Worldwide, women represent only 30 percent of the industrial workforce. Even in a more inclusive industry such as clean energy the number goes down to 19. To fight for female presence in the renewables industry, on Apr. 4, 2017 the Women in Mexican Renewable Energy (MERM) association was inaugurated.
Absence of women in engineering is a fact. Even in countries where gender-gap could be perceived by foreigners as smaller there is a shockingly low number of females employed in scientific and engineering positions. Germany and France put the percentage of women occupied on high-technology jobs on 34 and 31 on 2015 respectively, while on 2013 in the US only 26 percent of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workforce were female.
It would be reasonable to ask, besides the inherently positive ethical reasons of equality and progress, why do industries need more female presence? It turns out that being fair is not the only reason for industrial companies to include more women. “Greater equality is smart economics, enhancing productivity, advancing development outcomes for the next generation, and making institutions more representative” notes the 2012 World Development Report. Gender equality is even more important in the energy sector as “effective integration of women leads to more effective clean energy initiatives, unleashes greater return on investments and expands emission reduction opportunities”, according to Lorena Aguilar.
During the last years the question has been focused on how to increase the female ratio in the labor market, but it seems like the roots of the problem go way back in time, at the beginning of education, with differences of gender performance in STEM starting in students as young as 15 years old.
Christina Díaz, young NASA engineer with Mexican roots. Photo taken from La Prensa Latina
Education is a main problem, as only a small percentage of women worldwide participate in STEM university careers. Countries like Germany, France and UK put this number on 19.8, 26.2 and 22.4 percent in 2014, respectively. In Mexico from the total graduates in engineering, during that same year, 27.9 percent were women.
Olga Medrano, gold medal winner during the 2016 Women European Mathematics Olympics. Photo taken from digitallpost
There are several factors influencing the low participation of girls in STEM studies such as sociocultural and labor market conceptions, gender-sensitive policies and frameworks, teacher training and recruitment and even the presence of gender stereotypes in learning materials. Psychosocial influences from family and friends are an important source of gender biases towards future labor opportunities, ironically being female parents one of the most important influences towards women avoiding STEM education and jobs.
Lack of role models is an important factor that is hard to tackle in a job market dominated by men with very few women present in decision making positions. It is shocking to see that, in Mexico, only 15 percent of firms have women in top managerial roles.
Factors influencing female participation in STEM. Table from Closing the Gender Gap in STEM
To improve the Mexican panorama, MERM is an association that will push towards gender equality and the presence of women in decision-making roles in the energy sector, with three main objectives in mind:
- Social progress and wellbeing
- Women empowerment
- Improve academia-government-private relations
To achieve these objectives, the institution will be performing activities such as workshops, talks and field trips to make young students and particularly women aware of their possibilities in the energy sector, and to encourage society to understand, accept and adopt renewable energies. As long term goal, MERM is looking to fight for the inclusion of more women into decision-making roles and invite them to be part of the association, as well as to establish relations with similar associations around the world. Many other associations worldwide are fighting for the same goals, such as hypatia in Germany, Frauen für Energie in Switzerland and NEWIEE in the US.
Fortunately, MERM is not alone in the fight for gender integration in the renewable energies sector in Mexico, as Redmere is another association that fights for the inclusion of women in the renewable and energy efficiency sector in Chiapas.
Mexico still has a long road ahead to have both more women included in STEM working areas and to properly use the renewable energies potential it has. These goals will not be achieved overnight, but with the creation of associations like MERM and Redmere it is surely progressing. Important now is to include society and, more important, male engineers to help them achieve their goals.
More information about MERM can be found in the following video and LinkedIn group: