Inspiring women in sustainable energy

9 Oct 2020

UQ’s Master of Sustainable Energy (MSE) first saw light in 2012. Since then, almost 100 students from across the world have graduated, and about 30 per cent were female.

We know that diversity in energy resources is key to driving the transition to a low-carbon energy future in Australia and beyond, but diversity in gender is also essential.

A MSE graduate and current MSE student share their thoughts on the strengths that female energy leaders can bring to the table and what we can do to encourage more women to join the sector.

With a Bachelor in Business Management and Arts, Ashley Kerrison decided to study the MSE and graduated last year. She now works as a Knowledge Sharing Officer at the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

On studying and working with women in the energy sector, she said she values their ability to collect different perspectives and find mutual ground to work towards solutions that invite agreement.

“In my experience, women often have the wisdom to know when to lead a task and when to consult others on the path forward. And the industry values individuals who have strong communication skills to translate complex theories to key audiences,” Ms Kerrison said.

“To encourage more women to work in the sustainable energy sector, we need to make it clear that the world needs people from various disciplines in the transition. For example, the experience I bring from a humanities and business background compliments the expertise my male and female engineering colleagues hold.”

Ms Kerrison and Ms Botrel agree that female role models are important in getting more women involved in sustainable energy.

Ms Kerrison said it is essential that women learn about female leaders in the energy sector who have walked similar paths as this may encourage more women to join.

“One of my role models is Jennifer Purdie, Executive General Manager for Gas Distribution at Jemena. She is a leader helping to transform the currently fossil fuel dominated industries of resources, transport and energy. Learning about Jennifer’s path is one of the reasons I undertook the MSE to understand what strategies are available to transition the current energy mix to a low-carbon energy future,” she said.

“Another dynamic energy leader I respect is UQ’s Professor Peta Ashworth who is Chair in Sustainable Energy Futures. She can pinpoint someone’s strengths and hero those in a range of opportunities made available through her vast network.”

“I am actively involved in energy networking groups myself such as the Bright Sparks Clean Energy Crew where young professionals and those interested in learning about sustainable energy can meet others who are working in the sector.”

Electrical engineer and international student Clara Almeida Botrel from Brazil, who is in her second semester studying the MSE, said that bringing more women to the discussion will increase diversity and thus creativity and innovation needed to pursue the energy transition.

“I believe women can bring a more empathetic and sensitive approach to the people they work with and to the community, playing an important role in times of rupture where we need to take broader perspectives into consideration,” Ms Botrel said.

“To get more women involved in the sector, I think the answer is education, combined with the dissemination of information.”

“From the moment girls (and boys) have the opportunity to learn about sustainable energy, the benefits it can bring to our world and to society, and how ‘cool’ it is to work in a field in constant change, they may feel more attracted to becoming an energy professional.”

Ms Botrel said that when young women have contact with female professionals, whether at university or through social media, they can experience ‘good examples’ to follow and understand how women contribute to the development of sustainable energy.

“For me, one of the most influential women within sustainable energy is Elbia Gannoum, CEO of the Brazilian Energy Association (ABEEOLICA) and Vice-Chair of the Global Energy Council. Her work has been very important for the growth of wind energy in Brazil – the country’s second largest renewable source – and I feel inspired by her articles and interviews,” she said.

“Another person whom I really identify with is Carolyn Blacklock, Strategic Advisor & Project Director at CleanCo Queensland. Luckily, I have the opportunity to study with her, and she is bringing very insightful ideas to the discussions in particular on social awareness, enriching the course even more.”

“I am very engaged in networking with women at all stages of their careers, from high school students to undergraduates and senior professionals. I enjoy sharing what I have learnt from them.”

“Since I started at UQ, I have been using social media and in particular my LinkedIn profile to share interesting news and articles about the energy sector.”

Even if I think that what I do is a small thing, it can hopefully have an impact in the life of other women thinking to go this direction.”

Photo credit: Abel Quintero Fuentes