Local energy sector still has too few women participants, says petroleum agency

South Africa’s energy sector still has too few women participants, despite several opportunities offered to them, according to the chief executive of the Petroleum Agency of South Africa, Phindile Masangane.

“We try to open the doors and are deliberate in bringing in a good representation of women but we are finding that, most of the time, as it is in other industries, women hesitate; they want to make sure that they have the necessary experience before they apply. So even with entry-level positions, we find ourselves with more men applying than women,” Masangane told the Mail & Guardian on the sidelines of the Africa Energy conference in Cape Town last week.

The agency is responsible for processing applications for permits and licences for upstream oil and gas operations. Any company that wants to explore or produce oil and gas in the country, has to go through the petroleum agency.

Masangane cited the agency’s upstream training trust, to which exploration and production companies in the industry contribute money for a skills development programme.

“When I was looking at the applications for 2022, it was 60% of men and only 40% of women. Yet, in our advertisement, we were clear that we were targeting black women. If even in terms of the applications there is under-representation, this has a ripple effect,” she said.

According to the women empowerment and gender equality strategy for the energy sector for 2021 to 2025, women comprise only 20% of the personnel in South Africa’s gas and oil industry and just 17% of those in middle-management and senior-leadership positions.

Globally, of the more than 10-million people employed in the renewable energy sector, only 32% are women, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency

Masangane, however, said she was encouraged by the emergence of a group of experienced women making waves in the oil and gas sector.  

“In the upstream oil sector, we have a majority women-owned entity called Imbokodo,” Masangane said.

“They are really a formidable force ― former executives in the oil and gas sector, which is a rare thing ― and they have applied for licences and are partnering with some of the exploration companies, so I am looking forward to them growing their portfolio and making a meaningful contribution.”

As the industry slowly moves towards renewable energy, there are several risks that women who want to work in the sector are likely to face, such as lower profit margins than previously, Masangane said. 

“Now that the industry is getting more established, we are seeing the profit margins starting to decrease and, for me, this would be an unfortunate time for women to start participating,” she said.

“I wish that we had taken the initiative in the earlier stages of the development of the industry, when we had larger profit margins. It is unfortunate, but a lot can be done to support women’s participation.”

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Marcia Zali
Marcia Zali is an award winning journalist

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