Reaching New Heights

Blessing Oyeniyi and Adeyemi Opeyemi, the first female line workers at Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC) in Nigeria.
Blessing Oyeniyi and Adeyemi Opeyemi, the first female line workers at Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC) in Nigeria.
© EKEDC

Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC) hires its first female line workers, increasing women’s role in Nigeria’s traditionally male-dominated energy sector.

A Woman’s Dream

As a child growing up in Nigeria, Adeyemi Opeyemi wondered what it would be like to be an engineer, but she only saw men in that line of work. It was discouraging. Like other girls around the globe, she had few female role models in that industry. The UNESCO Institute of Statistics reports that fewer than 30 percent of the world’s scientists are women. In Nigeria, and for Opeyemi, such numbers are even lower. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics reports that women make up only 23 percent of the Nigerian science researchers. Only 10 percent of all women are enrolled in tertiary or post-secondary education and—of those—only a very small number of women enroll in engineering at universities. Despite the unfavorable odds, Opeyemi pursued her desired career path and became an electrical engineer.

“Later in school, I decided to apply for electrical engineering,” Opeyemi said. “There were two women in a class of a hundred men. At the end [of the program], we only had nine people left in the class.” Fortunately, both women saw the program through to the end.

Opeyemi’s persistence paid off. She will be one of the first four women hired as line workers at Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC)—a progressive step that represents the culmination of one of the many successes of the utility’s participation in the USAID-funded Engendering Utilities program. Since 2015, the program has been working in five countries to enhance gender equity in the power sector and to better understand interventions that effectively increase the role of women in male-dominated industries, such as the energy sector. Following an expansion in 2019, Engendering Utilities now works directly with 17 partners in 14 countries.

Oyinlola Osinubi, Head of Organizational Development, and Alero Olayiwola, Head of Learning and Development, discuss a gender-equitable future at EKEDC.
Oyinlola Osinubi, Head of Organizational Development, and Alero Olayiwola, Head of Learning and Development, discuss a gender-equitable future at EKEDC.
Clare Novak / USAID

Transforming Dreams Into Reality

Hired four months prior to the launch of the Engendering Utilities program, Oyinlola Osinubi knew that she had a contribution to make toward the development of a more a gender-equitable company culture, which could lead to more women becoming part of the workforce.

As Head of Organizational Development at EKEDC, some of the first policies Osinubi helped to implement involved the utility’s work to eradicate assumptions and biases that traditionally ignored women like Opeyemi for the line worker position. Assumptions that women were not capable of doing line work and that they did not want the job contributed to the total absence of female line workers in the company. Increasing awareness of this reality led to a proactive search for women to fill these roles.

“We decided to strategize and go to specific technical schools with a few females in the electrical department,” described Alero Olayiwola, Head of Learning and Development. “We contacted NABTEB [the National Business and Technical Examination Board]. They grant certifications to technical schools, so they knew which schools had female electrical engineers. We found two graduating in the last four years. When we requested CVs and got help from our colleagues who are engineers, we got additional nominations. We sought the board’s approval to employ all four.

“When I began, I was new to the position, so I started with Engendering Utilities on my mind as part of my role,” Osinubi said. “So I was able to start policy formulation with the right concepts.”

“[This accomplishment] has changed the mindset within the organization, and the presence of female line workers is a refreshing one,” explained Osinubi. “The consciousness is now ingrained in all employees that gender cannot be a barrier to the attainment of anyone’s set goal or goals within the organization. With continued management support, I believe we have greater achievements to come.”

To complement their proactive search, Engendering Utilities helped EKEDC analyze its human resource processes and look for more ways to eliminate bias in employee searches and hires. This support resulted in the development of a tailored action plan. The plan included targeted interventions,such as implementing competency-based hiring selection processes to reduce gender bias in hiring. At the same time, EKEDC worked to aggressively counteract bias in other departments during their search for female line workers. In some cases, doing so meant actively recruiting men for certain positions that were traditionally regarded as only for women.

“Recruitment and customer service are now a conscious part of having a diverse and balanced staff,” Osinubi said. “In the customer service department, we are balancing things out by adding more men. For us, it’s all about balance.”

In preparation for the hiring of female line workers, the company also encouraged the technical training board to offer a tailored training that would effectively prepare women for the job. Other changes included removing company language that was inherently biased. For example, they changed the “lineman” job title to “line worker,” and renamed the “Office of Manpower” to become the “Office of Workforce Planning.” Throughout the process, both the human resources manager and the CEO were active in facilitating the changes needed to create a gender-equitable culture at EKEDC. They also provided a model for how to engage male staff members so they understood these changes.

“With management’s prompt buy in, [the name changes] were a welcome change and did not receive any opposition,” Osinubi said. “Even when staff members refer to the lines team as ‘linesmen’ there is usually a swift correction made amongst them.”

EKEDC still faces a shortage of qualified individuals to fill the line worker position. Now, more than ever, this shortage serves as an opportunity to strengthen EKEDC’s gender-equitable hiring practices. Continuing to recruit more widely—without gender as a limitation—increases the recruitment pool.

“I’m pleased that I can get a job here,” Opeyemi said. “A good outcome will come from this. Women will be proud, and the company will be proud. It will also encourage other women.”

In the future, EKEDC not only hopes this will lead to an overall increase in the utility’s female employment, but that it will also increase the overall size of the line worker labor force, a key part of strengthening its business overall.

USAID’s Engendering Utilities program works with electricity and water utilities in developing countries to increase economic opportunities for women, improve gender equality, boost business performance, and strengthen the energy and water sectors. Through a customized best practices framework, demand-driven coaching, and a Gender Equity Executive Leadership Program, Engendering Utilities builds the capacity of utility leaders to implement gender equality interventions that increase the professional participation of women and meet their core business goals.

Launched in 2015, the Engendering Utilities program demonstrates USAID’s commitment to promote a path to self-reliance and resilience in developing countries by fostering enterprise-driven innovation, inclusive economic growth, and gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. Engendering Utilities is a key activity under the U.S. Government’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP), which aims to reach 50 million women by 2025 through innovative and effective programs.

Last updated: March 26, 2020

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