Closing the Gender Gap in the Climate Change Space

For International Women’s Day, we highlight some of RMI’s efforts to address gender issues in our work.

March 7, 2023

by Laurie Stone

March 8 is International Women's Day, and despite being in the 21st century, we still have a ways to go to close the gender gap that exists in technical fields. We have come a long way for sure, but currently, women make up only 32 percent of the renewable energy workforce. The theme for this year's International Women's Day is innovation and technology for gender equality. Therefore, we are highlighting some of RMI's work that is helping to close the gender gap in the climate change space.

Providing Training to Women Energy Leaders

RMI's Energy Transition Academy (ETA) provides capacity development and peer networking opportunities for senior and mid-level energy professionals in utilities, renewable and distributed energy companies, regulatory bodies, and more. ETA's fellowship program provides energy leaders with the skills and tools to permit, build, and regulate renewable energy systems, with an ancillary focus on related sectors such as transportation and buildings. The ETA elevates, amplifies, and supports the leadership of women in the energy sector. It also incorporates a gender focus across all its programs and activities.

The current fellowship includes a Caribbean cohort, representing 12 countries, and a Nigerian cohort, with women making up 27 percent of the total fellows. Female fellows include utility project managers from Nigeria and Guyana, a system development engineer from Saint Lucia, a utility technician engineer from Jamaica, a utility manager from Turks and Caicos, and more.

“My drive to succeed in this field is a result of the privilege to have seen and worked with highly intelligent and successful women in the energy field,” says Oluwaseun Mercy Adedeji, project manager for Eko Electricity Distribution Company in Nigeria. “Prior to that, I was always jittery upon hearing anything technical related. It is therefore important to encourage more women to participate in the energy field because it will encourage the next generation to consider energy as a profession.”

Fatima Haliru, power purchase lead for Ikeja Electric in Nigeria, agrees. “With a more diverse workforce and more women in higher-level positions, the energy industry can ensure innovation and creativity,” she says. “Additionally, having more women in prominent roles will increase the ability for female voices to be heard in the industry, and for their views and experiences to be represented.”

With a more diverse workforce and more women in higher-level positions, the energy industry can ensure innovation and creativity.

Mentorship and Capacity Development for Women Working in Energy

In 2022, RMI took over the Women in Renewable Energy (WIRE) Network, founded by Chelsea Clinton and the Clinton Climate Initiative, as part of the ETA. WIRE advocates for increased gender equality across the energy sector in government agencies, utilities, regulators, and private sector entities to eventually increase women's representation in C-suites and boards, through ensuring a pipeline of motivated and experienced women. The WIRE Network was the first and is the only of its kind in the Caribbean, setting the standard for how to empower women in the energy sector, and it is expanding to other countries across the Global South. WIRE currently has 600 members from over 60 countries.

Some of the Women in the WIRE Network

Every year, 12 women are selected to participate in WIRE's flagship mentorship and networking program. The WIRE mentorship program runs for two years with a mentor-mentee structured cohort, with mentees becoming mentors for the second year to make a 20-person cohort. Women in senior leadership positions are paired with mid-early career women for guidance in the clean energy sector and advisement on how to make the most of their professional opportunities. Over eighty women have participated in the program so far, and alumni continue to have an impact beyond the network on the ground in their localities.

With WIRE, you don't just get a network, you get a lifetime subscription of a sisterhood who sees you, gets you, and stands by you.

“With WIRE, you don't just get a network, you get a lifetime subscription of a sisterhood who sees you, gets you, and stands by you,” says Shalenie Madho, a WIRE alumna from Trinidad and Tobago and energy engineering consultant based in Barbados.

Suzanne Shaw, a WIRE alumna from Jamaica and director and sustainable finance lead at The Leap Co, says, “The mentorship program prepared me for increasingly visible leadership roles with confidence to positively advance the energy sector.”

Empowering Women in the Energizing Agriculture Program

RMI and the Rural Electrification Agency with support from the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet are supporting the productive use of distributed energy resources in agricultural value chains through the Energizing Agriculture Program (EAP). EAP helps communities use energy to solve agricultural problems and identifies and scales commercially viable agriculture-energy business models, specifically with solar microgrids.

A core component of the EAP is to ensure that agriculture-energy business models piloted through the project enable women to capture the social, economic, and environmental benefits of the value generated. Last year, RMI hosted a bootcamp to advance project design and establish collaboration across the energy and agricultural sectors. At this bootcamp, the team held a gender equity and social inclusion (GESI) session to build fluency and a shared understanding of the importance of gender considerations in project design. The cohort of participants aligned on a standard approach to incorporating GESI action plans through project implementation and proposed ideas to mainstream GESI in business model design.

We are currently working with Solar Sister — an organization that supports women's clean energy businesses in off-grid communities in Africa — to develop a comprehensive strategy that supports the inclusion of women and other marginalized communities in EAP projects. Women make up a significant portion of the workforce in Nigerian rural communities and yet most of them have been marginalized through unpaid or underpaid labor. They have been historically excluded from many agricultural development efforts, hampering overall program development outcomes. By considering gender issues upfront as a key part of the criteria used to develop and design projects, we hope to ensure that 40 to 50 percent of project beneficiaries are women.

Local translator helping a woman complete a GESI survey in Maijaki, Niger, as part of the EAP

To date, Solar Sister has completed gender equity and social inclusion surveys across 12 communities in which the EAP is working. The objective is to gather insights from the communities through various community stakeholder engagements, mobilization, and surveys in order to develop gender action plans in collaboration with RMI and the minigrid developers at each of the EAP pilot sites.

According to Hanatu Onogu, the impact and innovation hub manager for Solar Sister Nigeria, “Promotion of the productive use of energy in rural agricultural communities can only be sustainable when a GESI lens is integrated into the activity.” And Chioma Ome, Solar Sister Nigeria's country director adds, “Attaining climate justice and gender equity demands an approach that is sustainable, resilient, and organic, which we see in the ongoing RMI-EAP program.”

Women's EAP focus group in Lafiya Kpada community, Nigeria, discussing opportunities to provide benefits to women through the solar microgrid pilot project to power machinery.

"Promotion of the productive use of energy in rural agricultural communities can only be sustainable when a GESI lens is integrated into the activity.”

— Hanatu Onogu, impact and innovation hub manager for Solar Sister Nigeria

Focusing on Women in Climate Finance

Within the climate finance space, key stakeholders including donors, multilateral funds, and project developers seek to address the disproportionate burden climate change places on women. In fact, many multilateral funds require applicants to make gender considerations in their submissions.

As the network coordinator of the Climate Finance Access Network (CFAN), RMI led the development of CFAN's training program, which recognizes the importance of gender in project development. CFAN provides training in developing countries to develop an in-country community of financial and project development expertise. This training always includes content on gender inclusion to ensure that climate finance projects developed by our advisors enhance gender equity.

CFAN's training program dictates that gender considerations are made from the very beginning of the project development cycle and includes practical guidance for doing so. This includes content on gender mainstreaming, gender-inclusive stakeholder consultations and developing robust gender assessments, action plans, and monitoring and evaluation frameworks. And CFAN is currently working with E Co, a CFAN Member Initiative and training partner, to develop an entirely gender-focused sub-module.

Alex Milano, a senior associate on the CFAN team says, “As a woman-led, majority-women team, gender inclusion in climate finance project development is a priority for us.”

Accelerating Women-Run Climate Startups

Third Derivative (D3) is an RMI program that supports climate tech entrepreneurs who are bringing new ideas and innovation to market. We connect promising climate tech startups with investors, corporations, and mentors. In the past three years, 43 of the 127 startups we have supported have been founded by women.

Some of these women-founded and run companies focus on extracting lithium from brine with minimal impact to the environment, creating a credits and offset platform for plastic recovery and recycling, reducing methane emissions from ruminant animals with a natural feed supplement, wholesale electricity price forecasting in deregulated markets, an air-injection drag reduction system for heavy-duty trucks, producing low-carbon building products using bio-composite materials, and much more.

“The absence of women in the mining industry meant that I had to demonstrate the merits of our technology as an outlier,” says Amada Hall, founder and CEO of Summit Nanotech, a company that helps solve the lithium supply crisis. “I am excited for the inclusion of more women working to address climate change so that solutions speak louder than gender. D3 helped push strategic partnerships for us and introduced us to other female investors for their perspectives on fundraising. This early-stage support allowed us to scale to over 70 employees with operations in Canada and South America.”

Speaking on the importance of having more women in tech companies, Isabelle Botticelli, cofounder and COO of Mootral, an agritech company that is also part of D3, explains, “Diversity in gender, education, culture, and background better represent the society we want to evolve. Women tend to empathize and connect all the stakeholders to create long lasting value for the entire value chain.”

Powering and Empowering Women with Minigrids

We are also working on two projects in sub-Saharan Africa that will have huge implications for women in the communities where they will be active, given the scope, scale, and impact of reliable electrification on bolstering economic development and opportunities.

The Africa Minigrids Program (AMP), led by the United Nations Development Programme in partnership with RMI and the African Development Bank, and supported by the Global Environment Facility, is a country-led technical assistance program to be rolled out in 21 countries. AMP is incorporating gender-responsive measures to address gender gaps and promote equality and women's empowerment in the minigrid value chain in its project design.

Another project RMI is spearheading is the recently rebooted Sharing the Power initiative across seven communities in Nigeria in partnership with local developers Nayo Tropical Technology Ltd. and Prado Power Ltd. This project, supported by the Dutch Postcode Lottery, is including GESI in the community-centric minigrids model through community ownership and governance of distributed energy resources, which allows often-marginalized voices to have a say in their energy sources and in the equitable distribution of benefits.

Tackling Climate Change Requires Diverse Perspectives

As the United Nations writes in their International Women's Day announcement, “Bringing women and other marginalized groups into technology results in more creative solutions and has greater potential for innovations that meet women's needs and promote gender equality.” RMI realizes that incorporating women into clean energy projects is a must if we are to accelerate an equitable energy transition.

Coming next, find out the results of our survey to women working in the clean energy space about their challenges and successes.