Scholars Develop a Roadmap to Increase the Number of Women in Bio-Energy Fields

A new study led by Abigayl Novak, a graduate student in the School of Forest Resources at the University of Maine, has provided a roadmap to attract and retain women in bioenergy and related fields. The roadmap calls for offering interdisciplinary research opportunities in higher education, having employers provide ample support and outreach, and promoting relatable success stories.

To determine the possible benefits of university interdisciplinary research, the group hosted a summer program that involved students and faculty working on projects pertaining to biochar production. Eight undergraduate students, three graduate students, and six faculty participated. Six out of the 11 students were women. One faculty participant was female. One of the women produced research findings that she was able to present at several conferences, symposiums, and workshops. Two female students shared plans to pursue graduate studies in nanoscience and sustainability, and one enrolled in a forestry sustainability-related graduate program.

In addition to offering opportunities for their students, researchers say universities with degree offerings in bioenergy and forestry can help create a more gender-diverse workforce in the industry by implementing ambassador programs, apprenticeships, internships, and similar activities for nearby middle and high school students.

The study’s authors also determined efforts employers could make to not only enlist more women workers but also better support them and encourage them to pursue leadership roles. These measures include creating safe spaces for people from underrepresented groups to voice their hardships without fear of retaliation, establishing reachable goals for recruiting more women leaders, being transparent with those efforts and challenges associated with them, and highlighting past or present work of women in forestry in workshops, lectures, newsletters, social media, or word of mouth.

“The need for universities and colleges to implement a more gender-diverse workforce in bioenergy/forestry is essential to progressing as a society that fosters diversity and different backgrounds,” Novak says. “In order to create change and new innovative ideas, for researchers and the community, we need to make it a priority to make moves to alter the existing institutional dynamic, especially in a historically white male-dominated industry and sector.”

The full study, “Integrating Woody Biochar, Women, and Youth in Maine’s Bioenergy Industry: Benefits and Challenges,” was published on the website of the journal Sustainability. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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