When my 99-year-old grandmother was just 14, she moved to New York City to find work and help support her family. Nanny, as she has now come to be called by all, got a job as a tungsten coiler for light bulbs at a large company, and she was able to make enough money to send some back home to her family in rural Pennsylvania. That was the beginning of what would end up being a 53-year career at that same company.
Nanny (Sophie), 1942
Over the course of her career, my grandmother worked her way up from tungsten coiler to line manager, becoming one of the first female leaders at the company. That was more than thirty years ago. Unfortunately, Nanny’s story is still unique. In the energy sector, as with many others, women continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions.
A recent Ernst & Young survey found that women made up only 5 percent of board executives across the global power and utilities sector in 2015. And only 13 percent of utility senior management teams had female representation. This, despite the fact that the top 20 most diverse utilities significantly outperformed the lower 20 on a return on investment basis.
Clearly there’s a lesson here.
The findings in the Ernst & Young report were consistent with what we have seen in the Caribbean. Since the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) launched our Islands Energy Program to help island nations reduce their energy costs and transition to renewable energy, our team has found that women are an integral part of energy planning and project execution, but they have held disproportionately fewer leadership positions; and that, overall, women’s positions in their organizations too often have failed to reflect the impact of their input.
The absence of women at the top is unjust – as most women are the heads of their households and will bear the brunt of high energy costs. It’s also a loss of talent, ideas, and innovation where they’re needed the most. This should concern not just the women involved, but shareholders as well.
Recognizing that more is needed to be done across islands to promote women in leadership in the energy sector, CCI collaborated with the Clinton Foundation’s No Ceilings initiative and our partners on the ground in the Caribbean to gather more information about the status of women in the power and utilities sector.
This data collection led CCI to conclude that if we could start bringing women across the island energy industry together to learn from one another, share successes and challenges, and harness collective knowledge and capacity, then we could begin to move the needle on the gender makeup of organizations and reap the benefits of a more diverse and gender-balanced workforce.
The need and desire for a network like this was confirmed when CCI Chief Executive Officer Dymphna van der Lans received an overwhelming round of applause at the Aruba Learning Event in October after acknowledging the need for more island women in positions of leadership in the energy sector. In that moment, Dymphna invited women participants of the Aruba Learning Event to a breakfast the next morning to discuss this issue. The attendance rate of those invited was 100 percent.
Women in Island Energy Network Convening in Aruba, October 2015
As a result of interest and supporting data, CCI created the Women in Island Energy Leadership Network, launched with Chelsea Clinton in February. It is the first network of its kind to address the specific needs of women working in island energy sectors. Our team aims to launch applications for the mentoring component of our Women in Island Energy Leadership Network later this spring and host our first convening this autumn.
The goal of the program is to provide structured skills training, mentoring, and online webinars that will equip women with the skills and information they need to overcome barriers and move into positions of leadership.
The island women we work with motivate me every day to continue accelerating this network. And, personally, I’m inspired by Nanny and I want to make sure that her legacy in rising to a position of leadership from a tungsten coiler to manager is amplified across my work and the Foundation’s work for generations to come. It’s time that we have more stories like hers in the world.