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Empowering Young Women In Saint Lucia’s Energy Sector

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The energy sector remains one of the least gender-diverse sectors, and the Caribbean is no exception.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, globally, women only account for 22% of oil and gas workforce and about 32% in the renewable energy sector. The numbers for management levels are even lower.

In Saint Lucia, for example, women are well represented in the public sector, but representation is much lower in technical positions.

For instance, technician and associate-level jobs are mostly taken by men: 3 in 5 jobs are performed by men and only 2 in 5 by women.

Within the department which inspects electrical installations for commercial and domestic sites – under the Ministry of Infrastructure, Ports, Transport, Physical Development and Urban Renewal – there are 20 employees, of which 17, or 85 percent, are male and only three females. Of the three, one holds the position of Electrical Inspector, and the others occupy entry-level assistant positions.

Women in the Caribbean’s energy sector are still today facing gender stereotypes. Responding to gender biases, there remains the prevailing perception of women’s inferiority in performing more technical work and that engineering is a profession mainly for men.

Girls tend to be steered away from science, technology engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields from as early as primary school years.

However, the challenges of the energy sector are more pressing today as the sector experiences a transformation. As countries in the Caribbean ambitiously transition to clean and renewable energy, they will require innovative solutions and new business models. Greater participation from a diverse talent pool for both jobs and decision-making will be critical for success.

One way to start changing gender stereotypes is through the education system. Removing bias from teaching approaches and textbooks and encouraging girls to pursue their interest in STEM and other technical fields is essential.

At the policy level, it would also be important to integrate policies that aim to close gender gaps by empowering women and creating opportunities for them within energy-related learning and professional institutions.

Integrating gender transformative actions into human resource policies can have multiple benefits, such as increased productivity, decreased staff turnover, an improved work environment, and increased opportunities to attract, retain and promote high-quality employees.

The World Bank is giving special attention to this issue through its analytical work and projects in the Caribbean. The Renewable Energy Sector Development Project (RESDP) – launched last year in Saint Lucia – is one example.

The project is focused on helping the country facilitate the transition to clean energy by exploring geothermal energy potential in Saint Lucia. Understanding that it will be important to have a gender-diverse talent pool in the energy sector going forward, the project will also focus on narrowing the gender gap in female employment for technical jobs; seeking to move from 15 to 30 percent.

To do so, RESDP offers an annual scholarship program for women to pursue electrical or mechanical engineering degrees and enhances an existing apprenticeship program by offering extended 3 to 9-month apprenticeships for women enrolled in the electrical and mechanical engineering programs.

“The RESDP aims to narrow the education and employment gender gap in Saint Lucia’s energy sector through specific scholarship and apprentice programs in partnership with the government and Sir Arthur Lewis Community College”, says Neha Mukhi, Senior Energy Specialist at the World Bank.

These programs will be combined with outreach initiatives in schools to inform soon-to-be graduates about educational and permanent employment opportunities in the engineering and energy sectors, and annual job fairs to support graduates in finding gainful employment within the energy sector.

The Government of Saint Lucia is supportive of not just developing the country’s geothermal resource but, its people as well.

“We very much welcome this initiative”, says Terrence Gilliard, Chief Energy and Public Utilities Officer, Ministry of Infrastructure, Ports, Transport, Physical Development and Urban Renewal.

“As the world is facing energy crises, the need to transition to clean energy is even more urgent. Here in Saint Lucia, we will need innovative solutions to do this, and I believe those will come when our energy sector is diverse and representative”.

SOURCE: World Bank

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