This year International Women’s Day focuses on #BreakingTheBias and celebrating women’s achievements and increasing visibility in schools, universities, communities, and workplaces. One of the sectors where the participation of women needs a boost is the energy sector, says Evrydiki Fekka, Head of Lithium Batteries Product Management at Sunlight Group Energy Storage Systems. In this article, she argues that women are key to unlocking a greener future for our energy needs.
Times are changing, but there is still quite a gender gap in academic subjects such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). For years women have been underrepresented in these areas, making up just 28% of the workforce according to a recent US study. Men not only greatly outnumber women majoring in STEM subjects at university, but their average annual salaries are significantly higher than their female peers – adding the pay gap to the gender gap.
Evrydiki Fekka, Head of Lithium Batteries Product Management at Sunlight Group Energy Storage Systems.
Image: Sunlight Group Energy Storage Systems
For me, engineering was a natural choice when preparing for university – as it should for any young adult passionate about following their dreams, whatever they may be. At about six years old, I started visiting the factory my father owned which produced metallic accessories for clothing. It was an end-to-end production line: from sourcing the raw materials to designing and creating the molds, to manufacturing the end products – zips and buttons.
Ever since I have been fascinated by how things are made and work. I completed my diploma in Chemical Engineering at the National Technical University of Athens, before leaving for the US to complete a Master of Science in Environmental Engineering and Science at Stanford University, and a Master of Design and Innovation for Sustainability at Cranfield University in the UK.
Putting the environment first
One of my pledges during my very first steps as an engineer and scientist was to always work towards a greener future. Environmental sustainability will never be accomplished if we do not find a viable solution for energy supply and storage.
We must solve the puzzle of how to provide clean energy without putting an extra burden on our planet – a burden that the environment can simply no longer bear. As an engineer, I believe that anything is possible. If you can come up with an idea, you can make it happen.
The creativity with which we can solve problems is what inspires me on a day-to-day basis. And in order to solve complex problems like that, you need all hands on deck and diverse people who can bring unique and innovative perspectives. We simply cannot afford to do otherwise.
What hurdles do women face in the energy sector?
Our sector is not without its challenges. We work in a particularly demanding industry, which is not always straightforward. The hours are long, both at university when studying towards an engineering degree and once you become part of the workforce. But this is the same hurdle for both men and women. There are no strengths or weaknesses between the genders when it comes to hard work and long hours.
However, it must be said the energy sector has been traditionally dominated by men, especially in fossil fuel power generation. Women always had to work harder to get into the industry and, once in, to continue working harder to prove themselves, while men have enjoyed a head start.
The introduction of renewable energy, however, is gradually changing the landscape and leveling the field. More and more successful women are entering the energy sector, and at Sunlight Group I am both thrilled and honored to work with female peers and colleagues determined to create a greener future to tackle climate change. And at the same time, companies – especially innovative and forward-looking ones– are actively embracing diversity and gender balance, by optimizing recruitment processes and creating inclusive working environments.
What do women bring to the table?
Women around the world, from older women in small villages to younger women studying and working in big cities, have a story to share of how they plan to change their own world. All the women I have met in my life have a success story of their own to share, an inspiring tale to tell that helps all of us believe we can change things that don’t work anymore.
This is exactly what we need in the energy sector: women who can challenge the status quo, women who believe they can do the impossible. The energy sector needs unconventional solutions that will allow all countries to reach net-zero and preserve natural resources. Historically, women have been the ones to come up with unconventional solutions to big problems. The energy sector needs their out-of-the-box thinking now more than ever.
Advice for women planning a career in the energy sector
I would advise women to never give up, be bold, speak up and lead the way, even if you are the only woman in the room, which might still be the case in the energy sector. We are undergoing a huge transition, not only towards greener technologies but towards a different mindset, with gender balance being a definite part of the solution for a sustainable and greener future.
And whenever in doubt, we should always cast our mind back to Rachel Carson who fought fiercely to stop the Silent Spring around the world, while in a male-dominant environment. We, as women in the energy sector, must continue what she started back in the late 1950s with the same passion and diligence. It is what we owe to her generation, our own peers, and future generations alike.
About the author
Evrydiki Fekka is Head of Lithium Batteries Product Management at Sunlight Group Energy Storage Systems.