IFI Op-ed #10: Empowering Women in Power
Lory Kantarjian | Friday, March 15, 2019
Globally, the energy sector is one of the least gender-diverse sectors with women’s share of jobs below 25 percent. Lebanon is no exception, as an ongoing study that is being conducted at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI) shows that women are under-represented in the Lebanese energy sector, and this under-representation becomes more visible with increased level of seniority in the workplace. In a survey of 15 energy companies and institutions in Lebanon, women in a leadership position were less than 10 percent, across both oil and gas as well as renewable energy companies.
Factors that deter women from entering the energy sector are a result of global and local challenges. Like many cases around the world, Lebanese women suffer from cultural and societal expectations that label jobs as ‘men’s or women’s’ jobs. Additionally, there are expectations of giving up work opportunities for marriage and raising a family. Some Lebanese women, especially in secondary education and in rural regions within the country, also experience an information gap that blocks opportunities to study or work in a technical field like engineering for example due to lack of proper career counseling and guidance.
In terms of Lebanon-specific challenges, the negative reputation of the energy sector seems to greatly affect women’s preferences. According to a focus group discussion we have hosted at IFI, participating women perceived the energy sector as corrupt and problematic, leading more technically capable women to choose to work in other sectors that provide a more stable environment.
Ranked 140 out of 149 countries in the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report, Lebanon is clearly one of the worst performing countries in the fight for gender equality, particularly when it comes to economic participation and opportunity.
Going Back to School
Research has shown that some of the root causes of women under-representation in the energy sector originate from pre-entry stages, especially in secondary and tertiary education. Some went further to highlight that stereotypes are created during childhood, as a recent study showed that children who play with construction toys develop higher spatial skills that are critical for success in science and engineering and you can guess which gender plays with construction toys more than the other (University of Colorado at Boulder, 2018).
Because of such influences, there is a global drive to attract more females to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects. In Lebanon, the percentage of women studying STEM majors at universities compared to male students according to 2018 data is 60 percent in the Lebanese University while the percentage drops to 33 percent in private universities. Despite the striking disparity between the public and private, these numbers are high relative to female STEM enrolments in developed countries like the United States, where the percentage is around 30%.
However, a dive into STEM enrollment numbers in Lebanon unveils significant imbalance between science and engineering majors. Female students seem to oversubscribe the more “theoretical” science majors such as biology, chemistry, and physics as such majors may be leveraged later to find job opportunities within the education sector. Indeed, when one looks at technical and skills-based degrees such as mechanical or electrical engineering, female subscription drops significantly and is more in line with global trends.
Turning Words into Actions
The value of having more women in the energy sector is understated. Better gender diversity brings a wide set of benefits to Lebanon’s energy sector such as leveraging an overlooked pool of talents, generating more inclusive solutions and approaches, and boosting the sector’s reputation. Collectively, we, men and women, should work towards:
Lory Kantarjian, Researcher, Energy Policy and Security Program, Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, American University of Beirut.
In line with its commitment to furthering knowledge production, the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs publishes a series of weekly opinion editorials relevant to public policies.
These articles seek to examine current affairs and build upon the analysis by way of introducing a set of pragmatic recommendations to the year 2019. They also seek to encourage policy and decision makers as well as those concerned, to find solutions to prevalent issues and advance research in a myriad of fields.
The opeds published by IFI do not reflect the views of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut and are solely those of their authors.
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