GWNET brings you the 12th instalment of the “Meet the Women in the Energy Transition” series which celebrates the work and achievements of the women who are part of GWNET’s 3/2020 Mentoring Programme. This mentoring programme is made up of 26 mentee-mentor tandems, with mentees from over 20 countries. Meet GWNET mentee, Denisa Diaconu, a project manager and analyst working at Energy Policy Group in Romania.
1) Tell us a little about yourself. What do you love most about what you do?
With a background in political science and public policy, I had worked for several years as a researcher in various projects concerning political participation, electoral behaviour, civic engagement and political clientelism.
The experience helped me develop a critical way of thinking, enhanced my ability to evaluate policies, and attain analytical skills. Yet, engaging myself in these activities made me aware of the fact that it is not enough – even though necessary – to aggregate data and analyze it statistically to understand what is happening in society. Spending time in data rooms and libraries, restraining my experience to the academic environment did not help keep me in tune with a much-desired sense of reality.
I then turned my attention towards the energy sector and pleasantly discovered a very human realm that satisfied both my natural bend towards social concerns and my analytical predilection. Furthermore, the issues that the energy sector is facing are the challenges of our time. Working in projects addressing energy transition, even when it comes to the most mundane responsibilities, makes you feel like contributing to the crucial transformational change.
2) What were your goals when you started working in sustainable energy? Have these evolved?
As common as it may sound, the energy sector is undergoing deep changes. These days, maybe more than ever, there is a lack of vision regarding how energy policy should be set in order to better enclose its interconnections with the economy, society and environment.
Although the energy sector is becoming cleaner and more technologically advanced, there are still plenty of aspects lagging behind. When I first started working in the energy sector one of my priorities was to enhance my knowledge and develop myself professionally.
Subsequently, I understood that young people are central to energy transition and their ideas and inputs should be heard and taken into consideration. Yet, despite numerous young people willing to contribute to key energy issues, I feel there are not enough stages on which we can have our voices heard within the current energy transition. Therefore, I switched my objectives from seeking just my own development to taking part in a joint venture that will empower myself as well as my peers.
3) How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the professional goals you set out for the year?
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost every aspect of our lives. Before it happened, I was feeling very motivated and it seemed to be a quite prolific period for my professional development. The projects I was involved in were gaining ground and receiving public appreciation while I was seeking opportunities to join different networks of young energy professionals, as well as various workshops and trainings.
Unfortunately, the pandemic did manage to put on hold some of my plans. However, despite these challenges, other ideas and projects emerged. Actually, the COVID-19 pandemic helped me better adapt to the online environment and seek other kinds of opportunities. With everything moving on the Internet, one of the positive things brought by the pandemic was the accessibility and variety of webinars on different energy topics.
Far more important, this crisis is also a reminder that there are some challenges we cannot tackle alone – climate change being one of them. This current global crisis is a cautionary narrative for the climate emergency that hopefully will guide us towards a better approach.
4) What are the opportunities for sustainable energy growth in your country?
Romania has a high potential for sustainable energy growth as it has rich and various renewable energy sources that could make the country a forerunner of the energy transition. Even in the absence of a robust support scheme for RES, Romania has been able to attract investment in new RES-based capacities.
There has also been progress with regard to prosumers, which are being offered funding for installing rooftop photovoltaic systems by households. However, in order to harness this outstanding renewable energy potential, Romania needs to implement a series of legislative changes.
Unfortunately, over the past few years, the energy sector in Romania has been characterized by a regulatory instability that translates into a lack of incentives from the private sector to invest.
Significant investments are needed in energy distribution, transportation and generally in the manner in which we are consuming our resources. Fortunately, there are signs of progress as authorities understand the benefits of energy efficiency and circular economy in achieving carbon neutrality and thus developing programs and projects that aim to increase awareness on these issues.
5) What challenges have you faced in the sector? Can you tell us how you overcame (or are overcoming) this challenge(s)?
The most frequent issue I experienced while working in the energy sector was dealing with a sense of marginalization when addressing harsh or sensitive concerns for myself and my female fellows. To dismiss this type of sexism, it is crucial that our male colleagues and peers avoid all forms of stereotyping and thus remove the belief that heavy industry jobs are not for women. This is a concern I have had ever since I started working in the energy sector.
Unfortunately, even if I am openly expressing my opinion on the issue and have my voice heard whenever a situation seems unfair, the network of young energy leaders with whom I sometimes worked was not that responsive to gender bias and women’s discrimination. Thus, it becomes a really tough challenge to be taken seriously when pointing out how gender inequalities shape the energy sector or making them aware of the many gender gaps that still exist.
This one is a joint struggle. And it must become common knowledge that to overcome the status quo, we should act together and be supportive of each other.
6) Why did you join the GWNET Mentorship Programme? What do you hope to achieve?
In today’s times, to keep pace with change and avoid disruption, we must constantly be learning. However, little of this learning takes place in the conventional ways it happened in the past. Picking courses out of a catalogue will not provide anymore the instruments needed to adapt ourselves in the face of this huge amount of data and information.
Moreover, as leaders, we have the duty to figure out critical questions for organizations, societies and people. Sometimes those problems are solved through influence more than authority. Therefore, relationships and trust with a network of like-minded women, that have the same dilemmas and queries, will be decisive to moving things ahead quickly and effectively. I truly believe that the amount of people I can meet and work during the mentorship program is only limited by my own willingness to put myself there.
Another thing that I find inspiring regarding the program is the fact it gives you ownership of your own development. While I am the one that bears the responsibility of how much I engage in the community, GWNET offers mentoring and guidance, as well as the required tools and favourable circumstances. Not to mention that this chance will allow me to acquire valuable knowledge by working alongside amazing energy leaders, aspiring that one day I will motivate and inspire others to grow and become leaders.
7) What advice would you give to women hoping to join the sustainable energy sector?
Encouraging women to join traditionally male-dominated sectors is not an easy thing to do. Being the only one or among the few women in the room can be dissuading and grim. Although norms about women in leadership positions may be shifting, stereotypes and preconceptions about women are still a reality that many of us experience.
Furthermore, even as women have moved into traditionally male domains, they usually need to display “masculine” qualities to succeed. Therefore, it is crucial to have more visible female role models and more women being heard in their efforts to bring about real change. I then encourage women to remain ambitious, to break down extant barriers and harmful stereotypes, to challenge not only the energy sector but all the other fields that are perceived as male domains.
To dismantle the dated systems of prejudice that stand in our way the entire patriarchal society must be questioned by both women and men.
Read more about GWNET’s mentoring programmes here.