Birgitte Centeno Austefjord Doesn’t Want to Be the Only Female Engineer in the Room
As Volue announces its support for Kraftkvinnene, an organisation working for more women in renewables in Norway, we talk to Birgitte Centeno Austefjord of Volue Industrial IoT about her passion for Kraftkvinnene and how she got into renewables.
Even though renewable energy has exploded in Norway, there are still relatively few women working in the sector.
“One tendency we see is that at events and seminars the majority of speakers are men,” says Volue's Birgitte Centeno Austefjord who joined Kraftkvinnene in the spring. “Kraftkvinnene wants to fix this.”
In Kraftkvinnene, there are engineers working on power grids, economists, traders, lawyers, communication experts, and more.
“The goal is to create a networking platform and to recruit more women into the industry. It's important to show that this is an industry for women. We have to be more visible at education seminars and job fairs. The lack of role models is a problem.”
Birgitte studied engineering because a woman advisor who herself was an engineer told her this would be a good career choice for her.
“I was doing military service and had no idea what to do next. An advisor on the military base told me that if I study engineering I would have the flexibility to choose whatever professional direction I wanted, from technical to management to teaching.”
Birgitte says that in male-dominated professions, it is very important to have female role models in the field telling other women that they can do this and that they would fit in.
“You see that she has done it herself. She can tell you that even though there will be tough parts, you will manage.”
Birgitte followed the advice and went for a degree in engineering.
“Since I hadn’t done enough mathematics and physics at school, I had to sign up for evening classes during the first year of my engineering degree.”
It's important to show that this is an industry for women.
As someone anxious about climate change, Birgitte specialised in engineering for the renewable energy sector.
“I thought renewable energy was a job for the future. I chose it because I could apply my skills right away and make an impact on the world. What I do as an individual is a drop in the ocean compared to what I can achieve if I work to impact the system.”
After graduating, Birgitte went on to do a Masters in industrial economics that gave her the opportunity to spend some time in China – studying and working in a Norwegian transformer factory.
“I was working in the factory with systems for continuous improvement and finding ways to work better in production and looking at the entire system.”
Back in Norway, Birgitte joined Volue’s Industrial IoT team, solving some of the most pressing problems of the green transition by building instrumentation and automation systems for demanding environments.
“As a Sales Engineer, I meet up with customers who are in need of points of measurement because they need to collect data on, for example, how much water they have in their hydro reservoirs. In hydropower, knowing how much water you have, tells you how much energy you can produce and sell.”
In her daily work, she designs systems for solving data acquisition problems.
“Many of the hydro reservoirs in Norway were built around the Second World War. At that time, there was nobody standardising the power plants and therefore, every hydropower producer is a little different. The uniqueness of every power plant creates a lot of fun engineering challenges. There are always things I haven’t seen before, new technologies. I love to sit and draw the solutions together with my customers. And I have a really great team developing, building and testing the systems we need.”
What I do as an individual is a drop in the ocean compared to what I can achieve if I work to impact the system.
For Birgitte, the first role model was her mother who has been going into male-dominated professions all her life.
“She has really gone against the stereotypes. Thanks to her, growing up I didn’t realise there were stereotypes.”
What inspires her is seeing other women in the community that are close to her who are doing things, mastering things within untraditional professions for women.
“Of course, there are the big women out there but they are very removed from me. Seeing women closer to me crossing boundaries and doing it as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, that makes a difference to me.”
Kraftkvinnene started as an informal group of women working in renewables and grew into an established organisation.
Every year, Kraftkvinnene organise the “Årets kraftskvinne” prize which is presented by the Minister of Energy in Norway.
Kraftkvinnene want to hear from all women who work in renewables, have shown that this is an industry for women, have helped to cheer others on, and help shape the renewable industry.