Growing strong female leaders in the Energy Access sector

By Andrea Fitzpatrick, 11 March

The Future Female Leaders in Energy programme is a unique and necessary Continued Professional Development (CPD) course that empowers upcoming females in the Energy Access sector with the skills to be future senior leaders that can contribute to the clean energy transition. It has already welcomed 83 students across three cohorts from 16 different countries, with another 7 cohorts (180 students) anticipated for the rest of the year. We connected with David Mwaura from the African Management Institute (AMI) and our very own Kai Forster and Mascha Moorlach from the Transforming Energy Access – Learning Partnership (TEA-LP) to share some insights about their process in the development of this course.

The Future Female Leaders in Energy course already reaches 16 countries, particularly in Africa. Source: TEA-LP

The most notable feature is that this is a women’s-only course. This was a conscious choice to target the issue of the significant gender gap that exists in the sector. Mascha noted that currently, women in middle management in the sector sits at around 35%, with top management being even lower than this. As she explained, “To grow the pool of female managers, we need to train entry-level managers so they can grow and be promoted into middle- and top management roles.”

TEA-LP and AMI were already collaborating on the Off-Grid Talent Initiative (OGTI) which ran from 2019-2021 and supported nearly 900 young professionals in over 100 energy companies across 23 African countries. The success of the OGTI programme sparked the idea of a targeted course that would address the gender gap and empower female leaders. David explained that the course seeks to, “offer young women who are still early in their careers, the opportunity to learn more about the options available within the sector and how they can apply their skills to establish themselves for career growth and longevity in the sector.”

Kai went on to detail how the gender gap is exacerbated by the fact that many women also have family care responsibilities, leaving little time to engage in additional learning and career development activities. He explained how the aim was therefore to create, “a highly flexible, remotely accessible, and asynchronous high-quality learning experience so that they can improve chances of career development and empowerment within the sector through both knowledge and a set of leadership and management competencies.”

An overview of the Future Female Leaders in Energy course structure. Source: TEA-LP

The content itself was developed by lecturers and experts with a substantial knowledge of their field as well as a proven track record in developing online course content. The UCT/TEA-LP team focused on three of the modules (Introduction to the Energy and Off-grid Energy Sectors, Leadership, and Risk Management), and AMI were responsible for delivering a further three (Financial Management, Project Management, and Communication).

David explained that for the AMI modules, “We wanted to make sure our instructors and experts represent the demographic we are trying to upskill and help thrive. Our facilitators are talented women who are incredibly knowledgeable in Leadership. Our Learning Department working on the programme comprises mainly females who understand the need for equal opportunity and diversity in the workforce.”

The objective was to make the course as convenient and accessible (both financially and in terms of time) as possible. The course is therefore structured in small, manageable portions. Kai explained “through using a continuous assessment approach where participants had weekly assignments or quizzes, participants could feel as if they were making steady progress in the course without being overwhelmed at any point.”

Kai described how the UCT modules consist of 5 lecture videos per week, which were supported by notes and supplementary materials such as articles and YouTube videos to deepen participants’ knowledge. As the course is delivered remotely in a virtual environment, careful attention was paid to make the lecture videos and slides look as aesthetically appealing as possible using engaging audiovisual design. He went on to describe how the supplementary materials added another dimension to the course, broadening the participants’ perspectives and offering diverse case studies and articles to pique their interest. He also explained how, “All the UCT modules went through a quality control process where the content was thoroughly checked by a colleague. This meant that any errors that were missed by the instructor were picked up, and any key omissions of content in some areas could be detected.”

An introductory slide from Module 1. Source: Kai Forster

AMI specialises in management and business development and therefore focused on the management-focused modules of the course. David explained how their live learning sessions centre around industry-relevant examples and touch points that allow the students to leverage the content for themselves. He explained that “one key principle is the importance of ‘putting things into practice’. We make sure we explain why they are exploring the content, and how it relates to their personal and professional lives, and we give them opportunities to practice the content in our live learning sessions with support from our talented facilitators.”

While the course is aimed at entry-level women with 1-3 years’ experience, applications are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and candidates hoping to transition into the energy sector are also considered. To ensure that students have the best possible chance of succeeding at this course, several strategies have been put in place. Firstly, the continuous assessment approach makes the workload more manageable and prevents students from being overwhelmed with additional work. Secondly, lecturers are lenient in terms of assignment extensions, if this has been clearly communicated by students. Lecturers have a fast turnaround time to student queries ensuring swift communication; and finally, a supportive environment that values encouragement has been cultivated to develop the participants’ self-belief.

To make sure the course continues to be relevant and impactful, the UCT modules will undergo an extensive revision process when the first cohort finishes in April this year. AMI have multiple processes in place for revising their content which includes debrief sessions after each live lesson, reviews of engagement processes to identify when additional support is required as well as a review of participants’ overall participation to identify any successes or gaps in their learning experience.

A screenshot from the first cohort’s kick-off webinar. Source: Lucy Njuguna

The FFL course has already seen great progress and feedback from the first cohort who are set to graduate in April this year. 67% of the course participants for the first three cohorts self-funded their studies which shows the eagerness and commitment of women in the sector to grow their careers. The course equips participants with valuable tools, values, and competencies in leadership and management, which can significantly increase their chances of promotion and positions of leadership in the future. We are incredibly excited to continue supporting women through this course to reduce the gender gap in the energy sector in Africa.