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Powering women in STEM

The panel of speakers at CUC's Women in Energy conference.
The panel of speakers at CUC's Women in Energy conference.

The energy industry and public utilities are traditionally male-dominated worlds, but a panel at a recent conference presented by Caribbean Utilities Company showed women breaking the mould.

Female leaders from Caribbean Utilities Company, the Water Authority Cayman, the Ministry of Sustainability and Climate Resiliency and Dart, one of the country’s largest producers of solar energy, joined moderator Charmaine Miller for a discussion about gender equality at CUC's Women in Energy conference on 31 March at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort.

With several high school students in the audience, the conversation on stage was relevant to the next generation of girls considering a career in industries using the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Financial analyst Jackie Henshilwood, whose role at Dart covers renewable energies, welcomed the chance to discuss opportunities and challenges for women in the workplace.

“In 2016, a study of 22,000 companies showed profit margins increasing in proportion to the number of women in senior leadership and board membership," said Henshilwood. "Those in a position to effect change, including shareholders, need to be more aware of the issues of gender bias and the benefits of gender equality to their bottom line.”

Gender equality starts in the classroom, as Henshilwood experienced in her own education when choosing to study mathematics.

“There’s still a bias toward STEM being ‘male’ subjects, which directly translates into there being less women in the workplace in related sectors such as energy,” said Henshilwood. “There is a long road ahead, but the key focus is that appropriate and effective training and education targeted at the right people can have a real impact in embracing gender diversity as a benefit.”

Programmes such as Dart’s Minds Inspired, which runs STEM events for school-aged children in the Cayman Islands, make STEM subjects more attractive to young people. Henshilwood was part of an all-women team running this year’s Minds Inspired’s annual Math Challenge.

“During the Math Challenge, we invite industry leaders to give career talks to help highlight the range of job options in STEM," she said. "We always try to include a female speaker as female role models are critical. With only 8% of the world’s CEOs being female, there is a systemic lack of role models.”

Men have a role to play in addressing the imbalance. Henshilwood gave credit to CUC’s CEO Richard Hew for hosting last month’s conference as a gender inclusive initiative. “Globally, research shows that when men are deliberately engaged in gender inclusion programmes, 96% of organisations see progress compared to only 30% where men are not engaged," she said. "Key actions male leaders can take include supporting flexible work policies, actively sponsoring women with high potential and modelling the right behaviour.”

This article was originally published in the May/June 2022 print edition of Camana Bay Times.

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