Getting a snapshot of women’s employment in the power sector in Africa and South Asia

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Grace Aswani Ngigi Manager, Insurance Services & Integrity Department Kenya Power and Lighting Company, with colleagues at substation. Grace Aswani Ngigi Manager, Insurance Services & Integrity Department Kenya Power and Lighting Company, with colleagues at substation.

Increasing female economic participation, enhancing income-earning opportunities, and improving women’s access to good quality jobs are focus areas of the World Bank Group Gender Strategy. However, lack of sex-disaggregated data remains a key barrier to designing interventions and monitoring their impacts.

With funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID)/Energy and Economic Growth Program (EEG), the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) is leading an in-depth study on employment in the energy sector. Led by the Africa Gender and Energy Program and the South Asia Women in Power Sector Professional Network (WePOWER), this research was conducted through a human resources (HR)-focused questionnaire

The questionnaire was sent to energy institutions, primarily public and private power utilities, in Pakistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Zambia in 2019 and early 2020. It was completed by 12 organizations – half in Pakistan, and half in the three African countries. The total combined staff footprint of the surveyed utilities is 92,727 people, of whom roughly 56% are in Pakistan.

By analyzing each utility’s policies along with the sex-disaggregated data it provided, we can create a gender snapshot of each company participating in the research. By aggregating the data by country or region, as we do here, it is possible to clarify women’s roles in the sector and identify job categories where gender discrepancies may be greatest.

The survey findings from Pakistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Zambia confirmed the low number of women working in the power sector: 

  • On average, women constituted 21% of the overall workforce in energy utilities in the African countries, and 4% in Pakistan.
  • Average share of women working in technical positions was 15% in the African countries and 2% in Pakistan. Most women work in office-based corporate functions, such as HR, finance, and customer service. 
  • The majority of employees in the respondent companies, including women, work in junior or non-supervisory positions. 
  • In the three African countries, women are more likely to assume managerial roles, particularly in mid-management, accounting for 25% of those positions (although variations between companies were significant). In Pakistan, women represent 7% of mid-level managerial positions, and even less at the senior and executive levels, at 2% and 4% respectively.

Graph of women employment

The utilities provide technical and professional training opportunities for employees. In the past 12 months, women accounted for 11% of total trainees in Pakistan, and 31% in the three African countries – both higher than average female staff representation. The higher figures in the African countries are impacted by Kenyan companies’ responding to the country’s Constitutional requirement that states no gender should constitute more than two-thirds of the employees in publicly owned companies. Follow-up interviews revealed that this dictate is interpreted broadly, affecting everything from training opportunities to representation in union leadership.

In terms of maternity and paternity policies and other leave-related benefits, all utilities essentially followed national laws and guidelines, but did not exceed them. Around half the organizations in each sample provided childcare facilities or financial compensation to employees at headquarters but not in field offices. Flexible work arrangements generally were not available in the surveyed institutions, which might contribute to the low percentages of women working in senior or supervisory positions. Lack of support – childcare, flextime, telework – for working parents is likely to have a larger impact on women, who traditionally bear greater responsibility for childcare. 

The following lessons learned should be considered by others conducting similar surveys:

  • Draw on trust built through existing programs or partners: Utilities are naturally sensitive about sharing data, especially HR data, and are much more likely to respond if they are approached by a trusted person/organization. In Pakistan, the survey was administered by a WePOWER partner (Women in Energy, Pakistan) with support from the Punjab (State) Government’s Energy Department. In Ethiopia, Kenya and Zambia, the questionnaire was e-mailed by the World Bank directly to clients, then followed up by energy and gender specialists from the country offices. 
  • Brief respondents on the purpose of the survey and how the data will be used: HR managers are more likely to respond if their fears over confidentiality and time burden are addressed, and if they feel the findings will be useful for their company. It is important to clarify that there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers, and that the institution will have the ability to approve the public release of any of its data. 
  • Spend time guiding the recipients: Many organizations lack sex-disaggregated data, which can be time-consuming to extract, or, they may categorize staff in different ways than the survey. If possible, arrange to have someone present to help answer questions and fill out the survey. Video calls are also a viable option and were utilized during the data collection process in Kenya. 
  • Adapt the survey: Certain words and categories may need to be modified to suit the country context and ensure that the survey is easy to understand; a kick-off meeting provides an opportunity to review the tool and discuss necessary modifications. Also, the questionnaire is modular and the four sections can be administered in two tranches. For example, it may be easier to receive a response to a shorter initial survey with just the sections on staffing and policies; the sections on training and work environment can be distributed and completed at a later time.

This survey can provide detailed baseline data that can be used to track progress on women’s participation in the energy sector workforce. The questionnaire can also be used by utility companies as a long-term tool to institutionalize the collection of sex-disaggregated data, set targets, and monitor progress on women’s employment. WePOWER intends to roll out the survey in other countries in South Asia, and ESMAP will include further guidance on women’s employment issues in an upcoming toolkit for use by World Bank projects and clients.  Also, a partner of World Bank Pakistan’s gender initiative - Girls Learn, Women Earn (GLWE) - will use the survey findings to advocate for women’s economic participation in the energy sector in Pakistan. 

If you have similar experiences or inputs, we’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.

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Pranav Vaidya

Senior Energy and Social Sustainability Consultant

Inka Schomer

Operations Officer

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