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Closing the Gender Gap in Energy Policy

April 7, 2011 - 3:07pm

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Editor’s Note: Join the conversation surrounding this year’s Clean Energy Ministerial on Twitter via #CEM2.

There’s a well-documented gender gap for women in science and engineering, or women in the “STEM” fields of science, technology, engineering and math. The numbers are stark: According to the National Science Foundation, women hold only 27 percent of the science and engineering jobs in the United States, but lest we forget, there’s not just a shortage of women in technical energy-related fields, there’s a shortage of women in energy policy as well.

Throughout my career in energy policy, first on Capitol Hill, then at the Department of Energy, then at the Gas Technology Institute, and now at the MIT Energy Initiative, I have often found myself as the only woman in a room full of men.

What’s wrong with that picture is not the men, of course – I’ve had the immense privilege to work with a great number of wonderfully capable men over the course of my career – but rather the absence of women, the absence of their perspectives, approaches and contributions.

As President Obama has highlighted, we as a country need to do more to bring women and other underrepresented minorities into the science, technology, engineering, and math fields from which clean energy professionals – those people on the vanguard of technology innovation – are most often drawn. We also need to do more to bring more women into the world of clean energy policy.

That is why I was so pleased today to participate in a forum on women in clean energy that was convened as part of the second Clean Energy Ministerial here in Abu Dhabi. The forum was part of the Clean Energy Education & Empowerment Initiative, or C3E, which is supported by nine governments and was launched last year to encourage greater engagement from women in the clean energy revolution.

The discussions on our panels focused first on identifying the gender gap for women in clean energy from societies around the world. This will help us to develop a baseline for improvement, as data on this new and emerging cross-cutting discipline are extremely limited.

We then endeavored to lay out policy priorities for the C3E initiative moving forward to the third Clean Energy Ministerial, which will be held in London in 2012.

At the session and in our informal conversations, my co-panelists and I talked about the concept of a clean energy ambassadors program, where established women from the field would mentor young women getting started in their careers, who would, in turn, undertake outreach activities at middle schools and high schools in the communities, with the goal of connecting to and inspiring the next generation of clean energy leaders.

In spite of the noticeable gender imbalance, I have also had the privilege to work with some outstanding women committed to clean energy transformations. The first energy secretary I worked for was Hazel O’Leary, and she led the way in new investment in wind, solar and high-efficiency automobiles. Deputy Secretary Betsy Moler was committed to a new, more open electric grid. And most recently, I have been honored to work with MIT President Susan Hockfield, who has harnessed the substantial resources of MIT to help transform how we produce, distribute and use energy. These women are an inspiration and C3E represents an opportunity to translate that inspiration into more opportunities for women in energy.

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