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Powering Africa, Empowering Women
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By Denise Mortimer

Power Africa is a U.S. Government-led partnership that aims to double access to electricity in Africa by 2030 – increasing generation by 30,000 MW and creating 60 million new connections. The partnership consists of U.S. Government agencies and over 140 public and private partners. Transforming Africa’s energy sector will require new ideas, new ways of doing business, innovative technologies and new players in the field. Power Africa understands that effective transformation and innovation depends upon on capitalizing on the skills of African women and men. 

A strong body of research demonstrates that companies with a greater share of women in executive positions tend to outperform their peers. This is true in Africa and true in the global energy sector. However, Africa's energy sector remains highly male dominated.  McKinsey’s 2016 report titled “Women Matter Africa” highlights that organizations with a greater share of women on their boards tend to have higher Return on Equity (ROE). Specifically in Africa, companies in the top quartile with regards to women’s representation on executive committees outperformed industry peers by 14 percent on average. 

An Ernst and Young report, “Talent at the Table”, on Women in Power Utilities, tracks the number of women in boardrooms of the top 200 global utilities by revenue. This index found that the top 20 most diverse utilities significantly out-performed the lower 20 in Return-on-Equity; strongly indicating a correlation between higher gender diversity and business performance. 

In recognition of these issues, Power Africa developed a gender strategy of its own, articulating the overarching goal of meeting the needs of the underserved, while creating opportunities for women throughout the value chain. One of the activities supported by Power Africa is Engendering Utilities, a USAID program aimed at increasing women’s participation in the electric utility workforce. Engendering Utilities works with seven utilities in five countries.

In Africa, Engendering Utilities is working with Kenya Power and Light Corp, Nigeria’s Ibadan Electric Distribution Company and Eko Electricity Distribution Company. As an initial step, the program conducted baseline research to ascertain how many women were employed in each utility, and the types of jobs they held. The research revealed that while women are represented in all job categories and at all levels across the seven utilities, they tend to be concentrated in certain positions. Specifically, women most often hold positions in finance and customer service, whereas men are concentrated in technical field operations and field maintenance. As a result, women generally were not benefitting from training, mentoring, or internship opportunities within the utilities, as these are often technically focused.

Engendering Utilities designed customized interventions in conjunction with the utilities to break these patterns and strengthen women’s career prospects. The interventions included:

  • Conducting and acting on gender gap analysis by building the appropriate staff capacity to undertake the analysis
  • Designing and improving recruitment strategies to encourage qualified women to apply for positions.
  • Improving professional career development programs that support mentoring and leadership training to strengthen women’s career aspirations.
  • Building the next generation workforce by conducting outreach to schools to increase girls’ interest in STEM fields.

While the individual activities are valuable in their own right, the collection of interventions proves greater than the sum of its parts. Advancing these efforts collectively leads to the creation of a culture where management now accepts the importance of understanding the gender dynamics in the company, can collect the data, understand it, and act on it.

Beyond its support to African utilities, Power Africa supports women’s engagement in the sector more broadly through the Women in African Power network. Aimed at strengthening the role of women in Africa’s energy sector, the network provides a regional platform for professional mentorship and exposure to new business opportunities.

While the goal of electrifying Africa remains ambitious, finding meaningful ways to include African women in the solution is easily attainable. Each new innovation or investment creates an opportunity to engage women in this vibrant sector. Power Africa is dedicated to powering Africa while empowering women across the continent.

Denise Mortimer serves as the Gender Advisor to Power Africa where she ensures that gender considerations are integrated across Power Africa’s portfolio.  In this capacity, Denise manages Women in African Power, a network aimed at strengthening the role of women in Africa’s energy sector. For additional information, please visit the Power Africa website (www.usaid.gov/powerafrica).

Launched in 2013, Power Africa is a U.S. Government-led initiative that aims to increase electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa by adding more than 30,000 megawatts of electricity generation capacity and 60 million new home and business connections. Power Africa works with African governments and private sector partners to remove barriers that impede energy development in sub-Saharan Africa and to unlock the substantial natural gas, wind, solar, hydropower, biomass, and geothermal resources on the continent. To date, Power Africa has leveraged over $50 billion in commitments from the public and private sectors, including more than $40 billion in commitments from the private sector.


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