Women in Wind Q&A: Swarna Priya Natarajan (India)
The Women in Wind Global Leadership Program sat down with Swarna, one of this year’s participants, to chat about her pathway into renewable energy and the key issues facing women in the wind sector.
How did you first become interested in renewable energy and joining the clean energy transition?
I still remember vividly that after my Grade 6 Science class on Sustainable Energy, I was left in shock when I came to know about the depletion of fossil fuels and the kind of pollution that we were causing to our own planet. That was when I decided to contribute as much as I can in creating a clean and sustainable environment and ever since that day, all my projects, technical presentations, symposiums, etc. were around renewable energy and sustainability.
Tell us about your expertise and passion in the sector. For you, what is the next “space to watch” in renewable energy?
I started my career as a Graduate Engineer Trainee in Parker Hannifin and moved on to become a Project Engineer handling projects from Enquiry-to-Order life cycle in the Automation sector catering to myriad applications like HRMs, CRMs, High Power Test Rigs, Hoists & Cranes and Grid-Tie systems. Deep down, there was a disappointment in not working on renewable energy projects full-time.
Being a clean energy enthusiast, I transitioned into the renewable energy sector by joining Vestas in the Qualification Engineering Team. As a fresher in the Wind Industry, I quickly increased my scope from screening projects to wind resource assessments and wind farm layout design for projects all over the Asia-Pacific and China regions. Currently, I am a Lead Engineer in North & Central Europe Team focusing on wind resource assessments and value engineering of projects in the DACH region, South Africa and the Benelux union. Other responsibilities include wind turbine loads analysis, commercial optimization, reviewing projects and enhancing team competencies.
There has been a lot of interesting work happening in Hybrid Solutions that integrate Wind, Solar and Energy Storage and with the advent of floating wind turbines, floating solar farms are a space to watch.
What sort of challenges did you encounter in entering the sector? Can you tell us about an achievement wherein you overcame such a challenge?
Fortunately, I did not face issues while entering the sector and I am happy that I am part of an organization that is an equal opportunity employer. But, there sure was/is a dearth of female role models in the work force.
For example, if one wanted to look up to someone for inspiration as to how they managed to pull off the work-life balance as they progressed through the career ladder, you were left with very limited options. It was quite a struggle for me to get back on track after my maternity leave mostly plagued by self-doubt and all the lost opportunities during that phase. But, thanks to my support system at home, I worked hard like never before and could put in some extra hours and efforts to get back in form and make up for lost time.
If you had to pick one key issue facing women in the wind power sector, what would it be and why?
One key issue facing women in the wind power sector is the lack of women at the top which is closely linked to another key issue which is gender bias. The sad fact is that sometimes this second-generation gender bias goes unnoticed even by women which makes it harder to spot and end this issue.
One classic example is the assertiveness factor which it comes with leadership roles. Just because women naturally tend to be more compassionate and collaborative, they are perceived to be weak in leadership roles. On the contrary, I feel that it will result in a thriving work culture with improved collaboration within & across teams. At the same time, women who are ambitious and driven are perceived as bossy and compromising on family duties.
Finally, what do you hope to achieve as a participant of Women in Wind Global Leadership Program? How will you contribute to the next generation of female leaders in the sector?
As a participant of Women in Wind, I hope to seek inspiration and learn from the vast experience of the field experts and industry leaders, and to share and connect with like-minded counterparts across the globe in creating a sustainable, inclusive, diverse and state-of-the-art energy industry.
I hope to fill the dearth of female role models in the industry by choosing to be the leader I wish I had, and inspire more women and lead by example in creating more such leaders.