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Powering Equality – Q&A with Andrea Pánczél, Chair of Women in Energy Association

Energy revolution cannot happen without women. This interview is published as part of a campaign launched by the Women in Energy Association (WONY).

Andrea Pánczél, Chair and Co-founder of Women in Energy Association (WONY) speaks about the changing face of the energy industry and the crucial role of women in shaping the future of this traditionally male-dominated sector.

You founded the Women in Energy Association (WONY) four years ago. What was the motivation behind this initiative?

Based on my personal experience, I have decided that something needed to be done to give women a say in shaping the energy sector that is one of the most important industries of our economy impacting our everyday lives and our future. Working for large energy companies and attending the world’s largest conferences, I have seen that very few women are in decision-making positions. And the few who managed to climb up the corporate ladder and reach higher positions are barely visible. That was the reason why I decided that something needed to be done to change the situation, therefore, together with ten women, we founded the Women in Energy Association. I believe in the power of community, I am convinced that together we can raise awareness much more effectively than by ourselves and the transformation of the energy industry and the energy transition cannot happen without the participation and involvement of women.

Various studies show that companies employing a higher percentage of women typically have a more positive work culture and increased profitability. However, the energy sector is still one of the most male-dominant sectors. How does WONY contribute to change this?

Yes, indeed, research also confirms that diverse and balanced management boards work particularly well in times of crisis, so I think we now have arrived at a crucial moment to change but our male colleagues in leadership positions also need to recognise this.

In our Association, for example, we can encourage each other to apply for leadership positions, as many times our lack of self-confidence can also stand in the way of our progress. We can give visibility to our members who are already in leadership positions for example by organising conferences on the topic of Women in Energy or giving speaking and moderating roles to them at big conferences, thus setting inspiring role models for each other and the younger generation. We can promote energy in various forums as one of the most exciting and interesting industries in the world, going beyond the sector’s traditional image of oil rigs and gas fields, the boundaries of the transforming energy world is expanding, addressing the new challenges of climate change, incorporating renewable energy, innovation and many more. WONY also has a mentoring program that supports girls who are studying at universities and wish to pursue a career in the energy industry. We introduce them to the wonders of the industry and show them its different areas, in the hope that they will stay with us and they will be the energy leaders of the future.

Now I feel that more and more big energy companies are starting to realise that women are crucial to the industry, so diversity, with or without quotas, is appearing in the strategy of more and more companies. Maybe we and others have managed to shake up this male-dominant sector a bit. It was about time.

WONY decided that from now on men can also become members and support the goals and mission of the Association?  Why is it important to include men as well?

There has never been a question that without men, there will be no change in the sector, as the majority of decision-makers are now men, it is largely up to them whether diversity is included in the business strategy of a company for example. But it also depends partly on men to create a peaceful and supportive environment at home so women have the opportunity to pursue their careers.

We experience that there are more and more male leaders working in energy who support our mission and agree with our goals. From now on, we welcome them in our community because we believe that it is a common cause that we can only reach together by supporting each other.

Conferences can also provide a platform to break the glass ceiling and support the growing professional community of women in the energy field. How do you incorporate the principle of diversity in your conferences?

When we organised the first Budapest Energy Summit in 2016, I finally decided that something had to be done. Less than 5 per cent of the speakers were women, while men spoke on stage about topics that affect the future of the world, that is, the future of all of us.

I thought it was impossible that there were so few women leaders in the sector, so I decided to find them. It was not an easy task. Finally, at our next big international conference at the Budapest LNG Summit in 2017, where we also founded WONY, the proportion of women speakers was already 20 per cent and this number is constantly growing at our conferences. Participation in international conferences and media coverage is very important, as what is not visible is not there. Therefore, even if for now there are few women leaders in the sector, we need to provide them with visibility because it inspires others and also shows that a woman can stand up in this male-dominated sector.

What are the big challenges and opportunities that you see ahead in the energy sector?

I definitely see the transition to a green economy as the biggest challenge and also the biggest opportunity. Of course, the COVID pandemic also poses enormous challenges to the energy and utilities sector, but I think that the 2030 and especially the 2050 climate targets will require unprecedented and fundamental changes from large energy companies. This is also true for many other sectors with high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as greening the economy is the shared responsibility of all sectors of the economy not just the energy industry.

Large companies need to make their decisions much faster and more efficiently, taking into account EU and national expectations and customers’ needs while also remaining profitable. There has never been a greater need for innovative, cost-effective, creative, flexible solutions and answers than now.

I think this is exactly the situation that can bring change for us. Transforming the energy sector can become increasingly attractive to young women and men in leadership positions may now realise that it is worth engaging us in this exciting, challenging process.

What advice would you give to women who are thinking about starting a career in the energy industry?

Join WONY’s mentoring program, which I hope we can restart in the fall!

But my most important advice is not to give up on your original goal easily, dare to think big and sometimes think differently than the mainstream. Be proactive, trust yourself!

Be curious, don’t be afraid to ask! Read energy news, analyses, learn as long as you can. If you feel that work is at the expense of your family life, slow down and make your decision by following your heart.

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