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Meet the women in renewables: Catherine Fetherstonhaugh

Catherine Fetherstonhaugh is Head of Commercial Asset Management at RES and a 2023 Executive Ready Chloe Munro Scholarship for Transformational Leadership recipient. Catherine shares her atypical pathway into the industry and encourages ‘all women (not just engineers) to join the energy transition.

Catherine Fetherstonhaugh new

Tell us a bit about yourself personally and professionally?

I grew up in Western Australia, first in Esperance and then the Wheatbelt Region. In my local school of 30 pupils across seven grades, renewable energy wasn't on our agenda. Dealing with thunderstorm blackouts and replenishing gas bottles from the only shop in town was a regular part of life, as well as having to travel for hours to go grocery shopping, see a doctor or participate in sport.

My early aspirations included becoming the next Cathy Freeman or, failing that, the first female Prime Minister of Australia—thankfully for Australia, Julia Gillard outshone that dream. I have grown up with outstanding female role models, and this has shaped my perspective and confidence when approaching my career.

In my role today I am the Head of Commercial Asset Management at RES Australia. Beyond our expansive development activities, RES is the largest independent Asset Manager of grid-scale projects in the NEM. My team works closely with our technical, finance, HSE and control centre teams to create value for our clients and optimise asset performance.

Outside of work I am the Co-Chair of Limestone Coast Women in Business and Regional Development network, which is a not-for-profit organisation that champions regional businesswomen as leaders and changemakers.

What was your pathway into the renewable energy industry?

Like many of my peers, I didn’t follow a ‘typical’ pathway into the industry. I relocated to Melbourne in my early career and worked in the Origin Energy call centre, whilst studying a business degree in the evenings. Progressing within Origin, I supported two female General Managers in retail energy markets, who provided me with formative experience in risk, compliance, and customer engagement.

After Origin I spent time at Simply Energy, where I continued my journey in Retail Markets. As the rumblings of a likely Hazelwood power station closure began, a trusted mentor encouraged me to apply for a role at AEMO and step into renewables. I joined AEMO in 2016 and worked on industry engagement and reform following the SA System Black event and eventually generator registrations. This left me well-placed to join RES in late 2018 as our first construction management projects were becoming operational, and the rest is history.

What leadership impact do you hope to make with the scholarship?

I would like to encourage all women (not just engineers!) to join the energy transition, as we need a broad range of skillsets to deliver the work ahead of us. In particular, I would like to promote a career in renewables to women in regional and remote locations and highlight opportunities they could tap in to. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to use this time to further my mentorship and coaching skills, so that I can pass on the guidance and encouragement that I’ve received over the years.

As an industry we are making progress on the inclusion of women, but we continue to fall short in acknowledging the intersectionality of diversity. Diversity isn't a binary concept confined to gender alone; it encompasses a spectrum of experiences, including race, sexual orientation, and ability. I would like to work towards cultivating an industry that truly reflects the diversity of our society.

In a male-dominated industry, what advice or encouragement would you give women who want to work in the clean energy sector?

  1. Trust yourself and seek regular feedback
  2. Persist
  3. Seek out mentors and allies
  4. Lead with confidence

You've earned your spot based on merit, not as a token representation. Believe in your abilities and the contribution you bring to the table. Your capabilities determine your place in the industry, not your gender. Seek out regular formal and informal feedback on your performance so that you can adapt and evolve.

As a woman you will face a multitude of challenges at difference career stages. The reasons for these setbacks may not be fair or within your direct control. Persistence and determination will contribute to your long-term success, where you can then be part of the change.

Collaborate with supportive colleagues, both men and women, who champion gender equality. Reach out to potential mentors and explain where you are, and where you want to be. Join an affinity network or industry group. Collective efforts drive meaningful change.

Don't wait for permission to lead. Trust in your expertise and make your presence felt, setting an example for others. Your journey inspires those who come after you. Share your experiences, triumphs, and lessons to motivate the next generation of women in the clean energy sector.

Why is it important to support female leaders in the clean energy industry and what improvements could be made to increase the number of women in renewables?

Supporting female leaders will be paramount to undertaking the radical changes needed to slow climate change. We are undertaking an industry wide transformation that will disrupt the whole supply chain of energy and need to bring end-users along for the journey. It is disingenuous to expect local communities to trust us with this transformation when we haven’t made the same radical changes to our own workforce.

We need to close the gender pay gap with a sense of urgency. Recognising and celebrating the achievements of female professionals in the sector reinforces their value and contribution, which becomes a catalyst for increasing female participation. Women should feel safe to discuss compensation and their long-term aspirations without fear of being side-lined due to maternity/carers leave, menopause, or other challenges and this can only be driven by culture.

Women from regional and remote communities understand their unique local challenges and can offer a long-term view on solutions that work for their community. We should broaden our horizons when undertaking recruitment and focus on potential as opposed to current suitability where the role permits. Mandating gender diversity in interview panels will assist with eroding our self-selection bias.

The gender pay gap is more than just a number. It is an important symbol of inequality, for women, men and our industry as a whole. By championing female leadership, closing the gender pay gap, and promoting diversity, we will strengthen our industry, directly contributing to a more sustainable and equitable future.