USAID’s Engendering Utilities program works with organizations in male-dominated industries to increase employment opportunities for women and improve gender equality in the workplace.
By Paromita Pain
USAID’s Engendering Utilities program supported BSES Rajdhani Power Limited (BRPL) to develop and roll-out a paternity leave policy, the first of its kind for the company. Photograph courtesy BRPL
Women’s participation in the workforce is considered an important element of an inclusive and sustainable development process. And while women face different obstacles in diverse sectors, there are also many efforts to promote gender equality in the workplace.
One such effort is the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Engendering Utilities program, which is uniquely geared toward helping energy organizations increase employment opportunities for women, open the field to greater gender inclusion, boost fiscal equality and encourage business growth. In India, USAID has partnered with TATA Power Delhi Distribution Limited (TPDDL) and BSES Rajdhani Power Limited (BRPL) since 2019 to achieve these goals.
“This has been a USAID global initiative since 2015 in Jordan, Georgia, Macedonia, Nigeria and Kenya,” says Anurag Mishra. “In 2018, TPDDL and BRPL were identified as partners in India through a national outreach process.” Mishra serves as the Senior Clean Energy Specialist at USAID/India, leading programs to deliver on the U.S. government’s objectives for a free and open Indo-Pacific. “Within the context of utilities, both were very keen to encourage more women to be a part of the scenario,” he says.
When the program was implemented in 2019, Mishra says there were around 14 percent women in TPDDL, which they wanted to increase to 50 percent. At BRPL, around 12.5 percent of the staff were women. “They did not have a target in place, but they really wanted to increase gender parity,” he says.
The program begins by investigating the basic challenges that keep women away from the field. Women traditionally do not take up technical courses in college. Gender stereotypes that women cannot be linesmen or do meter readings in individual homes prevent them from exploring these professional options. Both TPDDL and BRPL have reached out to schools to encourage female students to look into the energy sector for career opportunities and have started scouting women specifically during campus recruitment drives.
Gender in the workplace
It is not always easy to convince companies about the importance of gender equity but, as Mishra says, both TPDDL and BRPL were keen to integrate women more fully. “An important aspect of the Engendering Utilities program is that the initiatives are designed to show that gender integration is not just a good thing for everybody, but it is also something which is going to be beneficial for businesses,” explains Mishra. The program has two main components. One is the best practices framework on improving gender equity throughout the employee life cycle, that provides the practical resources organizations need to increase gender equality across their operations and corporate structure. The other component is the Gender Equity Executive Leadership Program, that is designed to build the capacity of organizational leaders to identify critical gender equality gaps and implement interventions that directly increase opportunities for women within the company.
USAID and Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business developed the curriculum for the Gender Equity Executive Leadership Program to help key managerial personnel effectively integrate gender equality initiatives across corporate structures. “We ask partners for a certain level of commitment,” says Mishra. “They must commit some of their staff and to certain hours as part of this initiative and participants must come back with an action plan.” Additionally, decision-makers must be supportive of those plans and their implementation.
Engagement with TPDDL and BRPL initiated in 2019, the Engendering Utilities program faced impediments because of COVID-19 but, as Mishra says, the two partners have made important strides towards gender parity despite the lockdown. Both partners implemented policies that allowed work from home, which helped women care for their families, especially children, while also providing services to their companies. “This was important since the energy sector has always been associated with field work,” says Mishra. “They also made considerations like addressing safety concerns associated with field work that helped more women keep working.”
The pandemic may have made 2020 an unusual year but the Engendering Utilities program saw important successes. At BRPL, says Mishra, female technical personnel were identified and promoted. Within TPDDL, one of their female employees was hired as CEO of one of the subsidiaries of TATA Power.
In the future, the program will work to continue building broad-based support for greater gender inclusivity. “Male employees participated enthusiastically and actively championed the gender cause,” says Mishra. “Since the program is a comprehensive framework, it ensures that change is introduced as a matter of policy and not just as piecemeal efforts.”
Paromita Pain is an assistant professor of Global Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.