Women can transform the face of hydropower

By Amy Luinstra and Kate Lazarus, The Nation/ANN

BANGKOK — In Asia, women are more likely to be found in occupations such as teaching and nursing than job types such as planning, constructing, and operating dams. This results in major losses to businesses and the economy. A study prepared for the World Bank found that output per worker in East Asian and Pacific countries could be 7 to 18 percent higher if female entrepreneurs and workers worked in the same sectors, types of jobs, and activities as men. Inclusive and diverse workplaces in non-traditional sectors, such as the hydropower industry, can benefit considerably by closing gender gaps, as well as bring more women into leadership roles.

This International Women’s Day, IFC is launching a new initiative called “Powered by Women” to catalyze change in Southeast Asia’s hydropower industry.

Powered by Women will show companies how gender inclusiveness in leadership positions can boost business and support women in households. Hydropower businesses that do not have balanced gender rosters miss the boat on the benefits of diversity in the workplace, including access to talent, cost savings, team cohesion, innovation and risk management. Women and their households also miss out on good jobs and the incomes they bring. Increased gender diversity at the Itaipu Dam on the border between Peru and Paraguay led to more family-friendly benefits. These were hugely appreciated by male and female employees alike. In another case, the Santo Antonio hydroelectric plant in northwestern Brazil nearly tripled the national average of women in technical jobs during its construction phase, saving US$9 for every US$1 invested. Powered by Women aims to stimulate business growth and efficiency and enhance sustainability in the leading hydropower companies of the region. The initiative also plans to help improve outcomes for women in communities affected by hydropower development.

Several Asian hydropower firms do want to play a catalytic role in advancing women into leadership positions and reaping the benefits of gender diversity, but lack locally-grounded tools and experience. Other companies may not yet be convinced of the importance of prioritizing gender-smart approaches. Powered by Women will help companies to better understand where women will improve their operations. While literature on gender and hydropower exists, it is limited. There are good tools available for companies to integrate gendered approaches into development processes. For instance, Oxfam’s 2013 manual, “Balancing the Scales: Using Gender Impact Assessment in Hydropower Development,” helps companies understand how to “genderize” impact assessments for hydropower projects. However, the business case for companies to invest in and back female diversity needs to be strengthened. Asia could lead by example. With 46,000 megawatts of untapped power in Myanmar and 26,000 megawatts in Laos alone, the industry has room to grow and embrace the advantages of gender diversity. With women innovating and leading gender-smart approaches in the hydropower industry, we believe that Powered by Women could help companies and state-owned enterprises in the region promote business growth, improve their reputations and transform the market. Amy Luinstra is the Senior Gender Advisor at IFC. Kate Lazarus is the Team Lead, Environmental and Social Advisory Services for the Hydropower Sector, IFC