Women in energy
In 2021, we launched the “Women in Energy” series to promote women’s careers and expertise across the energy sector.
Women are on the frontline of the energy transition. As the oil and gas sector moves towards a sustainable future, IOGP wants to showcase the women who are fundamental to shaping the future of energy.
Today Women in Energy meets Lucy Ferguson, a mechanical engineer with vast experience in the oil and gas sector.
Lucy tells us about what it means to work in an offshore oil and gas platforms and how this positively impacted her career.
Matilde Mattei: Hello Lucy, thank you for meeting with us today. Please tell us about your journey so far.
Lucy Ferguson: My name’s Lucy Ferguson. I’m a mechanical engineer who’s had the opportunity to work in many different parts of the life cycle of production. I worked in commissioning, operations, construction and decommissioning of upstream and downstream operations in oil and gas.
Currently I work as a global discipline head for mechanical engineering, looking after a community of about 1600 people offshore and onshore and in all sorts of locations around the world.
MM: What does working in an oil & gas offshore platform entail?
LF: Yeah, I got the opportunity to work in the North Sea a number of times on a fixed leg asset and then a floating asset. It involves working with a community that usually transport themselves there by helicopter and back, usually for two-week periods.
There you’re combined together to ensure the safety of all the people there and that you have continuous safe production of oil or gas, whatever that may be. And it’s quite self-contained like a beautiful hotel on an island, but with lots of technical challenges as well.
MM: How does a typical day look like?
LF: On a typical day offshore, we’ll start a shift changeover that’s normally 6:00 AM till 6:00 PM. The night shift will be coming off and you’ll want to hear how’s it gone for them, any key issues and the day shift you’ll be checking if they started well and if they’ve got the priorities right. We then would call the beach. That would be the office onshore who wake up a little later and let them know of any challenges or any help needed.
Then the big calls throughout the day on maintenance, production or other materials needed. And there’d be flights coming, going through the day as some people are going off back to the beach and then others, vendors or people are coming back on. You’d have breakfast, lunch and dinner as a crew, again at 6:00 PM end of the shift, shift handovers and then the night shift will come on and take you through to the next morning.
MM: What’s one misconception people have about working offshore?
LF: One misconception would be that it’s mostly man who work offshore, but I can testify that I worked there for years, really enjoyed it. I was on with a fellow chemist named Gale and we were very welcome and made to feel very much a part of the crew. And the food is good, cabins are comfortable, and the engineering and production challenges are always engaging. So yeah, I really enjoyed working offshore with the female and male crew.
MM: Why did you decide to work offshore?
LF: I started in refining which is onshore and my view was if you want to fix something and you want the answer you go to the field, you go to the person who runs the equipment and really try to understand the problem whilst looking at the equipment. So, when I moved upstream everyone said “whenever Lucy has an issue she phones offshore as she goes offshore and sorts out”. They just told me “you’ll be happier offshore because you’re right with the people and right on the asset and able to interact to solve problems quicker”. So, I was encouraged to take a job offshore. It hadn’t ever been in my radar, but I had good mentors and good people who gave me advice and it’s an opportunity I took when it came.
MM: How did working offshore contribute to your career development?
LF: I think it helped my career in terms of being able to understand the needs of the communities and the people and the engineering requirements offshore. Then later when I was sort of in charge of projects that were being done offshore, I could really see and feel and know the impact certain decisions would make and try and take the right ones to support the community and the safety impact as well.
MM: The experience of having worked offshore, how is that enabling you in your current management role?
LF: In my current role, I look after about 1600 mechanical engineers across the globe. Some of them are based in deserts, some of them in Scotland, some of them in America, some in offshore locations, some of them in refineries. So, I know what it’s like to be in a field location and in an offshore rotation. I can support them when they call in with technical concerns and other concerns. Then as people decide and choose their next role, I can tell them what the offshore environment would be like, so that we select the right candidates and they’re aware of the upsides and the challenges and are ready for that.
MM: As a woman, do you feel that your experience was different in comparison to your male colleagues?
LF: I went offshore many years ago, before things have probably become easier for women offshore. And initially it was challenging for some of my male colleagues to have a female out there with them. But over time they learned that I was just like them, an engineer who wanted to solve problems, find solutions and safely get home.
Nowadays it’s a non-issue. I think there’s men and women working offshore very well together and that’s a positive thing.
MM: What are the main challenges for female offshore workers?
LF: It is a long day, physical day. Sometimes you don’t get much respite or personal space offshore. Cabins don’t have locks because that’s a health and safety requirement. Finding personal space at times offshore can be a little difficult. So, you need to just work your way around how you do that. I always had a good book or headphones, things like that..
Certainly, when I went offshore there was only one set of shoes, one set of boiler suits, but now there’s female cuts and female boots as well, so those things do help too.
MM: Have you seen improvements over the years?
LF: Yes, definite improvements. If I was to be blunt, my first 14 assets onshore and offshore didn’t have a female toilet. And now it’s standard, you would never have an offshore platform or any design without a female toilet.
When I started, there really weren’t very many females in the field. I remember being on a refinery turn around, there was two women out of 1400 people. So, I understand why the facilities initially weren’t there, but they’re there now. Choices around Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and a better fit for women and even flexibility around working hours has changed too on sites. So, these things have improved.
MM: Would you encourage women to work offshore? Why?
LF: Absolutely, I’d encourage women to work offshore.
It’s ultimately a team, sometimes you call it your offshore family. Teams and families work better when they’re full of diversity and women add that. Women can sometimes have a different point of view, can often be more caring, community minded so these things allow the decision making offshore to have a more rounded view of the people, the life and the community.
MM: What advice would you give them?
LF: If anyone wants to work offshore, and especially women, then talk to someone who has worked offshore. Ask them what the highs and lows are and navigate around those pitfalls if there are any for you. You would need to be quite willing to work as a team. You need good teamwork skills, so think about that. And you’d need to bring something technical that needs to be offshore or leadership wise. Otherwise, they can just go on the phone and get it from the beach. So, you need to have a skill that requires to be offshore.
MM: Today, there is a lot of focus on diversity and inclusion, what is your view on this?
LF: I think it’s great to have diverse teams, they are stronger. All the FTSE 100 companies that you look at now that are right at the top are ones that got diverse boards and that’s in terms of gender, background and ethnicity as well. Diversity creates a richness in capability and decision making which allows a better decision to be made.
MM: In your opinion, what could the oil & gas industry do to make offshore platforms more attractive for female workers?
LF: The offshore platform could be the facilities themselves or it could be the culture on the facility. Let’s look at the facility itself. I think offshore companies can make them more attractive if they’ve got nice female cabins, female toilets, other female facilities, maybe their own changing room, that give them a sense of privacy which is helpful. I never had a female changing room. It takes extra space to engineer and design that in, but that would make the facility more comfortable for females.
In terms of the culture, that’s a big one: the culture of a company and the offshore installation needs to be open to females coming in. We need to let people know that everyone has a seat at the table if they have a skill that’s valuable to run our modern-day oil and gas facilities.
MM: How could the industry better support women working offshore?
LF: The industry could help with providing DE&I training to all members of the crew. Perhaps there could be things that can be done around short-term placements offshore as well. Being able to go offshore frequently can be more challenging so short term roles, short term visits, do open the opportunity for more females to go offshore.
I think the industry would benefit from more females working offshore. So, finding ways to have more female offshore is worth doing because women can face the challenge of working offshore and grow and develop their capabilities such that they may then work onshore and be excellent at supporting an offshore installation because they fully understand what goes on there and can provide that vital bridge link.
MM: What is the added value of diverse teams in offshore platforms?
LF: The added value of diverse teams offshore is that you can come up with solutions that are more creative. Traditionally, the offshore fire teams wanted really tall and strong people that you could go and fight the fire. But there is a tactical element to fire, there’s a people element, there’s knowledge around how hydrocarbons work or other parts of the plant. So, fire teams now have relaxed rules around what height or size you need to be to be in a fire team. And it means they’ve become more tactical and capable rather than just to turning up as sort of an alpha male presence to fight a fire. If we take that analogy into other areas offshore, we can solve problems in many different ways and diverse teams and diverse thinking allow that to be the case.
Today we meet with Marije Hoedemaker, General Manager, Competitiveness and Capital Efficiency at Shell, to discuss sustainability and how to apply it to energy projects.
Marije graduated in Thin Layer Physics and she has vast experience in the energy sector: she’s held project management roles in refineries, LNG projects, and construction projects in Europe, Qatar, Japan, and Canada.
Interviewer: Hello Marije, thank you for meeting with us today. Please introduce yourself.
Marije Hoedemaker: I’m a General Manager leading the Competitiveness and Capital Efficiency team at Shell. I joined Shell 16 years ago; back then, I noticed that there were a lot of projects that could do to reduce CO2 emissions and flaring and then I thought that if I am part of the industry, I can help change it!
I: How would you define sustainability?
MH: Sustainability is about addressing the needs of the present generations without compromising the needs of future generations.
I: How is sustainability applied to oil and gas or other energy projects?
MH: By understanding and addressing the impacts on nature. So, for example, limiting the use of water, producing biodegradable plastics, and developing projects that generate renewable energy, such as wind projects, integrated wind and hydrogen projects, biofuel projects, and renewable natural gas projects. But also by implementing Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) projects and by developing traditional projects that have intrinsically lower greenhouse gas emissions and are competitive.
I: What role do you see for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)?
MH: There isn’t a single solution to address the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and CCS is a way to reduce emissions from hard-to-abate sectors and industries. I think that it’s a very important in-between step to help accelerate the reduction of carbon emissions.
I: How to accelerate the energy transition?
MH: Accelerating the energy transition is an immense and collective effort. We are reducing energy use and emissions from our operations by electrifying equipment, and we are working with our customers to reduce the emissions from the energy products that we sell.
I: You mentioned flaring before, can you explain what it is?
MH: In short, when you produce oil, some gas builds up and you need to release it safely to avoid overpressure. Especially in the past, this gas could not – or was not – used and therefore it had to be burned to release it safely. Over the years, the industry has improved and has reduced flaring by converting the gas, by improving operations and maintenance procedures, by better ways of using and storing the gas, and by improved design of the flare system.
I: How could inclusion and diversity foster sustainability?
MH: Inclusion and diversity foster diversity of thoughts and inputs. We need creativity and different opinions. I think that by just bringing in people from different backgrounds, different genders, different cultural and national backgrounds, you get more inspiration and more ideas. This prevents tunnel vision and going in just one direction. It helps us to look at all creative solutions and helps to accelerate the energy transition.
I: What role for do you envision for women in delivering sustainable energy?
MH: It’s the same for everyone, regardless of culture, gender and age. It’s about building on each other’s strengths and collaborating. A willingness to work collectively to deliver on the strategy is key.
I: What is your experience in a leadership position in a male-dominated sector?
MH: I joined the world of scientists and engineering in secondary school. It happened in the past that I was the only female engineer or project manager or the only female in negotiations for discussions. That didn’t stop me because I wanted to support the energy transition and being the only female in a meeting or on a project didn’t stop me. And it has changed significantly. The industry has come a long way, it has become way more diverse and inclusive and it is continuing to change. So we need to support this change.
I: What barriers do you believe still exist in the sector?
MH: I think it’s just a picture in our minds and we need to change that picture into one where everyone can contribute to the energy transition. Everyone can work in the energy industry. We need to work with an open mind, encourage others to look beyond barriers, learn from each other, and look for opportunities to support the energy transition.
I: What improvements have you noticed since the start of your career?
MH: I see more female role models and I’m inspired by them. I see more female leaders in every layer of the organization. To me, all these women are examples: women who are thinking about what they want to do and where they want to work, they can see other women working in construction, in engineering, in oil and gas and they might think “Hey, this is something for me, and this is an organization that I want to be part of”! The same applies to men, and to everyone who wants to work in an inclusive organization. They can see that the sector is getting more and more inclusive.
I: Any advice for young women interested in joining the energy sector?
MH: Join! Join us and help to accelerate the transition to net-zero. Be the change. It’s an exciting journey and it’s very important to take an active part in it. I think this sector provides great opportunities to learn, inspire others, and be inspired.
Gender equality is not about women only. Prejudices and biases that stem from inequalities affect everyone and encourage artificial conceptions of roles to which many feel obligated to conform.
We discussed this with Fuzzy Bitar, Senior Vice President Health, Safety, Environment & Carbon at bp and IOGP Chair.
Interviewer: What does gender equality mean to you?
Fuzzy Bitar: Gender equality is a key component of a healthy and therefore successful workforce and society. It’s about removing the unconscious biases and implicit associations that form an unintended and often invisible barrier to equal opportunity. I’ve experienced first-hand that having gender balance and inclusive teams improves decision making and leads to better outcomes. Regardless of industry or location, gender equality is fundamentally a human right for all.
I: What impact could gender equality have on the ongoing energy transition?
FB: Delivering the energy transition will require nothing short of reimagining energy as we know it. Numerous studies have shown that gender equality increases innovation, the same goes for all forms of diversity. The energy workforce is among the worst in the representation of women, with women accounting for only 22% of the oil and gas workforce and 32% of the renewable energy workforce. We want, and need, more women in engineering, technical and digital roles and in leadership positions, driving forward the transition, thinking long term versus short term, and putting value ahead of expediency. This balanced presence strengthens diversity of thought, bringing a wider range of skills and expertise, finding solutions to the challenges we need to resolve as a business and society. There are brilliant people all over the world and from all walks of life. When we bring great people together, they can create changes we don’t foresee. Ultimately, diversity spurs innovation and inclusivity fuels positive change.
I: Is gender equality relevant to women only?
FB: Not at all. As the name suggests, this is an issue for all, however they identify themselves. Whilst right now we are focused on encouraging more women into our industry, we want a balanced workforce that is treated equally and with respect. We want to rid the industry of antiquated gender stereotypes and let the skills and ambitions of each individual speak for themselves.
I: How can men be an active part of the change?
FB: Men must be part of the change. Why? Because they make up 88% of the workforce and an even higher percentage of the leadership positions. Each of us can start by understanding and being aware of the biases we inherently have. But this isn’t enough. We have to take action to fight inequality and prejudices to contribute to a more diverse and inclusive environment, and we do this by becoming allies. We need men to promote and engage in active efforts to improve gender equality and have an appreciation of the challenges faced by women. Leadership plays a key role, setting the example and driving the right culture. We can do this in a number of ways, for example: standardizing interviews and skill- based assessment to remove unfair bias; developing fair childcare policies; and ensuring that at all levels, from graduates to senior leaders, we recruit a good balance of genders.
I: Any advice for young women and men interested in joining the energy sector?
FB: The energy sector is an amazing place to work, delivering energy to meet the needs of people all around the world. There has never been such an exciting nor challenging time to join. You will have the opportunity to work globally, experience different cultures and work on the most advanced technologies. It will require addressing complex challenges and helping to solve big issues, all with the goal of helping to advance human progress. So, please don’t think of this as a male industry, but a STEM industry that is available to anyone who has a talent and skill. Your passion, enthusiasm and ambition are needed to drive the energy transition. Remember, it’s everyone responsibility to create a workplace where all people feel valued and equal, where they can come to work and be their best and do their best work.
Meet Maria Spyraki, Member of the European Parliament since June 2014, now serving her second mandate as a member of ITRE and ENVI committees and as co-chair of the Intergroup on Sustainable Development, Biodiversity and Climate Change.
We discuss actions to tackle methane emissions and the related upcoming EU legislation.
Interviewer: Is the oil and gas sector the major contributor for methane emissions in the EU?
Maria Spyraki: There are many sources of methane emissions around the globe, both natural and manmade. In the EU, the energy sector is the third largest contributor of methane emissions (19%) after agriculture (53%) and waste (26%) (European Commission, EU Strategy to reduce methane emissions). Natural gas accounts for around 0.6% of total EU GHG emissions.
I: How is the upstream oil and gas industry tackling methane emissions?
MS: The upstream oil and gas industry is contributing to the reduction of methane emissions along the value chain and across all sectors of the economy. This industry has already undertaken a number of steps to minimize GHG emissions, through various initiatives including methane quantification studies, the Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) standard, the Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) programs, and upstream Best Available Techniques.
I: What key aspects need to be considered when developing an effective Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) regulation?
MS: There is a need for flexibility in technologies and methodologies in the context of LDAR, but we need to ensure that we will have an effective LDAR at the end of the day. The companies in the oil and gas sector typically have LDAR programs in place and take leak detection and repair actions on a regular basis for safety reasons as well as part of their methane emissions mitigation efforts. This includes the comprehensive scanning of individual equipment and components to locate leaks and repair them.
I: What should the upcoming EU legislation on methane emissions provide?
MS: The upcoming legislation at the EU level, on methane emissions reduction in the energy sector, should provide an independent and significantly rigorous Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification system (MRV) which will be central to address methane emissions. It is necessary to provide credible data, identify issues and efficient measures, and assess the progress achieved. A mandatory MRV system would also improve Member States’ reporting to the United Nations’ framework convention on climate change. A strong Leak Detection and Repair programme is also a critical element on the EU strategies to reduce methane emissions and achieve the EU climate and environmental goals.
I: How can methane emissions data credibility be improved?
MS: Reconciliation between company reported emissions and independent measurement of methane emissions is quite critical for improved data credibility. The International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO) could play a role in reconciling and verifying company reported data using top down/site-level measurements and scientific studies, as well as to develop and execute a consistent standardised approach to detection, measurement, reporting and verification of methane emissions applicable to the gas value chain including production, distribution and use. Increased transparency about major international methane emission sources may effectively support significant methane emission mitigation actions globally.
I: Any message for young women interested in the energy sector?
MS: The energy sector remains one of the least gender diverse sectors, and closing this gender gap would be vital as women are key drivers of innovative and inclusive solutions. A clean energy transition will require innovative solutions and business models to be adapted, and greater participation from a diverse talent pool. Women are listed less than 11% of patent applications related to the energy sector. Female inventors are rising across different technological sectors, with the highest success reported in the health and chemistry sector. In the patent classes closely associated with the energy sector, women are listed in less than 11% of the applications, and over 15% for climate change mitigation technologies, which is comparable to all technologies, including information and communication technologies. It’s low. Personally, I would like to invite young women to express their interest and get involved in energy affairs, as this sector is of paramount importance. It’s key for the future of our planet. We can do it for the people. We can do it for our families. We can do it for the environment. And we can do it our way.
We e-meet with Iman Hill, recently appointed Executive Director of the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (IOGP).
Iman describes how her career in engineering started and shares insightful advice for young women.
Interviewer: You spent most of your career as a petroleum engineer. How did you get started in the industry?
Iman Hill: I studied biochemistry at the University of Aberdeen and I became interested in the high-technology content of the industry. So when I graduated, I applied to most of the big companies. At that time, many of the big companies were taking good numerate graduates and turning them into petroleum engineers through a combination of on-the-job training, through the different disciplines of petroleum engineering, and also classroom-based training over a five-year period. So, I became a petroleum engineer, and very much a practical one, because I learnt a lot of what I’ve learnt by doing it on the job.
I: What was your experience as a woman in a male-dominated industry?
IH: When I joined in the middle of the 80s and going offshore, it was a big challenge, because there weren’t many of us – there were less of us than there are today – and we had no role models. We had to prove ourselves many times over to be taken seriously and to be respected, and we definitely had to be very good and consistent in what we did. So was it easy? No, it wasn’t easy. Was it pleasant? Not all of the time. We had to stand up for ourselves and we had to be good at what we did.
I: Do you think that women starting in the industry today still face similar challenges?
IH: I would say that our world is more enlightened, that the generations of today expect and demand equality much more and speak up about it more, and that’s a very good thing. So while I don’t think all of the challenges have gone away, many of them are easier.
I: Where did your interest in engineering come from?
IH: As I started my first job and I started to learn more and more about engineering – the complexity of the problems you get to work on, solving them through sitting down and applying principles of physics and engineering – my love for the subject grew and grew.
I: What would you say to young women interested in studying engineering?
IH: If you are interested in engineering or the STEM subjects, go for it. There’s nothing to stop you, and with an engineering qualification you have so many avenues in the world open to you. If you’ve got the drive, if you have the energy, if you really focus on delivering what you say you’re going to deliver, you’ll be a success and I cannot think of anything more interesting.
I: Any advice for them?
Don’t try to be someone you’re not. One of the magical things about our industry is that we are always striving for inclusivity and for valuing differences. It’d be a mistake to try to act like a man because we’re not men – our femininity and the different ways women approach things like relationships and decision making are part of our strength.
I: Did you look up to any woman in particular?
IH: I am going to be boring but truthful and tell you that I looked up to my mum. My mum was a doctor and she worked in Saudi Arabia, she drove in the 70s because she had to get to her patients and she taught us (four girls and two boys) to not let anybody tell us that you can’t do something, it’s up to you. She really gave us the foundation and the drive and the example of just following your dream, being the best that you can be, and not allowing others to squash your dreams and your hopes.
I: Why is it important to hear about women succeeding in areas where they are usually less represented?
IH: When looking upwards in the organization that I was in, when I saw a woman in a senior position, that gave me the impetus and confidence that with hard work, consistent delivery, and being a good employee, you can get to the highest places possible in the organization, and I truly, truly believe that. I can’t say it enough that in the end it is actually down to us, it’s down to me, you, to the individual, to make sure that they don’t let themselves down and then that they demand from the organization that they’re in or thinking of going into that there is a true pathway for them to grow, to develop, and to reach as high as they would like to.
I: What are your hopes for the Women in Energy series?
IH: I am so excited about it because this is a real opportunity for dialogue, for sharing experiences, for learning from each other. You’ll hear some very, very good stories. You’ll also hear about the challenges that we have but I think that in every work in life there are challenges. I’ll come back to what I said previously, which is: it’s down to us to make it work for us, four our female colleagues as much as for each of us individually. And I think that there’s value in these stories for our male colleagues as well, because I hope that men are listening.
I: Why should young women and men be interested in the Women in Energy series?
IH: They should be interested to learn about the things that we experience. Imagine having the opportunity to travel the world for work, to experience all of the diverse cultures and settings that you can possibly imagine, to work with some of the brightest brains in the world, with the biggest engineering challenges and massive technology implementation opportunities – where else can you get that? So I suggest that they may be interested in these real perspectives. And I think if I just narrow this down to women for now, it also will shine a light on some of the challenges the industry and women in the industry face – and I hope that hearing and learning from these stories can help prepare you for those challenges if you choose to enter this industry.
Meet Guloren Turan, General Manager of Advocacy and Communication at the Global CCS Institute, an international think thank whose mission is to accelerate the deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage technology.
Guloren tells us about her experience in the energy sector, and explains how diverse talent pools add value to the development of innovative technologies on our pathway towards climate neutrality.
Interview: What is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)?
GT: Carbon Capture and Storage, or CCS, is a set of technologies that capture carbon dioxide, either from large stationary emission sources, such as power plants and industrial facilities, or from the atmosphere, and safely store them underground. CCS helps with mitigation of emissions from the existing emission sources as well as removing historic CO2 from the atmosphere. It’s this versatility – it is helpful with both mitigation and removals – that makes CCS such an important part of our climate tool kit.
I: What role do you see CCS playing in the energy transition?
GT: We need CCS to meet our climate targets and get to climate neutrality by 2050. Indeed, this is one of the conclusions of the ground-breaking IPCC 1.5 report which was released a few years ago. The report showed conclusively that it will be extremely challenging, if not impossible, to get to net zero without Carbon Capture and Storage.
I: How are women contributing to this technology?
GT: We have recently launched a “Women in CCUS” network, which you can find on LinkedIn. The skills and knowledge among our female colleagues in this network is immensely diverse and very impressive: we have engineers, geologists, lawyers, it’s the whole spectrum. Women are contributing to CCUS technology across all the elements of the value chain.
I: Why is a diverse talent pool relevant when dealing with innovation?
GT: I think diversity – and when I say diversity I mean in all its forms, not just gender diversity but background, age, and ethnicity – is crucial to encouraging different perspectives which lie at the heart of innovation. Employees with diverse backgrounds bring forward their own perspectives and experiences which lead to innovation, and it helps to create organizations that are more resilient and more effective.
I: What is exciting and fulfilling about working on carbon management technologies such as CCS?
GT: The feeling that we are doing our part in getting to climate neutrality, together with being part of an exciting growing sector, makes it very fulfilling to work in CCS.
I: Do you have any advice for young women interested in working in the energy sector?
GT: I would say just be yourself. I realize that my younger colleagues may be hearing this advice more often now, but in my earlier days, I was sent to training courses on how to increase presence. I clearly remember one occasion where in making a presentation or in a meeting, it was suggested to me that I should try to appear larger and occupy more physical space. I think presence comes from within, not from how you look or how much space you occupy.
I: Did you have any role model at the start of your career?
GT: I did not have a role model, but throughout my career I have had the privilege of working with and alongside tremendous women and leaders who have been truly inspirational. I think that it is important to have role models to aspire too, but I also encourage young women to find their inner voice and their own path.
I: What advice or insight do you wish you had received at the beginning of your career?
When I look back, I think it is important to realize that careers are not necessarily always linear. Sometimes one may need to take a step sideways, or what appears to be sideways, or a step down, and then you maybe take two steps forward. I really encourage my younger colleagues to listen to their hearts as much as they listen to their minds.
Have you ever heard of ‘gender mainstreaming’? What role do women play in the energy transition?
We discussed those topics and much more with Dr Maria Kottari, Research Associate in the Climate Cluster at the School of Transnational Governance, European University Institute.
Interviewer: Hello Maria, thanks for meeting with us today. Please introduce yourself.
Maria Kottari: Hello, my name is Maria Kottari. I was born and raised in Greece, and I have a background in international relations and political studies. I am involved in the energy sector from a policy and decision-making point of view; I completed a PhD that focused on energy politics, and on the European Union’s external relations and energy relations. I worked for the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in the field of research and innovation of low-carbon energy technologies; currently, I am a Research Associate at the School of Transnational Governance at the European University Institute and the Climate Cluster. I have also founded a policy consultancy called The Energy Matrix, where I find and design projects that take into account different social aspects – including gender equality and women empowerment – of the energy transition and climate change governance.
I: What is gender mainstreaming?
MK: Gender mainstreaming means considering men’s and women’s different backgrounds and conditions in the decision-making process to design inclusive policies. Gender mainstreaming, at its core, is aimed at solving gender inequalities, so this is a powerful tool to move towards gender equality. Incorporating gender perspectives in different aspects of the decision-making process will make decision-making more effective and successful in order to pursue wider social economic goals.
I: How can gender mainstreaming be applied to climate action?
MK: Gender equality and gender issues are strictly connected and linked to climate change. Climate change affects women and men in a different way and unfortunately, women are more severely affected by the negative impacts of climate change. According to UN data, this is due to the fact that women represent the majority of the world’s poor population and are proportionally more dependent on threatened natural resources. Additionally, compared to the male population, women’s access to arable lands, agricultural activities, financial and technological tools, decision-making processes, training and upskilling is limited and, as such, women are less equipped to adapt to climate change.
Gender mainstreaming plays a crucial role in supporting mitigation and adaptation policies worldwide, particularly in the Global South, where the impacts of climate change are more visible and severe. We need to see the paradox here: although women are mostly affected by climate change, they’re not able to take part in the decision-making process on the actions that should be taken in order to alleviate the negative impacts of climate change. We really need to create an inclusive environment and enable women to acquire the skills to be promoters and enablers of efficient climate actions. Women need to be empowered to be able not only to make decisions, but also to develop sustainable, climate-resilient actions.
I: What role do you envision for women in the energy transition?
MK: The same as men, as long as women have equal opportunities in the decision-making process, equal opportunities to access the job positions they wish, and also be remunerated equally for the work that they’re providing. The energy transition process should start with inclusion, and it requires all hands on deck. Many studies reveal that women in the energy sector bring new perspectives to the workplace and improve collaboration. The role of women as energy consumers is also crucial to achieve the energy transition: women can bring solutions to long-standing energy consumption and production issues, including inequal access to energy services and energy poverty.
I: What does women’s empowerment mean to you?
MK: Empowerment means having agency over your own life, and have equal opportunities to participate in society and the economic system. Women’s empowerment is not an easy process; institutions, public or private, need to create the right environment for women to become empowered. I also consider women’s empowerment as a personal journey, a commitment to dignity, a process of improvement at a personal level, and a legacy for future generations.
I: How can women empower each other?
MK: I believe that the most important thing is to stand together and not to reproduce negative biases that women may have been exposed to during their careers. It is important to reach out to each other, to network, to be open, to hear about the different stories and the different paths.
Networking and peer-to-peer capacity building is really important in empowering each other. In my personal journey, I have empowered myself when I reached out to other women and I listened to their stories. When I met women coming from a different background from myself, I found out that I had no idea of the kind of barriers that they faced until I openly discussed these topics with them. It is also important to share the tools that each one of us uses to develop in our careers. Those tools may be either specific studies or specific behavioural changes.
I: What kind of behavioural changes?
MK: For example, not thinking that our skills and talents are not relevant, even if you are stepping out of your area of expertise. I have been empowered and I broadened my perspective and knowledge of the sector when I started engaging with women from different and diverse background and roles. It is important to be ready, receptive and open to hear about different perspectives.
I: What can be improved in the energy sector, and how?
MK: Gender mainstreaming is important for seeing improvements in the energy sector as a whole, and I think it is the role of public and private institutions to create diverse and inclusive policies, and to make sure women get involved more actively in the energy transition process. This could be met for example by offering more job opportunities to women in the energy sector.
I: What improvements have you noticed since the start of your career?
MK: Undeniably, gender equality and gender issues have become part of the public debate. I have seen the debate shifted towards the need for gender mainstreaming in both the energy transition and climate action. I have also noticed that energy and climate sectors are more inclusive in terms of the professional background of their employees. I am glad to see women advocating more for themselves and acknowledging more the positive effect of networking.
I: Did you have any women role models at the start of your career?
MK: Not really, due to the simple fact that this sector is male dominated. Nonetheless, I have never thought, not even once, that there was no place for me in this sector.
I: Why is it important to reach greater gender equality in the sector?
MK: Women are important change agents in the energy transition. They increasingly play different roles, as energy professionals, as energy decision makers, as energy consumers. An inclusive and successful energy transition comes through gender equality and more engagement of women in the sector.
I: Do you have any advice for women interested in joining the energy sector?
MK: The energy sector is a fascinating, perpetually changing field. It may seem a strictly engineering or technically oriented field, but it is not. Energy stands at the epicentre of socioeconomic processes; energy fuels the economic system and society. A variety of disciplines is relevant to the energy sector. I would urge young women to stay determined for the positive change that they can bring to the energy and climate action sectors, to network with other women, and be open-minded.
Anouk Creusen is Executive Director at 75InQ.
This interview will be published shortly.
This interview will be published shortly.