Plenary: Towards an Enabling Global Environment: Accelerating Women Leadership and Empowerment

Date: 12 Feb 2021

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Welcome Remarks: Dr Ajay Mathur, Director General, TERI
Special Addresses: Ms Karen Klimowski, Acting Deputy Mission Director, USAID/India
Chair: Ms Vaishali Sinha, Chief Sustainability Officer, ReNew Power Pvt Ltd and Co-Chair, SAWIE
Panellists: Dr Mukesh Aghi, President and CEO, USISPF; Ms Sheebu David, CHRO, GE South Asia & GE Renewable Energy Onshore Wind APAC & China; Ms Anita Marangoly George, Executive Vice President, Deputy Head- CDPQ Global, CDPQ India; Dr Irene Giner-Reichl, President, Global Forum for Sustainable Energy


Dr Ajay Mathur, Director General, TERI gave the welcome address. He stated that it is at the heart of a country’s progress, how women and girls participate in households and at work. Though women are achieving parity in terms of education and at workplaces,yet, their representation remains low. Dr Mathur highlighted TERI’s efforts at gender inclusivity at the workplace, wherein around 40% of the workforce at TERI are women and 28% of the senior leadership comprises women. However, in the energy field, women are only a handful. Dr Mathur applauded the successful women leaders present on the panel and implored them to share their experiences in the ensuing discussions. He concluded with the hope that in the next edition of the WSDS, there would be at least 50% women speakers.

Ms Karen Klimowski, Acting Deputy Mission Director, USAID/India, delivered the special address. She remarked that India represents a unique mix of culture, tradition and innovation, and investing in gender equality and women’s empowerment could unlock human potential, which is key to sustainable outcomes. She highlighted USAID’s work with governments and corporations to empower women, men, girls and boys, and transgender people, in various domains such as education, health, access to credit, and sustainable livelihoods, among others. She stressed that women’s empowerment is the key to reaching the sustainable development goals and their initiative SAWIE advocates for gender equality and mainstreaming women leadership.

The panel discussion was chaired by Ms Vaishali Sinha, Chief Sustainability Officer, ReNew Power Pvt Ltd and CoChair, SAWIE. In her opening remarks, Ms Vaishali emphasized the importance of building back to recover from the pandemic, but in a green and inclusive manner, and ensure that women are at the centre of efforts. She highlighted some dismal statistics, when it came to women’s inclusion and contribution in the workforce, leadership roles, and the economy. According to Ms Vaishali, though entrepreneurship in energy is growing rapidly, funds for women entrepreneurs are inadequate. Therefore, much action is needed, where inclusiveness in funding must be prioritized.

Dr Mukesh Aghi, President and CEO, USISPF, addressedthe need to look at the global perspective. He cited the findings of a recent IMF study that highlighted the kinds of discriminations women face, including disparity in payand being prevented from doing certain jobs. There is also an increase in the digital divide between men and women, and one cannot progress in the present times without being in the digital arena. Mr Aghi further stated that studies have shown that increasing women’s participation in the workplace increases productivity. Moreover, in the context of India, increasing women’s participation by 10% can lead to a 20% increase in GDP. However, there is a structural discrimination against women in various aspects, and laws, culture, and attitudes have all contributed to this. Furthermore, the biggest gender discrimination happens in the energy sector. Mr Aghi mentioned some of the steps taken by his organization to bring about change, such as defining criteria for inclusivity in recruitment.

Ms Anita Marangoly George, Executive Vice President, Deputy Head- CDPQ Global, CDPQ India shared her experiences in increasing women’s representation in organizations such as World Bank and IFC. According to Ms George, having more women changed the dynamics of the team and led to richer discussions and better execution. She noted that while multilaterals mandate having women in top positions, the number of women in mid-level positions were fewer as they dropped out. She asserted that if women are given flexibility, they will stay back. Therefore, they made several structural changes that enabled women and men to carry out domestic responsibilities while managing their careers. She further highlighted some of the initiatives undertaken by them to empower women in the workforce, such as training women to be able to take on board positions that would help them perform and deliver as per the company’s requirements. They also work with women entrepreneurs and provide them access to capital.

Dr Irene Giner-Reichl, President, Global Forum for Sustainable Energy stressed on the strong correlation between SDGs 5 and 7. She stated that while the COVID-19 crisis is threatening progress across all SDGs, the major setback has been in the progress of SDG 5. Women and girls have felt the economic impact more, as they were already earning much lesser than men, and bear the brunt of unpaid care work, and the burden has only increased during lockdown. She added that several economic recovery programmes across the world focus on energy transitions, which give an opportunity to make the transition just and gender equitable. There is also a need to include the talent and experiences of women to enable societal transformations. Dr Irene shed light on the efforts made by the Gender-Energy Forum that brings together youth and women to accelerate gender inclusion in energy.

Ms Sheebu David, CHRO, GE South Asia & GE Renewable Energy Onshore Wind APAC & China foregrounded why every organization must have a structured approach on how to make changes. Rather than doing anecdotal and sporadic work, scalable efforts are required. Ms David talked about the various inclusive and sustainable practices that were adopted by them, which included understanding why women were leaving their jobs, and creating support systems such as employee assistance programmes, and engaging trained counsellors to help bring women back to work. She also highlighted the policy changes made to enable more flexibility for both menand women to contribute to family responsibilities.