“Women & Inclusivity in Sustainable Energy Research” – what it does, how to get involved #IWD @WISER_Network

On International Women’s Day, here’s a collective interview with members of the steering committee of WISER. Their website is here, and Twitter is @WISER_Network

1.  What is “Women & Inclusivity in Sustainable Energy Research” – who set it up, when (in response to what), to achieve what?

Women & Inclusivity in Sustainable Energy Research (WISER) is a global network of women and non-binary academics in the field of clean, low–carbon, and sustainable energy research.  We are particularly committed to inclusiveness that goes beyond gender lines and incorporates diversity in class, race, sexuality, and ability.

We believe that to foster innovation in the areas of clean, low-carbon, and sustainable energy research and training, the individuals working in these areas must be more diverse. Climate and energy policy has long been dominated by technocratic solutions formulated within decision-making circles that lack gender diversity. Similarly, in academic research focusing on energy and sustainable transformations, women and non-binary people – particularly women and non-binary people of colour – face a wide range of challenges in career advancement (Vitesse 2019). This limits the incorporation of a broad range of perspectives and inhibits innovative solutions to energy system challenges (Stephens & Allen 2021). Gender, race, and other identity factors matter for both the questions we ask and the solutions we find (Cohen 2014; Dowsley et al. 2010, Kaijser & Kronsell 2014). Evidence suggests that the challenges for women in energy research are particularly acute, with a significant reduction in job progression between PhD and full professor levels, as well as underrepresentation in principal investigator roles and large grants (Cieszowska et al., 2019). Responding to this challenge, WISER’s actions seek to increase the strength, visibility, and impact of gender diverse energy scholars. Our commitment to do so is threefold: we seek to empower our membership through professional development, collaboration, and networking. Together our aim is to motivate women and non-binary academics to contribute towards a generous mode of knowledge production and sharing in clean, low-carbon and sustainable energy research.

WISER was founded in the spring of 2017 when Drs. Christina Hoicka and Bronwyn Lazowski were discussing clean energy research careers. Their conversation led to a question: “how can we bring together women in clean energy research for meaningful networking and development to face implicit biases in our field?” The idea continued to flourish as they connected with other women, non-binary, and Two-Spirit academics asking similar questions. Alongside Christina Hoicka and Bronwyn Lazowski, the founding members of WISER were Amy Bilton, Rebecca Black, Jessica Caporusso, Runa Das, Colleen Kaiser, Jessie Ma, Madeleine McPherson, Samiha Tahseen, Jennifer Taylor, and Laura Tozer. 

WISER acts as a resource that institutions, researchers, and the public can draw upon while simultaneously providing services to the critical mass of women conducting research in this area. WISER unites an international group of women and non-binary people from STEM, humanities, and social science disciplines, across career stages. WISER particularly attracts early career researchers: More than 50% of WISER members are in PhD (40%) and PostDoc (11%) positions, while the remainder are Lecturers (12%), Assistant Professors (30%), Associate (3.5%) and Full (4.5%) Professors.  

2.  What have been its activities thus far?  What successes and relative failures has it had?  How has it dealt with the problems of Eurocentricism and resource differences between the Minority and Majority World’s of its members

WISER has systematically built its membership and activities since 2017: 

  • In 2018, WISER launched its website and held its first events centered around professional research communication, media, and branding; 
  • In 2019, WISER grew its international presence, became a signatory of the Equal by 30 initiative for gender equity in clean energy transitions, and formed its first steering committee (Heather Castleden, Christina Hoicka, Bronwyn Lazowski, Jenny Lieu, Julie MacArthur, Lindsay Miller, and Laura Tozer); 
  • In 2020, WISER reached over 100 international members, hosted online networking and training events. 
  • In 2021, WISER passed 170 members located in academic research institutions across 26 countries. Most WISER members (38% as of Aug 2021) are Canadian, with the next largest concentrations in the USA and UK. 

As a growing network, WISER works on its ongoing commitment to represent gender-diverse members from a wide range of backgrounds across intersecting axes of geography, class, race, ability, age, faiths, and so forth. As WISER was founded in Canada, however, most of our network members remain located in Canadian academia. To address this shortcoming, we attempt to host our events across a range of time zones to accommodate individuals located in less heavily subscribed membership timezones. We are also building partnerships with other networks such as SPI, WIRE, and the Global Women’s Network for the Energy Transition (GWNET) to advance gender equality in sustainable energy research and in decision-making positions through collaboration. 

This year is an exciting year for WISER! We are proud that under the leadership of our 2021 Chair, Dr. Julie MacArthur, WISER won Canadian research funding to support our work in five key areas:

  1. Building capacity amongst WISER members to shape research agendas and intervene in public policy discussions on energy transitions.
  2. Building partnerships with organizations dedicated to just energy transitions. 
  3. Creating brave spaces for scholars with intersecting identity factors that have been institutionally and systematically marginalized to allow for the expression and exchange of unconventional research questions, knowledge, methods, and information.
  4. Provide a platform for early career researchers to gain mentorship from established gender diverse scholars and role models.
  5. Advance knowledge mobilization efforts geared to increase visibility of research findings from women and gender-diverse scholars, and to close the gap between research and practice in energy transitions.

To achieve these goals, thus far in 2022 we have held training seminars on topics including how to approach the academic job market while in a pandemic and how to become more productive and lead balanced lives as researchers. We have also expanded our capacity to share member research publications in our annual newsletter to solve the issue of gendered citation gaps. 

Coming up, WISER is holding a media training workshop with Informed Opinions, a Canadian group that works to amplify the voices of women and gender-diverse individuals in media to foster a more democratic society. Informed Opinion’s research has demonstrated that less than 30% of those being heard through Canada’s most influential news sources are women and gender-diverse individuals. The media training workshop will support WISER’s membership in rectifying these imbalances in public discourse related to matters of energy transformations, and in so doing, better address the overlapping social, economic, and political inequalities embedded in climate change, environmental, energy transformation policy. 

WISER is also hosting three online and open connected symposia this year showcasing the work of a diverse and interdisciplinary group of energy transitions scholars in partnership with the Smart Prosperity Institute (SPI) and Women in Renewable Energy (WIRE): 

  • On May 19, “Transitioning Energy Systems: Who leads? Who benefits?”
  • On September 15, “New Developments in Energy Modeling, Urban Transitions, and Energy Poverty”
  • On November 17, “Policy Change, Energy Democracy, and Inclusive Energy Policies”

Each half-day symposium will address vital topics such as: Indigenous sovereignty, gender diverse leadership, advances in energy modeling, policy change, energy poverty and theorizing inclusive, democratic transitions. The key elements of these symposia demonstrate a commitment to advancing research, policy recommendations, and informed debates that can guide and facilitate the transition to low-carbon energy systems that are economically and socially just, addressing and removing systemic barriers to a truly inclusive low-carbon, greener economy. 

3.  What are some of the activities that you’d like to see “allies” – individual or organisational – doing that they either haven’t been doing, or haven’t been doing enough of. What are some of your favourite resources for would-be allies who want (or need!) to educate themselves.

WISER advocates for researchers, public entities, industry, news media, and other organizations to use our resources (e.g. our webpage of members and our newsletters) to diversify their sources, citation practices, panel speakers, collaborators, and sites of expert knowledge. There are ongoing gender biases and barriers at the highest levels of decision-making regarding our shared environmental, social, political, and economic future. 

In academic or academic-adjacent institutions, there are clear areas where action is needed: 

  • Fund gender-diverse research teams. A report by Cieszewska et al. (2019) has demonstrated that in UK energy research, “the proportion of female Principal Investigators (PIs) and Co-investigators (Co-Is) remains low and grants awarded to female PIs tend to be of smaller value” in comparison to male researchers. There is a need to address the gap in funding for gender-diverse researchers in the field of sustainable energy transitions. This includes forms of funding that retain gender-diverse talent in the academy progressing upwards from graduate school. 
  • Cite diverse scholars in research and syllabi. There remain significant gendered citation gaps across academic fields of research (Dion et al., 2018; Sá, 2020; Teich et al., 2021) and in course syllabi (Parson, 2016; Colgan, 2017; Savaria & Monteiro, 2017). WISER encourages instructors to look at their courses and teaching lists and ask such questions as: What is the gender-diversity of my syllabus, in terms of foundational texts and authors across the breadth of the course? Are the authors represented in my course geographically diverse as well? How can I make my course more inclusive, not only along the lines of author-identity, but how my course approaches topics related to class, race, Indigeneity, sexuality, age, ability, and so forth?
  • When conducting energy transition research, ask questions about populations that experience marginalization and, where possible, include these perspectives on your research team and through stakeholder engagement. This includes undertaking strategic considerations such as establishing priorities and developing theories as well as planning for more routine tasks that form questions, design methodologies, and interpret data in a way that considers the intersectional factors of gender, race, class, and other lived experiences that shape research and development processes. Understanding the lived experiences of diverse groups in energy transitions is vital to moving forward in a sustainable, just transition. Energy transitions do not automatically ensure socio-economic and socio-environmental justice and equity. Individuals driving the interdisciplinary academic fields engaging in energy transition research, industry, and public policy makers should all ask: Who benefits from energy transitions and sustainable infrastructure, and who does not benefit? Which areas and population groups are underserved in the areas of clean energy and why? What are the lived experiences informing existing socio-economic and socio-environmental inequities? Who are the stakeholders to engage to ensure these perspectives are accurately represented? What are the voices we should be listening to, and how can we effectively include these perspectives in our teams and research?
  • When developing conferences, panels, and interviews, include diverse perspectives through the experts you are engaging with and inviting to present. As expressed earlier, women and gender diverse individuals represent less than 30% of perspectives in Canada’s most influential news sources. Similar statistics are found in conferences and panels. Resources like the WISER website and Informed Opinions provide great sources for engaging with experts that bring gender diverse perspectives to the table. 

4. What’s next for WISER, and how can women get involved?

WISER will continue to work towards its 2022 goals and move forward as an entity championing gender-diverse and inclusive energy transitions. 

Importantly, join us! https://wseresearch.com/joinus/ 

You can also follow us on Twitter for updates @WISER_Network and on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/women-inclusivity-in-sustainable-energy-research

“To register for our 2022 Symposia events, follow the links below.

May 19 –

September 15-  

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/new-developments-in-energy-modeling-urban-transitions-and-energy-poverty-tickets-292806370737

November 17-

 https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/policy-change-energy-democracy-and-inclusive-energy-policies-tickets-292637104457

If you would like more information on our 2022 Symposia, please email wseresearch.network@gmail.com

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