In Asia, women can transform the face of hydropower

Amy Luinstra, Kate Lazarus

(Nation/ANN) In Asia, women are more likely to be found in occupations such as teaching and nursing than in 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 Asia and Pacific countries could be 7 to 18 per cent 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 and bring more women into leadership roles. On March 8, International Women’s Day, World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) launched an initiative called “Powered by Women” to catalyse change in Southeast Asia’s hydropower industry. The initiative started in Myanmar, where women are almost completely absent from this 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, improved community relationships, and risk management. Women and their households also miss out on good jobs and the incomes they bring.

Additionally, increasing gender diversity can raise employee satisfaction across the board. For example, the increased gender diversity at the Itaipu Dam on the border between Brazil and Paraguay led to more family-friendly benefits, which was hugely appreciated by male and female employees alike. In another case, the Santo Antonio hydro-electricity plant in Brazil nearly tripled the national average of women in technical jobs during its construction phase, thus saving $9 for every $1 invested.

Thus, our message to hydropower companies in Asia is that there is a real business case for inclusion of women in leadership position and in non-traditional jobs such as dam construction.  By promoting gender diversity, “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 reap the benefits of gender diversity, but lack locally-grounded tools and experience. Other companies may not yet be convinced of the importance of prioritising gender-smart approaches.  Powered by Women will help companies to better understand where women will improve their operations – as leaders, entrepreneurs in the supply and distribution side, employees, consumers, and stakeholders.

Transforming the hydropower industry will not be easy as the gender-equity scale is off balance worldwide. While literature on gender and hydropower exists, it is limited. There are good tools available for companies to integrate gender 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 “genderise” 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 reputation, and transform the market.

Amy Luinstra is senior gender adviser to the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Kate Lazarus is leader of Environmental and Social Advisory Services for the Hydropower Sector at IFC.