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Case study: gender diversity in the electricity distribution sector

Ernst & Young’s assessment of workforce participation in 2015 shows a larger gap between men and women in the energy sector than in other major industries. Within energy-related organisations, gender diversity is found to be most advanced in consumer services and consumer goods, while power and utility entities are less gender diverse, and infrastructure entities lag the furthest behind. Even electricity distribution companies in the USA and Canada, benefiting from recognised best practices, are unable to reach female employment levels of more than 23-25 per cent. Increasing their numbers in technical positions is a worldwide challenge.

Turkey is no different. Even though women in undergraduate engineering degrees make up 23 per cent of the class, only a few end up entering the energy sector in technical positions in the workforce afterwards. In Turkish companies that are electricity providers, women account for only 1-2 per cent of the technician roles and 10-12 per cent of engineering roles. The disparity reflects the country's untapped potential in skilled workers. 

Companies that appreciate the economic benefits of hiring qualified women are increasingly open to work in attracting more women into their labour force. When EBRD bankers offered Turkish electricity firms that are their clients to work together on equal opportunities, the companies’ management teams accepted with serious commitment but were also openly sceptical about what results were achievable. Such companies are aware of the difficulties in attracting women into the sector, and know that many of these difficulties are beyond their control. The HR departments’ most frequently cited reason for women’s under-representation in technical jobs was gender disparities in education. Geographic factors were also cited as reasons that contributed to gender disparities, whether cultural differences between urban and rural areas or regional differences within Turkey. As a result, the overwhelming majority of internships in the electricity distribution sector go to men (such programmes mainly attract men as applicants, since women are under-represented in technical high school and college programmes).

In line with its Strategy for the Promotion of Gender Equality 2016-2020, the EBRD decided in 2016 to take up the challenge of promoting women’s employment in male-dominated sectors. Bank staff met with three power-generating companies - AKCEZ, SEDAŞ & SEPAŞ and TREDAŞ & TREPAŞ - to agree on priorities for some EBRD-supported technical assistance. Consultants are to assess human resources policies and practices at different points in the employment relationship, at the stages of attraction, recruitment, retention, development and retrenchment. They will propose actions to strengthen the systems and processes that govern each company’s behaviours, monitoring and management in terms of equal opportunities.

In 2017, consultants and company staff will undertake gender-sensitive employee surveys, run interviews and analyse payroll data - to ensure equal pay for work of equal value - as one of the clients specifically requested. This technical assistance will facilitate and enable good practices in the region and worldwide.

Recognising the interconnected nature of the barriers to women carrying out technical roles, EBRD clients will be supported in initiating dialogue with technical and vocational training colleges, to make the sector more attractive to young women and help them attain relevant skills and qualifications.

The EBRD is aware that increasing women’s presence in male-dominated sectors is a demanding task. So are the clients. Better targeting of women in the labour market, improved awareness about gender gaps and revised perspectives on appropriate employment opportunities for women will require efforts and work.

“Our main area of confidence is your presence. As long as the EBRD and we are together, we are strong. Therefore we are in line with all your efforts and your potential proposals,” said an HR manager in TREDAŞ. 

For the next 18 months, EBRD technical assistance will focus on reviewing HR policies and other company policies and practices, with a view to identifying opportunities to strengthen equal opportunities at the client firms. It will also focus on developing operational recommendations to increase the ratio of female to male employees in technician, engineering and managerial positions; reviewing the company scorecards; increasing accountability in terms of employee satisfaction and increasing the female labour force; exploring effective tools and potential measures to reduce the gender pay gaps at these companies; and exploring mechanisms for staff to provide feedback on gender-sensitive issues.

By Giorgia Depaoli


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