Women in Sustainable Energy

28 June 2018

Portrait of Dr Sivapriya Mothilal Bhagavathy

by Dr Sivapriya Mothilal Bhagavathy
Postdoctoral Research Associate

Sivapriya (Priya) joined Oxford's Energy and Power Group as post-doctoral research associate in March 2018.Her areas of expertise include distributed generation and its grid integration, whole system perspective of energy analysis and power system modelling.

20180626 Blog on She is sustainable Speakers cropped

After a minor hiccup, I reached the Goldsmiths’ centre in central London just in time to join the first interactive session at the She is Sustainable: Pioneers of Energy forum. The event began with Nina Skorupksa and Catherine Mitchell drawing on their experiences as women working in the energy sector. The speakers shared their experience of being at the receiving end of “because you are a woman”. The attendees – who came from a variety of career pathways including early career researchers, seasoned academics, lawyers, journalists and company directors – also shared some of the challenges they faced, such as being told “you only got this job because you are a woman”, “you are here for diversity”, or “who did you sleep with to reach here ? ”

Realising that women in the energy sector still face these struggles even though they work in developed nations in the 21st century made me feel very desolate. However, there were some useful takeaways from this interactive session, including:

  • Don’t feel embarrassed about yourself at any stage;
  • Don’t say sorry for anything, unless you know you’ve really done something wrong;
  • You have every right to be there as much as any other male counterpart; and
  • Speak up for equal representation and talk to event organisers if you feel women are underrepresented.

Following on from these encouraging and bold tones, we set off on a journey exploring the best ways to maximize the impact of our work on policy. The speakers Rebecca Willis and Caterina Brandmayr highlighted some useful things to keep in mind when interacting with decision makers’, in particular:

  1. Start from where your audience are. Try to understand what motivates them and what they want to hear.
  2. Engage, don’t translate. Make sure to ask questions to engage policy makers. This creates a two-way communication rather than pushing them into receiving mode.
  3. Make friends. Talk to people.
  4. Be opportunistic. As soon as you have done your literature review you are an expert in that field compared to many policy makers. Claim it! Don’t wait until you have got your results. Definitely, don’t wait until you publish. If there is a consultation coming in, respond to it.
  5. Plan ahead. Form alliances with people and plan for collaborations. Don’t wait until the consultation is out to meet people.

The third session was a panel discussion on energy system challenges with panellists Rebecca Ford, Poppy Maltby and Emma Pinchbeck. This session really stood out for me because it took an unusual approach and flipped the order in which panels usually work. While the general theme for discussion was around energy systems challenges, the session chair took 8-10 questions from the audience at a time, and then offered the panellists the opportunity to talk around the themes that emerged and that piqued their interest the most.

These covered aspects as broad as whether 1.5 degrees is actually achievable and how market structures might evolve to support changes in energy infrastructure, to specific topics around taxation for electric vehicles, long term energy storage, fuel poverty, smart heat, and how energy companies can better engage customers. Policy also played a central theme in the discussion, and panellists were asked for their thoughts on gaps in current energy policy, how future decision making may become increasingly decentralised, and what implications the shifting policy environment may have on energy sector jobs.

The event ended with an open space that facilitated a healthy discussion on different themes and opportunities to engage with policy makers within the energy sector. The main take-home messages from the event for me were:

  • Say Yes! Get comfortable with being uncomfortable;
  • Read the book “Feminist fight club”;
  • Don’t just look at energy – pick up from other domains;
  • Move fast; and
  • Don’t get stuck with a single solution – any single solution is not a panacea!

Green Alliance received funding for this initiative from UKERC and EPSRC.

This opinion piece reflects the views of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the position of the Oxford Martin School or the University of Oxford. Any errors or omissions are those of the author.