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Atlas Renewable Energy: Tackling inclusion through female empowerment

Marcela Pizzi

by Marcela Pizzi
Guest Author, Head of HR, Atlas Renewable Energy

Maria José Córtes

by Maria José Córtes
Guest Author, Head of ESG, Atlas Renewable Energy

Atlas Renewable Energy: Tackling inclusion through female empowerment Image

Female participants in Photovoltaic Panel Assembly and installation training, Atlas, Brazil

Since Actis’ investment in Atlas Renewable Energy in 2017, the management team – including the female Heads of HR and ESG – have shared a commitment and enthusiasm for pushing cultural norms and standards to raise the bar on female empowerment. Their vision is to create an inclusive culture that values employees for what they can bring to the business. Similarly to Actis, Atlas recognises that diverse teams and an open environment where diverse viewpoints can be expressed, simply creates better and more resilient businesses.

We spoke to Marcela Pizzi and María José Córtes about what this looks like in practice.

Atlas now provides staff with unconscious bias training, focused particularly on gender distinctions for example. It also insists that there is at least one female candidate in every recruitment shortlist to attract more women to the company. Such measures have proved successful in building a more gender balanced team; women now make up 38% of their headcount, up 27% from 2017.

With an internal culture embracing inclusiveness and diversity, Atlas is in a strong position to work with the local communities to promote similar values in female economic empowerment.  The economic repercussions of the C-19 pandemic on local communities, combined with Atlas’ corporate drive to improve inclusion and diversity (I&D) initiatives, led to the established of its ambitious Women Workforce Programme (WWP) “ We are all part of the same Energy“. 

WWP aims to improve local women’s access to employment, entrepreneurial opportunities, and leadership positions in their corporate value chain. Atlas view this as an opportunity not only to fulfil its part in addressing inequalities and cultural biases as a Company, but also a way to contribute to wider local economic development.  The suggestion, supported by independent studies, is that where women are developed and supported to access better jobs; communities as a whole can be lifted, as additional income is invested back into key areas such as food, healthcare and education.

Atlas is focusing its programmes on training and hiring women in engineering, electricity, mechanics, Health, Safety, Environment and Quality and environmental management. The initiative has been rolled out across Atlas’s current projects in Brazil, Mexico and Chile, taking into account local contexts to ensure the sustainability of initiatives. The program has been funded in collaboration with the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB), in the projects where the IDB acts as the senior lender. 

The vocational programs aim to upskill at least 870 women into qualified positions from nearby communities at their assets: La Pimienta, Sol del Desierto, Casa Blanca and Jacarandà. The programme is the largest of its kind in Actis’ portfolio and has three main aims: to boost permanent technical skills among local women; to create employment vacancies during plant construction and operation; and to understand the economic development potential of areas where Atlas has completed construction. The latter, supported by a market study run in parallel to the training, enables Atlas to identify job opportunities and skills that can be used during O&M, or in other related industries to continue contributing to growth. Where possible, Atlas strives to include a proportion of the women trained, back into its own operational supply chains, or facilitate linkages with other industries in their area of influence. 

Specific global I&D targets do not play much of a role in global best practice. Atlas however, has decided to build on its 2-4% baseline for female inclusion at its projects, to an ambitious but feasible target of between 10-15% female representation in its construction workforce. 

At the Jacarandà Project in Brazil Atlas works alongside four other strategic partners to: summon women interested in the training program from local educational institutions; to raise awareness of female careers in STEM; and to deliver the WWP training. Atlas is clear that women ‘cannot be what they cannot see’ and therefore promotion of the Energy sector starts at high school, profiling successful women in the sector as a key strand of the programme. 

These partnering organisations include local university groups, NGOs, SME support services, labour and value chain specialists, and the EPC who interfaces between the training provider and third party Community Manager. The EPC then hires female candidates who have successfully been evaluated after completion of the training. Alongside these partners Atlas has involved local Governmental players, Project Finance institutions lending to its projects such as IDB (resulting in additional commercial benefits such as tax relief), and included non-negotiable standards for hiring and training women in the contractual requirements of EPC appointments. 

Atlas is striving for additional targets at the Jacarandá project, such as 50% of the women hired being from Afro-descent and at least 30% of the male workforce being of Afro-descent.

The Women Workforce Programme is being implemented in an environment historically dominated by male labour. For women to have equal access to professional development there is also a need to provide supporting initiatives such as a harassment complaints mechanism; sensibilisation within the construction workforce; manufacturing of appropriate uniforms; provision of sufficient bathroom facilities; and safe accommodation and transportation.

Atlas has also identified further mitigation measures to barriers facing female enrolment such as: provision of childcare during EPC training; educational benefits for the children of female construction workers; and gender worker committees to provide a safe space to share experiences and improvement opportunities for the WWP. 

We look forward to following the progress indicators tracked at each of the four sites as the WWP empowers more local women.