As is the case across many historically male-dominated fields, women are underrepresented in leadership and technical roles at power system operation organizations. This disparity persists despite a growing body of research demonstrating how women bring diverse skills, experiences, and perspectives that improve overall organizational performance.
The Women in Power System Transformation initiative, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Global Power System Transformation Consortium (G-PST), will address educational and professional barriers to women's entry and advancement in power system operation organizations.
"As countries transform their power systems by bringing significantly larger shares of renewables onto the grid, there is a risk many women will be left out of the clean energy transition, resulting in women benefitting less, socially and economically, from the opportunities offered by power system decarbonization," said Sadie Cox, the initiative's lead at NREL.
Women in Power System Transformation was formally launched by the Department of Energy at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference during the U.S. government's event titled Our Climate Future is Female; Women and Girls Leading Climate Action (remarks begin at 9:32 in the video). This activity contributes to USAID’s overall goal of increasing gender equality and women’s empowerment and complements USAID's broader Engendering Industries programming, which aims to increase economic opportunities for women in traditionally male-dominated sectors around the world, including the energy, water, infrastructure, and technology sectors.
"We worked closely with USAID's Engendering Industries program and the G-PST Consortium to first understand what challenges and opportunities existed for women in the power sector,” Cox said. “We then used those insights to form the foundation for this initiative's activities."
Tackling Barriers Through Academic and Workforce Training
One of the G-PST Consortium's core team partners, Imperial College London, is leading development of a gender-informed university-level engineering training curriculum for Women in Power System Transformation. The curriculum will explore stories of women’s journeys to leadership in power system operations, gender equality and empowerment topics, and cutting-edge power system technical topics aligned with the G-PST Consortium's teaching agenda. Women in Power System Transformation course content will be completed in coming months and made available at no cost to university professors and students around the world.
This initiative also includes university internship and professional fellowship components targeted to women and other underrepresented groups in developing countries. Student interns will work closely with researchers at NREL on cutting-edge power systems analysis and clean energy integration activities to strengthen critical technical skills. At the conclusion of their internship, students will be well prepared to bring analysis, research, and knowledge back to institutions and organizations in their home countries. Applications for the Women in Power System Transformation university internship program are now open: Women in Power System Transformation Graduate Summer Intern.
Recognizing the need to dismantle access barriers throughout workforce pipelines, Women in Power System Transformation will provide professional upskilling opportunities to women practitioners through its professional fellowship program. Leading system operators partnered with the G-PST Consortium will host fellowship participants and provide them with firsthand experience managing and operating high-renewable energy grids.
Women in Power System Transformation will also strengthen the academic and workforce training initiatives by providing comprehensive gender empowerment, negotiation, and leadership training to participating students, professionals, and hosting institutions. This training will be developed in partnership with the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Self-Empowerment and Equity for Change Initiative (SEE Change), building on prior JHU work to address broader challenges women face in the workplace.
"I hope that the tools we provide through this initiative will shift the power system operators field to be more amenable to women so we can unleash the full potential of this segment of the workforce," said Sarah Lawson, one of the initiative's agreement officer representatives at USAID. "We need the full participation of women to truly take on the enormous challenge of shifting the world’s power supply to clean energy sources as soon as possible to counter the threat of climate change."