Women under-represented in the renewable power sector

What does this tell us? Prasanna Singh has some answers.


Among the brightest spots for Government in the past five years has been the performance of India in the renewables sector. Renewables’ targets were increased five-fold and more in 2014, and despite the usual hiccups, overall achievement has been impressive, to say the least. And the founding of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) by India, is definitely the cherry on the cake. Of course, in doing so, India has taken full advantage of global trends, driven by a steep drive in the cost of renewable energy, especially solar energy.

What has not been so bright has been the participation of women in the new boom. Today, in a sector that employs well over 450,000 people, the most obvious miss is the inadequate representation of women. This is particularly disappointing because when it comes to the broader sustainability sector—dominated by non-profits and other firms— women have usually had a decent representation, though exact numbers are hard to come by. Why they missed the renewable-power boom is a point to ponder.

Not just because of the most obvious reasons, but also because if the industry makes the effort, they will realise that a higher proportion of women in the sector is means for the sector to raise itself from commodity status. And make no mistake, the whole renewables sector is as commodified as it can be. Thanks to a heavy policy overhang, prices are controlled most of the time. The biggest customer is the government, through state power-distribution firms, and almost all projects start with the lowest bid in a tender. These have typically been classic pre-conditions for male-dominated sectors, such as metals, minerals, fertilisers and the lot. This has condemned these sectors to being treated as such, missing out on the massive positive sheen of a green sector, that is making a huge impact on India’s sustainability targets, and helping preserve the fast vanishing greens around the country. I am quite sure that a more diverse workforce would have helped achieve more effectiveness.

Thankfully, there are new opportunities coming up for renewable power. Rooftop solar installations, corporate buying of power, and distributed solar products, such as lanterns, cooking systems, lighting systems, and so on are set to come out as large categories in their own right. Each of these opportunities will benefit from a more diverse workforce, with more women. Why? Because if nothing else, women have demonstrated capability, exposure and experience in terms of understanding customers. Thus far, the customer has just been a ‘beneficiary’, thanks to subsidies, or a statistic, as the Government has raced to push initiatives, such as power for all. Therefore, new challenges, such as branding, a more customer-led approach, and even better negotiating skills when it comes to convincing the Government to back distributed solar initiatives, is vital. Not only will it raise the profile of the sector, it will also lead to faster behaviour change at the customer level, as they believe they are treated as one.
After all, the biggest beneficiaries of schemes, such as UJALA (lighting for all), UJJWALA (cooking gas for all), or Saubhagya (electricity for 100% households) are women, who were bearing the brunt of poor access to power and cooking gas all this while. It will take a lot more women in the renewable sector to help the industry make this happen, and plan its outreach accordingly.

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