Growing Female Presence At African Utility Week And POWERGEN Women in the power sector say you need a thick skin and a good sense of humour.

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"I still have a good laugh every now and then when I enter a meeting and they assume I am either our CEO's PA or the "marketing lady'," says Zelda Weitz, COO of Symbion Power LLC, an independent power producer on the continent.

She has lived, worked and travelled in 29 countries in Africa and says while things are changing, there is still a certain perception of roles that women are expected to perform in the sector: "I was once at a project meeting where the client asked me to take the notes, because I was the only female present. He blushed afterwards when I gave him my business card. You develop a thick skin and maintain a good sense of humour.

"That said, I am not scared to make coffee for my colleagues and most of the time at meetings you will find the females taking minutes or arranging the logistics alongside their real day jobs. Women really are good with attention to details and are very good at adapting in challenging environments.

"It is, however, a nice challenge to be in the sector and in Symbion specifically, women are given many opportunities to grow," she adds.

The growing influence of women in the power sector

According to Weitz, Symbion's Country Manager in Madagascar is female and a woman sits in the control room at the Mandroseza power plant in Tana.

"In Kenya our team is 50% female, to mention but a couple of examples. I remember the days of visiting our construction sites in remote locations and the guys being surprised that I visited those sites that the Construction Directors did not bother to visit. I do see more female engineers, technicians and managers in the sector and at events nowadays. Things are changing."

The Symbion Power COO is a delegate at this year's African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africaconference and exhibition in Cape Town from 14-16 May where women in the sector are celebrated and making a valuable contribution to the programme.

This includes a "Women in Power Lunch", hosted by the Canadian government and USA's Power Africa initiative, focusing on "Capturing the Value of Private Sector Investment in Generation, Transmission or Distribution" and how women are taking the lead in the power sector.

Breaking new ground

"My journey started as a COO and Head of Marketing of the Edison Power Group and I was the first and only woman among the five directors on the board of the Edison Power Group," says Sindi Mzamo, Director at Divaine Growth Solutions.

"My vision has always been to break new ground for South Africa's black people, particularly women in the business and economic arenas particularly in the energy sector."

Mzamo is an event ambassador for and partner of African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa.As part of this partnership, eight SMEs that are owned by women and are operating in the energy sector will be part of the Initiate! pavilion at the African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africaexhibition floor.

"Divaine Growth Solutions is currently running an 18 month Female Development Programme focusing on emancipation and empowerment of women-owned businesses within the energy sector," she adds.

"The vision for the programme is to provide needed support to these SMEs from industry related information, access to market, access to financial information, network and possible venture opportunities. I think having a programme like this will not only encourage the current women in the sector but will also attract the upcoming young women leaders to pursue careers within the energy space."

The changing perception of women in energy

"Women have been making a contribution in the utility environment across various disciplines for quite some time and I think it has got to a point, especially from the utility's point for view that it is not so much of an issue anymore," says Penny Herbst, Strategy Director at Africa GreenCo and a 30-year veteran of the energy industry, based on her experience at Eskom.

"I see far more women being entrepreneurial in the energy space and starting businesses as opposed to there being a real visible change in the energy corporate / IPP space," she says.

"Progress has to include mechanisms to measure and monitor sustainability and further define what exactly is meant by gender parity and remuneration thereof. Regarding my remark re the private sector, perhaps I will be proved wrong and I hope so – let's see what the mix is like at African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa."

At the upcoming event in Cape Town later this month, Herbst will moderate a conference session on financing renewable projects.

Diverse status quo

"Gender diversity is a no-brainer," says Miriam Mannak, a freelance energy correspondent and event ambassador, "particularly considering the large numbers of women graduating from university.

"Africa's energy sector will not be able to develop, progress, and remain competitive and relevant if it refuses to transform and move on from being predominantly male-based structure to a diverse status quo. This is 2019, after all."

The 19th edition of African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa, the continent's leading sector conference and exhibition, is expected to attract more than 10 000 energy and water professionals this year.

Dates for African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa:

  • Conference and expo: 14-16 May 2019
  • Site visits: 17 May 2019
  • Location: CTICC, Cape Town, South Africa

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