We sat down with Ana Perez, RTI’s Senior Technical Gender Advisor and co-leader of RTI’s Women’s Advancement, Leadership and Success Employee Resource Group to discuss her work on the USAID-funded Power Africa East Africa Energy Program, her career progression, and the importance of providing women with opportunities to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
What inspired you to focus your career on advocating for the advancement of gender equity in STEM-related fields?
Shortly after I graduated from engineering school, I became the first woman in Mexico to be certified as a welding inspector by the American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT). I still clearly remember the day I was denied entry to a pipe-producing company where I was scheduled to do an inspection. They had never seen a female welding inspector, so they made me wait until their company officials received my credentials. It is almost impossible to believe that what prevented me from entering that plant 25 years ago was pervasive gender social norms and gender stereotypes. While I recognize that much has been done to advance women’s access and participation in male-dominated fields, there are still places in the world where female talent is untapped. That’s the case in the energy sector, where I have been working for almost a decade.
Throughout my life, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to over 80 countries around the world. I’ve lived in North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. These experiences have allowed me to better understand the barriers women and girls face globally and it has made me realize that we need to be very intentional about addressing gender inequalities.
Why is it important to support and encourage women to have careers in the energy sector?
When I think about the future, I see the energy sector as a thriving market that would benefit from new perspectives generated by a gender-inclusive workforce. Unfortunately, the energy sector’s workforce demographics and policies still skew towards mature, male workers. The sector can also provide good, well-paying employment opportunities that could allow more women to reach financial independence.
I strongly believe that women’s participation is essential to ensuring it is a bright future, not only for the women who bring their talents to it, but for the energy sector as a whole, which is why I decided to focus my career on integrating gender-smart solutions into the energy sector. I’m committed to moving the needle toward a future of radical advancement, transforming exclusionary mindsets, redefining power structures and disrupting biases that perpetuate gender inequalities.
What kinds of projects have you been working on lately?
I have been focusing on women’s economic empowerment projects. I spent the last few years in the Middle East implementing gender equity initiatives in energy projects. I also conducted the first ever ILO participatory gender audit for a governmental organization in Mongolia. Most recently, I have been working in East Africa with my colleagues in the USAID-funded and RTI-implemented Power Africa East Africa Energy Program. We are delivering progressive programs and initiatives that close gender gaps while fostering sector gains in productivity, competitiveness, and innovation.
This program is the main platform for implementing the Women in Rwandan Energy (WIRE) Activity, a project recently funded by the White House-led Women's Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative. The program works with the Rwandan government and private sector to bring more women into this traditionally male-dominated field. The goal of WIRE is to enable 1,400 women to break into Rwanda’s fast-growing energy sector.