The Sunshine Sector’s Gender Challenge

Why the solar sector needs to have more women

As yet another International Women’s Day (IWD) came around on 8th March this year, the theme this year was ‘Balance for Better’- A balanced world is a better world. That got us thinking about the solar sector in India. The many industry conferences with their rare women speakers had of course indicated as such, but the reality of women’s participation in the solar sector is truly disappointing.

Gender Challenge

Perhaps that is one reason why there are already multiple organisations working to improve women’s participation in the sector, Women in Solar Energy (WISE), Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE), Women in Cleantech and Sustainability (WCS), Women in Energy, Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment (WCEE), India’s Barefoot College for ‘Solar Mamas’ etc.

There is absolutely no doubt that as a young industry making giant strides in terms of growth and impact on society today, the solar sector needs to focus more than ever on its internal policies and attractiveness with respect to women too. It’s clearly an area that needs a lot of work, going by the small minority women still form, when it comes to leadership or the broader workforce. But let’s shift focus on some of those who are actually inside, working, and making a big difference. We bring to you their experiences in the solar sector, the opportunities as they see for them, and how overall participation of women can be increased. Besides of course, how they manage their work life balance! In order to make no mistake, the sector needs to have a better balance when it comes to the fairer sex, as it moves from a commodified, government policy driven sector to one that stands without subsidies, makes a case directly to its end consumer, and hopes to be adopted for its contribution to saving the environment too. The end consumer will increasingly be a woman too, and something tells us, the industry will understand her only when we have more women inside too.

solar sector needs to more women

We spoke to solar industry women veterans – Dr Megha Pushpendra, Lead Strategic Communication, International Solar Alliance (ISA); Mirunalini Venkatagiri Chellappan, Director, Swelect Energy Systems; Rajashri Nagarkar, General Manager’s Operation, Meyer Burger India Pvt Ltd; Kelly Mermuys, Country Manager 3E India and Sales Director Bazefield; Priyanka Mohan, Managing Director, Kor Energy; Neha Agrawal, Head of Corporate Strategy & Rooftop Business, Vikram Solar; Deepika Mathur, Director Sales and Marketing, Solis Solar LLP; and Sweety Arya, Marketing Manager India, Solis Ginlong Technologie. Here’re their responses…

What prompted you to come into the Renewable sector?

Dr Megha Pushpendra

The paradigm of global intent to take an ‘economically sensible and good for every one in every way’ nature of the subject did. There is a famous saying that what you are seeking is seeking you. If solace was the word, I used to find it in writing a strategically right statement. Finding right cause to write such a statement was my soul search. Both the things converged and I started making my headway in this sector. Today, as Strategic Communication lead for ISA – I get to interact with global audiences, stakeholders, industry, academia and beneficiaries at an elevated pitch.

Mirunalini V C

My interest in Renewable Energy Sector started out even before my career started. I always thought every one of us is responsible to make the world a clean and green place. It so happened that my mentor and guide during Master’s was also thinking in the same lines and guided me to do my Master’s Thesis on Fuel Cell Based UPS and explore ideas in Renewable Energy Space. Moreover, during my Master’s my dad and I used to discuss a lot of ideas on what can be done in the solar field and the potential that was ahead of us. After graduation, when I joined Swelect (known as Numeric at that time) in 2008, the solar division was just setup and I started out as a Product Engineer responsible for developing Solar Chargers. From thereon, Solar and Renewables have been my passion and continues to be my core interest.

Rajashri Nagarkar

I was working with ABB earlier and then have been asked to shift to Bangalore for work. At the same time I have been called for interview in PV sector and I found it’s interesting.

Kelly Mermuys

After graduating as a bioscience engineer in Belgium, I cut my teeth in a variety of renewable energy projects focused primarily on biomass, solar and wind energy. Thanks to my fascination for the sector and my natural curiosity, I built up my expertise and gained valuable knowledge about the field. Simultaneously I also developed a drive to work towards a more sustainable future for us all – and renewable energy of course plays a significant role here. During the last decade of my career, I worked in a number of roles as I continued on my journey, but it’s definitely in India – where I live and work now – that I became aware of the global impact that can be realised by putting more efforts into renewable energy. The potential of India in renewable energy is gigantic!

Priyanka Mohan

Renewable Energy Specially Solar Energy is a need for today’s India. Lot of opportunity is there in both Private as well as Government Sector in rooftop solar market in India. There is a need for professional EPC Players to cater to Mid size segment. We felt an opportunity there and entered in this market.

Neha Agrawal

From the very beginning of my career, I wanted to make a meaningful contribution to my organization and by extension, the national and global community. The thought had always driven me throughout my career, so when I found the opportunity to work with Vikram Solar, I felt that the choice I was looking for was right in front of me. Humungous potential of the sector, rising global support, and its incredible growth within the country had also enticed me to step into the sector.

Although, our nation and the world have made incredible strides by harnessing conventional fossil fuel based energy, its depleting reserves, negative effects on the climate and growing population highlighted the need for a more sustainable energy source.

Working with Vikram Solar enabled me to pursue a cause for better future and life for the generations to come through promoting clean and green energy. Being able to serve and give back to the nation and the world through supporting Green energy transition appeared the right path for me to walk in.

Sweety Arya

It’s an honour and a privilege to be part of renewable sector, there are so many reasons that drawn me to the solar industry, one of them is love for the ‘Mother Nature’ and renewable sector is literally a natural gift.

Ginlong Solis fortunately gives me the chance to contribute to my nature. Sunlight, being the most abundant source of energy on earth, is providing a way for mankind to generate electricity and hence bring about more job opportunities with great benefits on an individual and international level. So, who wouldn’t want to work in an industry that provides so many beneficial factors.

Deepika Mathur

We were active into supplying raw material to various companies which were entering into Solar in year 2007-2008. Looking at the potential and impact it can make not only to the society but also, if I think from the point of view of business, we were sure to explore and succeed in this sector as this sector promises Really Bright Opportunities. Today we are doing Domestic as well as International projects and we proudly say that we have achieved this success because of persistence and unmoved focus on our goals.

Do share your experiences in the solar industry that makes it attractive for women in terms of opportunities.

Dr Megha Pushpendra

The sector is relatively younger than other sectors, so there is so much to leave your impression on, if you have the caliber to do.

For me, working with multilateral institutions like; the World Bank, IFC, PWC and MNRE, GoI was the high point when I was trying to pick up ends right at the beginning. Climate change and working for sustainable development any ways gives you sense of oneness with global community. Then, this sector gives you chance to show yourself on international platforms more than perhaps any other sector can. I represented ISA in Paris Peace Forum this November, where more than 48 state heads gathered to commemorate the spirit of multilateralism.

Rajashri Nagarkar

Actually my core strength is SAP and I join MeyerBurger for SAP implementation.But when I joined and gone through product training I was very much impressed with PV technology and studied in details. Visited Install base, customers and its very interesting technology. There is not much awareness of this industry also its volatile industry so lots of uncertainties are found. If we bring in policies which are more supportive then there are good chances that women can join.

Kelly Mermuys

Currently, I work for 3E and Bazefield, that develop a software platform that enables solar and wind farm operators to monitor and improve the performance of their assets. I’m in charge of rolling out the software platform, named SynaptiQ and made in the EU, for the portfolio management of wind and solar farms across India.

Doing this requires excellent communication skills that need to be used across different time zones and regions, a can-do attitude and a proficiency in planning. This is where I personally believe female leadership comes in handy, because it is characterised by empathy and the ability to listen. It’s also crucial to keep the entire team focused on the project goals, because those are the ones that will have an impact on the planet. So it matters to do this together as a team. We create an impact together and make it happen!

Mirunalini V C

I truly believe being a woman need not be a limiting factor to enter any field. I did a short internship in Schlumberger and I have seen women playing an equal role in off shore projects. There was no differentiation on recruitment between men or women. The skill and the tenacity was what mattered. Similarly, I have been involved in various segments of Solar Sector – As a product engineer, as a project design engineer, as a project manager located in project sites for 3-4 months (which was brutal), currently as solar module division head and handling certain energy sale projects. Having seen various segments in Solar, I see a huge potential for women to be in any role they would be willing to be in, what matters is primarily the interest, eagerness to learn, and the perseverance to be in the sector.

Priyanka Mohan

Clients usually are very much impressed when they see professional women in technical field and understanding and explaining technical aspects. Most clients feel women better understand their problems and comes up with right solutions.

Neha Agrawal

Having a purpose (that is championed by all) to drive your career is the best opportunity one can get. Modern women have made their mark in the world’s leading industries through dedication and excellence. Solar being the most lucrative sector in India and probably the world, I believe it is time for us to step in and take responsibility of world’s future, securing growth and sustainability. Areas of solar where job potentials are high are- Sales, Engineering, non-technical, Legal, Finance, IT, and each of these areas have multiple departments likeEPC, manufacturing, O&M, requiring skilled individuals. So, it would be fair to state that with more opportunities, the chances of growing, learning, and succeeding within solar industry increases incredibly. I have personally experienced how a growing sector can give a leg up to employees’ knowledge and career trajectory. Solar sector is waiting for you to set new rules, new business benchmarks, new success stories that will lead you to your career goal faster than any other industry.

Deepika Mathur

I have had my share of ups and downs and all the experiences have taught me to be better than my own previous version. It may sound philosophical, but as you achieve one goal and conquer next height, you are more motivated to achieve the toughest target, which lies ahead. No doubt, being a woman, I have to work extra to prove my worth but once you put a firm foot, people accept you and welcome you. You just have to be logical and focused. I am taking care of Sales and Marketing and this demands a lot of patience, knowledge of industry and exposure to multicultural working setup. Be open to accept challenge and criticism with cool composure. It really helps you to grow as a strong leader.

Sweety Arya

I have a fantastic experience in this industry. Women have a considerable opportunity to make careers in solar industry and join in on the highly skilled, well-paying solar jobs. ‘Solar mamas’ power up women’s development, C’mon, gals — join it, jump on it – don’t clip your wings. It’s a high time to join this industry. The industry is young enough and hungry for talented people, there is an opportunity to change the dynamic at the beginning before we have as many walls and ceilings to smash through later.

What will get more women to join the sector?

Dr Megha Pushpendra

Ground Activation! Sensible outcome oriented dialogue! Interventions at multiple levels in different strata of society simultaneously so that a self sustaining mechanism can be developed, and last but not the least-a reliable trajectory in career – competent with their men counterparts anywhere else.

Mirunalini V C

The best way to encourage more women to get into Solar would be to start the awareness and education from school and college itself. Also, the company’s and the candidate’s willingness to be open to take roles other than in back office or behind the desk must be inculcated. There a great number of avenues available for women in Solar in terms, product development, IOT in Solar, digitising energy, projects, design engineering, marketing, project management etc. The main key factors are passion and determination.

Rajashri Nagarkar

They should include some syllabus from beginning of schooling so that awareness should be there. This might create more interest and awareness.

Kelly Mermuys

I think there are plenty of intelligent women with self-confidence that can take on any job she is passionate about. Perhaps it’s not the industry as much as the women themselves that require a mindset shift.

Priyanka Mohan

Women should be encouraged to take up Renewable Energy as career as this offers them good career as well as job satisfaction. Apart from having good career they will be better contributing to society.

Neha Agrawal

Women participation in industries within India and the world has grown substantially over the years. However, we must point out that India ranked quite low(120th) among 131 countries in female work force participation.

In such a scenario, focusing on solar can benefit India and provide country’s women workforce an opportunity. Solar can be considered to be the perfect opportunity that promises to create huge number of jobs (10 Lakh jobs to be created within 2022) in India. This sector has multiple, technical and non-technical areas where women can excel. Especially, work force is extensively required in rural areas where most of the large scale utility projects are being installed. There, solar can provide steady jobs, uplifting lives of women.

However, I believe that lack of Awareness regarding the prospect of the sector, lack of training institutions, and social barrier of women working in the energy/manufacturing sector are still creating challenges for women to take up jobs in solar. Providing more exposure to different job areas in solar, establishing more institutes and offering technical and nontechnical job trainings extensively, and encouraging women socially to pursue a career in cities and in rural areas can help the country see growth in women workforce in solar.

Sweety Arya

I think training institutes and civil society organisations should collaborate and strengthen connections with clean energy enterprises to help trained women secure employment. This sensitisation to women’s specific needs can help increase participation of women in the RE workforce. And, if the public and private sectors come together to bring such jobs to women, particularly in poorer communities, India’s transition to clean energy could also improve the quality of life for women and their families.

Deepika Mathur

Encourage your female force to put their ideas into actions. Be more receptive. Industry must accept that knowledge and talent has no gender. Logical reasoning and good ideas should be welcomed, no matter who takes it forward/ initiate. Now a days industry acknowledges the efforts put by female employees to achieve goals and targets and I have seen many female leaders in this industry doing really good job.

Do you feel the sector is any different when it comes to finding a work life balance for a woman who has to manage work and family life?

Dr Megha Pushpendra

Well, in today’s context it is true for all in the family. All four of us me my spouse our son and our daughter- try and do this trapeze walk. It is not just me – there are four balancing acts that are managed simultaneously to keep the square peg square!!

Mirunalini V C

Well, to be honest there is truly no such thing a balance of work and family. I have a 4 year old kid and there are certain compromises to be made on both fronts. A great deal of support is required both at home and work to achieve a sense of balance which varies from person to person. For me, I have tremendous support from my family and the flexibility and understanding from my colleagues at work. The main driver to achieve this balance has been the passion that I have towards work without which it is easy to give up. The key to manage both is to stay organised. I usually set aside an hour every Sunday to plan my week, prioritise the tasks, delegate quite a bit and at the same time ensuring that I allocate specific time for family.

Rajashri Nagarkar

I have support system at home. I ensure to spend quality time hour a day with kiddos. Keep communication with them throughout the day. Plan my week in advance. Ensure not to travel during exams of kids. My husband is also very supportive and with his help it’s easier to balance.

Kelly Mermuys

I think personally that work-life is easier to balance in India than in Europe. In India you can get so much affordable support for household and family matters. A working woman in India can dedicate a lot of energy to her career without jeopardising her family life.

Priyanka Mohan

This is the most difficult for woman to maintain work life balance and this is only achieved by proper time planning and supportive family as well as colleagues.

Neha Agrawal

For me, working in Vikram Solar is working for my extended family. Hence, balancing doesn’t remain as a requirement anymore. The organisation is quite sensible of employee sentiments. As much as we contribute to the growth of the organisation, the leadership ensures we have happy and fulfilled family life, whether it is through extending any kind of household support, keeping in mind the families for all major events, providing time flexibility for any personal commitments, forced annual holidays with family. With all these benefits and a keen understanding from the family, balancing work and personal life is no more a challenge.

Deepika Mathur

It’s a difficult task but not impossible. Having a supportive family and spouse make a big difference. Being a mother, I have priorities to look after kids and I make sure that I give enough time to them and be available whenever they need me. I don’t bring office at home. Making a schedule of everyday tasks also helps to reduce stress and balance work-home life.

Sweety Arya

Girls have power to change the world, and I believe that it’s important to have your priorities in order—both personal and professional life , if you want to be a successful working woman, you have to draw a line between personal and professional work and learn to say “NO” to things that don’t align with your priorities. It is the biggest mantra to successfully juggle both personal and professional life because “It’s not a one-size-fits-all”. Nothing can dim the light that shines from sun and Nothing can dim the light that shines from women power.

Manu Tayal

Manu Tayal

Manu is an Associate Editor at Saur Energy International where she writes and edits clean & green energy news, featured articles and interview industry veterans with a special focus on solar, wind and financial segments.

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