A Bright Future: The Story of How a Young Woman in Pakistan Became an Energy Expert

In a country where women account for less than 4 percent of staff in the energy sector nationwide, they are becoming the new face of the energy sector. USAID/Pakistan is investing in hands-on education for young women to improve access to the industry and inspire the next generation of energy leaders.

The town of Kalaske in Pakistan can experience electricity blackouts lasting up to 15 hours — leaving people without power for over half of the day.

Sarah grew up with these blackouts in Kalaske. Early on in her education at the Lahore College for Women, she realized that she could be a part of the solution to ensure reliable energy access in her community. Part of what led her to this realization was her participation in the USAID-supported Future of Women in Energy Scholars Program.

And now Sarah is an energy expert working to ensure women like her don’t have to grow up in the dark.

In Pakistan, women account for less than 4% of the total labor force in the energy sector. Because of existing gender norms, it can be difficult for women in the country to achieve a career outside of homemaking. Despite a higher percentage of women going to university than men, women make up only 20% of Pakistan’s workforce.

The Future of Women in Energy Scholars Program encourages women to explore careers in the energy sector to help bridge this gap.

Ensuring opportunities for women in all areas of the energy sector can lead to more effective and efficient clean energy initiatives, expand emission reduction opportunities, and unleash greater return on investments: companies in male-dominated industries that have gender-diverse executive leadership teams have a greater return on equity than firms with poor gender equality.

In support of the Government of Pakistan’s efforts to highlight the potential and talent that women bring to the workforce, USAID helped create the Future of Women in Energy Scholars Program in 2022, alongside the U.S. Department of Energy.

This program provides about 20 women per year with rigorous academic coursework on energy economy and practical immersion in the workforce through direct communication with power sector companies. As a part of the program, the students also travel to Doha, Qatar, to complete a two-week certificate from Texas A&M University during which they develop research projects, learn about the energy economy, and hear about the global landscape in the energy sector.

For Sarah, the trip and the program were transformational. Her travel to Qatar was the first time any woman from Sarah’s family traveled outside of Pakistan, and the program helped her see firsthand how energy could be a viable career option. In Doha, Sarah met women in energy leadership and management roles, attended an array of lectures, and gained exposure to different career pathways in the sector.

“[I] like working in the energy sector because it has a remarkable diversity of things to learn,” Sarah said. “There are huge challenges and opportunities to learn and grow for the greater good.”

After her time in the program, Sarah secured an internship in the sustainability department of Packages Limited, a company based out of Lahore. While there, she learned to audit and identify opportunities for energy efficiency and helped the company achieve its ISO 50001:2018 Energy Management System Certification, an internationally recognized framework for optimizing energy efficiency.

Working in the plants and with the machines sealed the deal: with hands-on experience, she felt like she truly belonged in the energy sector.

Because of the Future of Women in Energy Scholars Program, breaking gender barriers is possible. In 2023, 11 women in the program secured internships with private and public sector organizations with their new knowledge of the energy sector. In some instances, these women are the first women employees to work at the power plants.

The program, now entering its third year, is focusing on finding students from rural areas, where limited access to education and persistent cultural barriers make career opportunities for women outside of the home even more scarce: 60% of women in rural Pakistan work in unpaid positions.

Now, as a recent graduate, Sarah hopes to secure her dream job in the energy sector, and she feels equipped and motivated to meet this goal. She also plans to pursue a master’s degree in energy systems to strengthen her technical knowledge of the sector.

“I hope that women will continue to bridge stereotypical barriers so they can provide a positive example to future generations,” she said.