By Nompumelelo Sibalukhulu

According to Statistics South Africa 2020 mid-year population estimates, South Africa has an estimated population of 59,62 million people. It is estimated that 51,1% of that (approximately 30,5 million) are female.

To emphasise the significance of this number, if all women voted for the same party, that party would have a majority in government. Based purely on numbers and on the principle of equity and representation, women should be commanding a huge presence in all sectors, as active participants and in leadership positions. Despite this numeric reality, women remain underrepresented in the energy sector.

At the Central Energy Fund (CEF) dialogue held in partnership with Financial Mail Connect on 5 September, leading women in the country’s energy sector unpacked the challenges and prospects of increasing women’s participation and representation in the energy sector.


Power of Representation

Referring to the population statistics, Ms. Ayanda Noah, Chairperson of the Central Energy Fund Group asked why is it that women are underrepresented in the boardroom and in the work environment, despite women playing a critical role in the sustainable development of families and communities. Her question was mostly centered around the need for organisations in the energy sector to support and provide insight to move the needle on gender equality in their respective organizations.

As she pointed out, in a country struggling with energy issues such as South Africa integrating women into all levels of the energy value chain will lead to more effective and efficient energy initiatives and unleash greater return on investments.

Crystalising the picture, Ms. Refilwe Buthelezi (Pr Eng), President of the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), noted that women are indeed grossly underrepresented in the energy space.

She noted that ECSA has approximately 50000 registered professionals including engineers, technologists and technicians and women make up only 14% of this.

While the situation seems bleak, she is optimistic that the pipeline is slowly trying to change the narrative by supporting transformation. A case in point, is the positive development by companies becoming  more intentional in implementing policies that require women to run businesses and cater for more female professionals in the sector. “We lift women as we rise, we are not cutting the ladder as we climb”.

As highlighted by the speakers, greater focus needs to be on the basic education level, to promote  STEM subjects. Girl children need to be encouraged and directed to study subjects that will enable them to participate and contribute professionally to the energy sector. 

To this end, Dr. Phindile Masangane, Vice President of Regulation and Policy at Sasol emphasized the important role of mentorship and coaching. Women need to see other women leading and women leaders need to take upcoming professionals under their wing.

“Like begets like. So for me the issue of having women in top leadership positions,  if anything, it ensures that the organisation itself is transformed, because inherently, those people tend to coach  other women thereby leading to more progress in growing the number of women leaders in the sector.  

She shared that her journey to the top was facilitated by the leadership of women at CEF and reiterated that women will rise when they are coached, mentored, and supported professionally by other women leaders.

Self-doubt is another obstacle preventing women  to become leaders in the sector.

“A woman given an opportunity to lead will say ten reasons why she’s not suitable, and a man will say, ‘okay, I am not ready, but I’ll go’”, noted Dr Masangane. She added that it is time for women to regain their confidence and realise that most of the time they are better leaders than men.


Gender Mainstreaming

In respect to policies, it is the case of South Africa having good policies but underperforming when it comes to implementation. The country’s energy policy recognises the shift in women’s roles in the energy value chain, however, there continue to be barriers to their success.

Expounding on this, Ms. Nosizwe Macamo, Chairman of Raise Africa Investments and Advisory Board Member of Genesis Energy Group and African Energy Chamber, noted that while women have historically been consumers of energy and last mile users of energy, women are now prosumers – both producers and consumers. There is potential for women to play a greater role in whole energy value chain.

“Yes, we’ve got good policies, where does it break apart? Why doesn’t it happen? And again, the reason it doesn’t happen… is because all the other enablers are not in tandem with the policy”.

Ms. Macamo pointed out that the lack of access to funding, which is an enabler to participation, is a major barrier to women’s participation in the sector. To have more women participating in the entire value chain from an energy perspective, financial institutions need to come to the party. The challenge is that women can’t access funding because the financial institutions have a very low risk appetite and are unresponsive to the realities on the ground.

Having energy policies that are gender sensitive, as does South Africa, is only the beginning. More effort needs to go into ensuring that the enablers and all actors necessary for involved in supporting greater participation of women in the sector catch up with policy.

Image source: Arena Events