National Renewable Energy Laboratory



A Woman Footprint on the Bridge to Renewable Energy

It is a known fact that historically, more men occupy roles within the oil and gas industry, although women’s success stories motivate and inspire more and more females to go to the energy sector. Oksana Prysyazhnyuk, who has been working in the energy industry for over ten years and has experience in both fields – traditional and renewable energies, shared her story of success.

What was the motive to join the energy industry, and what are the challenges and opportunities there?

Oksana said she always had an interest in the energy sector while understanding how the oil and gas industry can influence politics and people, in general, and made it even more fascinating for her. When speaking about renewable energy, she indicated that fossil fuels are here to stay for a while. Firstly, it helped people to get where we are currently from a development perspective. Secondly, people are keenly aware of the need to change to renewable. However, they also have to understand that the change is not going to happen as fast as everyone would want it. The main reasons for that at present are cost – specifically, capital costs, transmission, geographical location, and natural conditions.

She explained that while eliminating barriers to renewable energy technologies, “we should find a comprehensive approach to transition and reduce CO2 emission resulting from coal use. Coal is the main reason for global warming, and it is being used more and more around the world. CO2 emission is not only a U.S. problem, but it is also a global problem.” Oksana suggested that concentration on the countries with the highest amount of CO2 emission and efficiency improvement of related policies is one of the ways to accelerate the energy transition.”

Oksana added: “I worked for a solar company before, and I saw that there was so much disagreement. People don’t know about each industry. For example, if you are in renewable, you probably don’t know much about oil and gas, and vice versa. I think having this bridge and working in both fields will be useful in the transition period. Knowing both sides of the stories and understanding the pros and cons.”

What is it like to be a woman in a male-dominated field?

The energy industry is still considered to be gender-unequal. This gender gap fords the energy environment, from renewables to fossil fuels: according to E&Y, only 11% of top executives in the oil and gas industry are women.

Oksana Prysyazhnyuk.

“I remember I needed to buy safety boots to go to work sites of the plant, but they didn’t have women shoes in the store, and I had to buy men shoes that fit me,” Oksana recalled. “Also, I’ve been going to a lot of conferences, and out of 500 people, there were only 20 women. It explains that there are not a lot of women in the oil industry. But I don’t think there is discrimination. I think this is just cultural perception like you have to be a woman to work as a kinder garden teacher, for example. The same in the oil and gas or energy sector – it seems that you have to be a man to achieve success. Whenever you are a minority in your field of work it is up to you if you approach it as an advantage or disadvantage. From my observation in the current environment energy sector wants to recruit and promote women, however, because if historical circumstances there are not many women who focused their career in energy. I’d say women have an advantage in this sector.

As a matter of fact, it is great being a woman (at least from my experience) because male colleagues are more helpful, understanding of challenges you might have to adapt, and they want to empower women. It is not a disadvantage. In the beginning, I was not comfortable, because I was often the only woman in the room, but now as I gained extensive knowledge of the industry I am very comfortable. ”

She also added that it is good to have a mixture of men and women in the work team because sometimes having different points of view helps in solving the problems efficiently.

According to a report by the BCG, women’s participation in senior leadership globally in the oil and gas sector is 17%.

Referring to renewable energy, Oksana stressed that women’s percentage in this sector is higher compared to oil and gas fields. It can be explained by history as well; in the early 1900s, the traditional role of women was a homemaker. As women’s labor participation and gender equality progressed through the 20th century so did the energy sector. It is understandable why women may prefer the renewable energy field today as it is not as intensive in physical labor and a newer field where research and innovations are to be made. 21st-century women are smart, passionate and innovative. So, there will be a lot of female leaders (if not more than men) by the end of the 21st century.

Oksana Prysyazhnyuk.

She explained that despite the working environment in the oil and gas or energy sector is very comfortable, and women still have to learn how not to be embarrassed to ask questions if they don’t understand something. Oksana indicated that it is one of the challenges for women in general because sometimes they don’t want people to think they are not smart enough. “Honestly, my problem was that I thought I didn’t know much about the industry. Learning about the industry was interesting and a bit challenging without having oil and gas background in the past, but everyone around me was so helpful.”

What advice can be given to a woman if she wants to enter an energy sector – either traditional or renewable?

“I think the most important advice is just to try because a lot of women have the perception that energy is not a very woman-oriented industry. However, the demographics have been changing and there are many women in energy-focused clubs as well as networks that can provide amazing support. For me, at first learning about the industry was interesting and a bit challenging without having oil and gas background in the past, but everyone around was so helpful. Asking for advice or help when you need it is an important driver of success in any company. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, you’d be surprised how only a few people of whom you considered very knowledgeable would have the answers.”

Besides the energy industry that is currently extremely male-dominated and considered tough do you have a softer side; what do you enjoy doing when you are not busy at work?

I love art and classical music. In addition to my day job, I am on the Board of Directors of Omega Ensemble – the organization established in 1973 that supports talented young artists. In addition, I am a Fellow at the Frick Collection – my favorite museum in NYC. I am also a member of the Metropolitan Opera and several museums in New York.

Why are you so involved in arts and music outside of work, which is impressive for the young professional woman in energy?

It is all about balance, music and arts balance it out for me. As for why I am involved in so many art and music organizations – I believe it is important to support artists and museums, no matter the size of the contribution it is a compound effect that counts. I learned both concepts at Columbia University: first I fell in love with Art and Music Humanities course and then learned the impact of compound interest in economics. Oksana smiles as she says it.