Kosovo’s energy sector is changing. In the near future we can expect to see the sector go through market liberalization and a further diversification of the energy mix. But one aspect of the country’s energy sector stubbornly resists change: the embarrassingly low representation of women in the industry. According to a report by Nathan Associates in 2018, only 7% of energy sector jobs in Kosovo are filled by women.
What accounts for this miniscule number?
A partial explanation can be found when considering the broader underrepresentation of women in the labor market. Only 21.5% of working-age women were active in the labor market in 2020. But this explanation is only partial.
As two women in the energy sector who are concerned with gender imbalances in the industry, we decided to conduct a study to figure out what are the barriers keeping women out of the field. We surveyed 151 women across the industry, professionals working in every part of the energy sector, from academia and policy to engineering and management.
Forty-four percent of our respondents have been in the sector for over 10 years, 39% for one to five years and the rest are newcomers. The majority of respondents strongly agree that there is inequality in gender representation in the sector. This inequality manifests itself as a barrier to entry, and then in constant hurdles women must overcome throughout their career.
Overcoming cultural barriers
According to the majority of respondents, the key barrier that women face in the energy sector is the general belief that it is a predominantly male domain. This belief takes root early and has long-lasting effects. A lack of support and encouragement from parents and teachers diverts girls from STEM topics (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and then prevents women from entering these vital fields.
Our survey results show that veterans of the industry face the same barriers as women who have recently entered. Even women who are experts in the field have to continuously overcome cultural and structural barriers that try to tell them that they are in a male domain.
For example, one of our respondents recalled interviewing for a field position at one of the energy institutions. The interviewer asked her whether she knew she’d have to climb poles as part of the job, apparently assuming that the applicant was unaware of a central aspect of the job and that, as a woman, she would find it uncomfortable.
Another respondent, a former senior manager at KEK, the Kosovo Energy Corporation, faced frequent condescension by male colleagues. Despite being in charge of 200 power plant employees and having a background in engineering, plant operators would over-explain the most basic technical things to her, assuming that women don’t understand machinery.
A number of our respondents also said that during interviews for energy sector jobs they were routinely asked whether they planned on having children, a question that many lawyers in Kosovo consider an act of gender discrimination and a violation of the Law on Gender Equality. The frequency of these types of questions show that there is a clear gender bias during hiring decisions, a bias that discriminates against women for decisions related to their personal life.
Leadership and boards
The miniscule number of women employed in the energy sector is also reflected in a major gender imbalance in the upper echelons of government energy organizations.
In government decision-making positions, the energy and mining sector is notably lacking in balanced gender representation. The Ministry in charge of energy and mining policymaking has had three female ministers since 1999: Justina Shiroka-Pula (2008-2010), Rozeta Hajdari (2020), Artane Rizvanolli (2021-present). In 2014, the Ministry of Energy and Mining turned into two departments within the Ministry of Economy; the two departments have been exclusively led by men since 2011. In addition, the Kosovo Agency for Energy Efficiency, an executive institution under the Ministry of Economy, has not only been led by men since its establishment in 2012, all of its divisions have exclusively male leadership.
Leadership positions of all important economic operators, from production to transmission to distribution to supply, are led by men. In fact, only KEK has previously had a female CEO, Pranvera Dobruna-Kryeziu, from 2006 to 2007. The rest have always been led by men.
There are ongoing changes taking place on the boards of operators, public enterprises and regulatory authorities, and some of the positions are vacant. KEK’s temporary board has two women out of four members, KOSTT, the electric transmissions company, has two women out of six members, Trepça has an all male board of five and the mandate of the Independent Committee on Mines and Minerals (ICMM) board (all men!) expired in 2020. Recently elected new members of the Energy Regulatory Board (ERO) include one woman (out of 5 members).
Now is the time for women to take on some of these roles.
Member of the Parliament Mimoza Kusari-Lila put forward a parliamentary motion in 2018 to introduce a gender quota for women on the boards of publicly owned enterprises and share-holding companies. Until there is a greater awareness that the sector is desperately lacking the active inclusion of women, it seems there will be a need to implement gender quotas in energy institutions.
It is often said that few women have the necessary knowledge to work in the energy sector, but only 5% of our survey respondents said that education has been a barrier for them in the field. At the same time, 33% said that education has been the key factor helping them reach the position they have.
In the 2019-2020 academic year female students enrolled at the University of Prishtina in the Faculty of Electrical and Computer Engineering comprised almost 40% of total students. In the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering 20% of students were women. There are two private universities that cover the energy sector. One of them, RIT Kosovo, focuses on energy policy and 71% of the students pursuing Energy Policy Studies there are women.
While gender disparities continue in STEM topics in academia, these numbers show that the dismal state of women’s employment in the energy field is not about a lack of women with the requisite education.
One partial solution is initiatives like USAID’s Gender Equity Executive Leadership Program or the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s Women in Energy Program which drive change through mentoring, scholarships, and internships that increase women’s participation in Kosovo’s energy sector, therefore leading to more gender-inclusive workplaces and policies in the sector.
Gender-sensitive energy policies
There is an urgent need to reflect on gender considerations in Kosovo’s main energy policy document that is currently being finalised, Kosovo’s Energy Strategy (2021-2030). The current strategy that is being revised, 2017-2026, does not include a section on education or on gender equality. In addition, a strong commitment to a gender perspective should be included in the drafting of the National Energy and Climate Plan (2021-2030), as a prerequisite of the Energy Community.
Laws, strategies and policies in the energy sector are not gender sensitive, despite the EU’s call for gender mainstreaming in the energy sector and despite Kosovo’s Law on Gender Equality. The development of the new national strategy led by the Ministry of Economy should take into consideration that women generally are affected more by energy poverty and more severely than men.
Women, for example, are often responsible for the household chores that are connected to energy. In Kosovo, around 60% of urban homes pay between 10% and 30% of their family income on electricity consumption. On average, the majority of households across the United States spend between 2-3% of their annual income on electricity. A household is said to be energy poor if it spends more than 10% of its income on electricity.
The extent of energy poverty in Kosovo, and the intimate way in which women are affected by it, is yet another reason why women must have a larger role in the country’s energy sector.
Access to energy is a basic human right. Since women are more affected by the lack of access to electricity, creating a more gender equitable energy policy is a must. Achieving gender representation in the energy sector is a prerequisite to having a successful implementation of energy policies and programs. Kosovo’s attempt to achieve a just energy transition to a more sustainable future will only be possible if women are involved at all levels of the industry.
Photo credit: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.