Testimonials from women leaders in the energy industry

Published on Tuesday, 1 March 2022

“Chile has indeed made progress in incorporating women in careers associated with STEM (Basic Sciences, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). However, the data show that in practice, we are still far from reaching the average figures of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).”

According to 2020 data from the Ministry of Energy, women's participation in the Chilean energy sector is 23%, 25% in board positions, and 18% in first-line management. Consulting firm Mtalent gathered the data in 2021 with the support of the same Ministry.

Although there are no gender-based limitations in the Chilean educational system, women tend not to pursue careers in STEM areas. The latter is due to "the school system stressing gender stereotypes that cause certain professions to be categorized as essentially "masculine" or "feminine," acting as determinants when deciding on a career," according to the ComunidadMujer organization.

In addition, when women decide to study a technical career, "they tend not to pursue fieldwork positions, and instead do postgraduate studies in social areas", says Karla Sepúlveda, Senior Environmental Officer. Ms. Sepúlveda is in charge of Environment at Enel Green Power Chile's "Azabache" photovoltaic park, a position she took up when the project, located near the city of Calama, began construction about a year ago. "I came to a team composed mainly of men. There were only three women in a team of 20 people".

Karla, 33, has been interested in environmental care since she was 15 years old, when it was not a widely discussed topic. After working as a consultant in Santiago, she realized that being on the ground was the best way to care for biodiversity. She decided to build mining projects and then work in renewable projects with Enel Green Power Chile.

"I believe that solid work experiences make you stronger. My job sometimes involves stopping machinery and construction progress. If something may cause environmental damage, you have to make tough decisions". However, some stereotypes still prevail in the industry. "We are in constant silent evaluation because everyone is waiting for us to fail, but you don't", says Karla from her office in the Atacama Desert.

From left to right Karla Sepúlveda, Paola Carrasco and Giada Reina

Diversity as a competitive advantage

While working for a wine company, Giada Reina arrived in Chile ten years ago from Italy. Today, as a business professional, she is Head of Planning and Control for Enel Generación Chile, a position she assumed in February 2022, three years after joining the company.

During her career, Giada has realized that "today there is a change of values, we appreciate teamwork more than the old, vertical, structural way. We focus our work experience on networks, a very female way of working, by supporting each other, reaching out, having conversations, building personal relationships among colleagues and therefore having a deeper work base".

For Paola Carrasco, "gender diversity provides many perspectives, though there is a cultural bias. Women are taught to talk and focus on social matters, and men are taught not to talk so much and work on technical matters, generating cross-value contributions, which is what we must take advantage of".

Diversity is a competitive advantage for any company. "Diverse teams are an asset for companies, improving their results and at the same time generating economic growth", according to a report prepared by the Ministry of Women in conjunction with Chile Mujeres.

Women's leadership in the energy sector

For Giada, reaching a company's objectives is essential, and so is the process. Therefore, the incorporation and growth of women can make all the difference. Together with four other Enel Chile colleagues, they created Enel's "Woman Innovation Lab" community, a space for women's empowerment and professional development.

Last year they held their first Mentoring Program.  Among its 22 participants were also Karla Sepúlveda and Paola Carrasco.

WIL Mentoring Program 2021

More than 130 women from different company areas participate in the community through talks and training, with three main objectives: Learning to Innovate, Professional Development, and Leadership Development. These projects visualize the value of women's contribution to the industry and companies.

Likewise, Enel maintains concrete goals in gender equality. These commitments are reflected in different countries where Enel operates through parity in recruitment processes, promoting professional development and increasing the number of women in leadership positions, especially those with greater responsibility, such as boards of directors. The goal is to make Enel a good place to work, through a culture of respect, free of harassment, and where work and personal life can have a balance, especially when we talk about maternity.

It is essential to create incentive school programs encouraging girls to discover and study STEM careers.

“To increase participation in companies, you have to increase the base. If you have few professionals in a certain career, even if you pressure the manager to hire more women, he will not have female candidates to hire”

– says Giada.

One way to encourage female student participation is to see gender references within academia, especially in historically male disciplines. For Paola Carrasco, success references must be "based in the Chilean market", showing female students a "closer reality and thus building a discourse of future possibilities that they can claim".

"My opportunities were given by visionary men, who decided to appoint the first female Head of Unit, the second professional woman in the entire Engineering Management. They saw potential in a faceless professional and enabled her growth. They were willing to see that gender parity is positive, as long as we continue contributing and not settle. In 2020, I was the first woman appointed to a management position in the Infrastructure & Networks Chile area. Although change has been slower than in other countries in the region, only a year later, the second appointment occurred. Meaning that possibilities and willingness to change exist and are being generated at a faster rate than 15 years ago", adds Paola.

Karla, Paola, and Giada's views on the future of labor equality are similar. They all agree that this is the time to act. "What we do today will have a tremendous impact in the future. If a woman starts studying electrical engineering now, in 15 years, she could be the operation and maintenance supervisor of ten solar parks. That's what we should strive for", says Karla.

"We should not take parity for granted. I like to think that we have to keep working to earn our space and add value. Our peers should know that gender parity is a positive and crucial element for the growth of any country or company," Paola concludes.