Briefing: Gender & Power Infrastructure
Globally, in infrastructure sectors – such as energy, water, and transport – women remain vastly underrepresented.1 Power infrastructure in particular has been historically dominated by men across the value chain, from construction and operation of plants, to technical roles in electricity generation, transmission, and distribution. A recent USAID study of 14 power distribution companies in Eastern Europe, South Asia, the Middle East and Africa found that women’s employment in the utilities averaged 13%, with a range of less than 1% in Pakistan to 30% in Ukraine. While women were found working in all departments, they were concentrated in areas such as human resources and finance, with employment in technical field operations, high-voltage line operations, and field maintenance all skewing heavily male.
Gender disparities in power infrastructure may be explained in part by fewer women applying to work in the sector, reflecting labor force stereotypes and barriers to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education that girls face earlier in the talent pipeline. Women who have joined the sector may go on to experience barriers to their advancement, such as organizational biases in hiring for certain functions, few workplace accommodations for women’s needs as employees, a lack of professional development opportunities, and ineligibility for promotions or senior leadership roles.
Yet the diversity dividend has proven to be a valuable proposition across sectors, and for power companies in particular. An annual review of the world’s 200 highest revenue power and utility companies found that the top 20 most gender diverse companies (in terms of women on boards and senior management) outperformed the bottom 20 by a 1.07% difference in return on equity (ROE), representing millions of dollars of profit loss as utilities are asset-heavy companies. Like all industries, power stands to gain greatly from incorporating a gender lens at the top level.
In addition to women on boards and in senior leadership, a gender diverse employee base is key for power companies to remain efficient and responsive in challenging environments with rising cost pressures. In the years to come, women will be needed to fill the increasing talent demand in the power sector, and their participation in technical and professional roles can contribute greatly to company effectiveness. Overall, increasing gender diversity in the male-dominated power sector leads to positive impacts across the value chain, including:
1 World Bank (2018). Promoting Women’s STEM Employment in Infrastructure: A compendium of good practices. Washington, D.C. (Source forthcoming)