, more equal societies have 20 to 30 percent higher crop yields, increased availability of food, and improved household welfare. In industry, companies with at least one woman on their board or top management levels had a return on equity almost 3 percentage points higher than companies with no such representation.

In clean energy, integrating more women into all levels of the energy value chain could unlock greater returns on investments and expand the prospects of reducing emissions. These benefits can be accomplished through a combination of changes at the individual level, such as in the home or workplace, and the institutional level, such as changes in policy.

Below are ways that I am working to address the gender gap in the workplace.

Giving women visibility. Use gender-inclusive language, present images that challenge gender stereotypes (women as engineers), and desegregate statistics by gender to understand the needs and interests of women and men and better respond to those differences within our development work. MLED II created an infogram that provides guidelines for gender-inclusive language (in Spanish only).

Participating in a women’s network. Empower, connect, and learn—women worldwide face similar challenges. Platforms available in Mexico include REDMEREE (in Spanish), WEN Mexico, and MERM.

Leading by example. Women can serve as role models and mentors for other women, as each female leadership opportunity contributes to breaking stereotypes. Hire a female intern, a female engineer.

By incorporating gender perspective in our work, we hope to transform the clean energy sector in Mexico, leading to more impactful clean energy interventions and allowing women to start from a playing level field with men.

In the pursuit of gender equality, much has already been achieved. My hope is that, through my work in international development, I can affect positive change for other women working in my profession. For example, as a female engineer, I hope to inspire younger women to pursue a career in science and engineering. As a project manager, I plan to support activities that provide equal opportunities for women and men. By serving as a strong role model for other women, I will help to create equal opportunities for women working in the Clean Energy sector.