Women in Ireland’s energy sector
The energy sector is traditionally associated with engineering and a majority male workforce. Our latest podcast episode hears from two senior women in energy who buck both trends.
Our guests are Martina Hennessy, Principal Officer of Offshore Renewable Energy at the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, and Patricia Comiskey, Programme Manager of Offshore Energy at SEAI.
Patricia is pictured here being interviewed on RTÉ's show '10 Things to know about'.
Patricia and Martina came to energy through different routes. Martina explains she “started out with a degree in science and following that I did a Masters in geographical information systems (GIS)”.
Martina realised early on in her career that she didn’t want to work in a lab. “I was more interested in working with data, but I was always interested in the environmental and scientific areas of work.” She moved between the public and private sector, working in technical roles, after completing her Masters. “I was doing a lot of data analysis; GIS type work and i was quite happy with that to begin with.”
As Martina progressed, she realised she wanted more responsibility and to become involved in strategy and management, which meant applying for more senior roles. In 2016, she joined the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and then in 2019, she moved to her current role in the Department of Environment, Climate Action and Communications.
Patricia, however, has been working in the public sector her whole career. She started at BIM, the Irish Sea fisheries board, following her education in biology, zoology, and marine science. After working in marine policy for some years, she came across an opportunity in SEAI and “I felt it was something that was really interesting because I recognised that there was real potential in green renewables in particular.”
She started working in energy efficiency programmes. Given her marine policy background, she collaborated with the offshore energy team before joining them full time.
Patricia is now Programme Manager of Offshore Energy. Her role involves developing the offshore programme for SEAI. “Primarily what we're focused on is supporting the Department in policy development and, we’re looking at strategic development for the offshore areas.”
Her team supports research and companies to progress technology developments and projects. There is SEAI grant funding available to support individual project developers and researchers. Patricia says there are many interesting projects taking place at any given time.
Martina leads the Department’s offshore energy team. They have three major areas of work. The first is progressing the legislation to allow further development of the offshore energy sector in a safe and sustainable way. “We need to ensure there's a good framework in place to allow offshore energy projects to develop in a sustainable way to benefit the country as a whole.”
Once that bill is enacted, they will start a regime to manage applications to develop offshore. “There's a huge amount of work in getting that right, ensuring there are good and transparent processes in place,” she says. The final piece is looking to the future, considering the country’s zero emissions target for 2050 and what role offshore energy will play in that.
A great deal of Patricia’s work ties in with Martina’s as SEAI works to educate people about the projects needed to achieve decarbonisation. “We're talking about significant infrastructure, an investment that needs to happen both offshore and onshore.”
“It's a massive project for Ireland that we all need to get behind,” she says.
As women in energy
Neither of our guests are engineers, going against that stereotype within the energy sector. What about the male-dominated workforce?
“I'm definitely seeing a greater influx of women into this space,” Patricia says. She’s conscious of women receiving the same opportunities as male colleagues. “There have been efforts at SEAI to increase the number of women in speaking slots at our events”
Martina agrees “it would be good to see that change because they [women] can't see where they could be if they don't see the opportunities... I think it's important to have visibility.”
A career in energy
“In many career paths, I see women get to a certain level and then once we start getting into the senior levels, we are a minority. That's something that we're looking at within SEAI and how we can positively tackle it,” Patricia says.
“There's a huge range of roles that are open to all people to participate in, and I think it's something we're mindful of. We're looking at how to develop the sector going forward and that gender piece is something that we're thinking through” says Martina.
What would they say to someone considering a career in the energy? “The key with anything that you choose to do is you have to have an interest and you have to enjoy it,” Martina says.
Patricia adds “don't be afraid of failure because from failure we learn so much. If the reason why you're kind of hesitant about doing anything is because you might fail in it, I would say go for it.”