Women in Energy: Veronica Saenz Marin

The Women in Energy series is a joint project between USEA and USAID to help improve the visibility of women's participation and leadership in the traditionally male-dominated energy sector and their active participation in policies and gender outcomes in organizations.


Every month we feature a woman who has shown exemplary leadership. The women highlighted come from diverse backgrounds and roles, and they bring with them a unique perspective on gender equality within the energy sector. We believe that increasing women's leadership and participation in decision-making for climate policies needs active communications campaigns and championing that catalyze behavioral change and urgent action.

1. Are there any specific educational, professional, or mentor-guided opportunities that have been instrumental in your career growth in sustainability? What’s your story?

As a biologist, I started my career at a young age with a lot of field work, which gave me a unique opportunity, leaving the comfort of big cities and working in the rural areas of my country (Peru). This allowed me to see first-hand the living conditions of different communities and the detrimental impact of human activities on pristine ecosystems. For me, this was a shock, it not only gave me perspective on the environmental damage that the extractive economic model was exerting on ecosystems, but also how this affected the communities that depended on these resources.

These experiences only reaffirmed my decision to work on environmental issues.

I also realized that almost always I was the only woman, or there were very few of us, who worked in the fields. And as my career grew, this situation remained.

2. A lot of women are leaving the energy sector and STEM fields with growing underrepresentation. What are some of these challenges?

From what I have seen, there is still, a strong lack of visibility and representation of women in high positions with a STEM career. There are still many stereotypes deeply rooted about what the role of women should be in their professional life and the careers they “should study.” The fact that there is still little representation of women in STEM careers in C-Levels sends the wrong message to girls at the age of deciding what careers to follow, that it is not possible to grow professionally in STEM field, that they don’t belong there.

Also, I think that motherhood is a determining factor that causes many women to leave their jobs due to the disparity in the balance of domestic activities and the lack of support on behalf of their employers.

3. What affirmative action/interventions can be taken by the energy sector and organizations within the sector to encourage more women to pursue education and career in STEM fields for a gender responsive just energy transition and close the skill gap?

By now, it is well known that diversity is key to achieve innovation and progress and has a positive impact on the performance of companies. However, companies still seem to not know how to achieve a well-balanced, diverse workforce.

I believe that a robust inclusion strategy should be made available to girls at an early stage. Closing the gap is a problem that cannot be solved by one institution or one company by themselves. It demands active collaboration between companies, governments, and educations institutions to ensure girls have the full pictures of careers they can pursue and once they decide to enter the STEM world, that they have programs that facilitate the opportunity to land a job where they can put in practice their studies.

Education institutions need to tackle stereotypes linked to STEM careers and make sure that financial aid programs have a gender component.

The private sector needs to do their part as well, and they need to take definitive action. The first step is to have the real commitment of senior management; no cultural change within an organization can occur without the firm commitment of general management. It is important that companies provide a supportive and inclusive workplace. Companies have several tools at their disposition to achieve this like establishing mentorship platforms for female professionals to connect and mentor STEM female students.

4. Can you tell us about a specific project or accomplishment you are particularly proud of that encouraged other women in your team, organization or network at large?

A few years ago, I participated in a volunteering initiative in Peru, which brought together several women in STEM careers from different companies and economic sectors to go to public schools and share our professional stories. The objective was to share our stories of professional growth, the obstacles, and prejudices that we had to overcome, as a living testimony that there is room for women in the STEM world. The task was simple, to tell our story, however, the impact of this simple action was huge.

Many of the girls we talked to were completely unaware of the existence of many careers, especially those related to engineering, and those who did, have been told that those careers were “for men.” This was quite eye opening, since the start of their adult life, these girls were already excluded of the STEM due to a lack of knowledge about the different options they had to shape their future. Not only they were unaware of the many careers at their disposition and where to study them, but most importantly the sources of financing aid and scholarships. This program only lasted a year due to a lack of funding, but I believed that at least we were able to open a little bit the universe of opportunities for the girls we talked to. Goes without saying that initiatives like these needs and should be replicated.  

5. What would be your one practical recommendation to help mentor or support women starting a career in clean energy or climate action?

I believe, to work in the STEM fields requires, passion and nothing is more contagious than passion. There are several platforms already in place that can give you the opportunity to mentor someone. As commented previously I have had the great pleasure to participate in several of them and there is nothing more effective that human connection. Taking time from your day to talk to a young woman who is just beginning their professional life and help them navigate the working environment is very rewarding. I think that if each one of us make that commitment we can actually achieve huge impact.

Related Profile: 
Energy Category: