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The refrigeration and air-condition sector may not immediately strike you as a particularly popular career choice for women – but you would be wrong.

More and more women are making the transition to this traditionally male-dominated industry and are making their mark in aspects of design, manufacturing, installation and service provision. 

The United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) OzonAction and UN Women have joined forces to compile a publication showcasing women around the world who have chosen this career path, following their stories, experiences, challenges and successes. 

Women in the Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Industry: Personal Experiences and Achievements follows 107 women across 50 countries.

“Women engineers, technicians, trainers and professors are increasingly working in this traditionally male-dominated field and making significant contributions to its professional development,” Elizabeth Mrema, head of UN Environment’s Law Division, and Maria-Noel Vaeza, head of UN Women’s Programme Division, wrote in the publication’s joint foreword. “Refrigeration and air conditioning are crucial for our health, nutrition, comfort and well-being, and women and men alike are making it happen.”

These women are not only an inspiration to young women and girls, their contributions are also helping their countries’ efforts in achieving greater food sustainability and security, promoting healthy living and well-being, as well as supporting the transition from ozone-depleting substances and chemicals that contribute to global warming. 

The refrigeration and air conditioning (RAC) sector was crucial to all countries in phasing down ozone-depleting substances that were damaging the ozone layer. Under the Montreal Protocol, 99 per cent of these gases have been phased out, putting the ozone layer on the road to recovery.

The next step is to target hydrofluorocarbons, powerful climate-warming gases, under the Kigali Amendment to the Protocol. Phasing down the use of these gases could avoid up to 0.4°C of global warming by the end of the century. 

“One project that I have recently been working on is the upgrade of a state-of-the-art Environmental Services reclamation process to allow for increased production efficiencies, and as such, ensure even greater reclamation of substances with ozone-depleting and high global warming potential,” said Kristina Khougaz, who works as a process engineer at Australia’s A-Gas. “I am proud to be a part of a dedicated team of people, united in their commitment to finding and refining processes to support the transition away from ozone-depleting substances.”

Even though women are making a clear positive impact, it hasn’t always been plain sailing. Many women find themselves still running up against outdated male attitudes.

“The audience for whom I write and with whom I interact is predominantly male … I have already witnessed many sexist situations, where women are disparaged and given little space in our industry,” said Gabriela Giacomini, who writes a popular blog for Brazil’s WebArCondicionado portal. “This requires me to have a lot of patience, persistence, and love for what I do. Obstacles like these are the things that motivate me to move forward and to give voice to women in our industry, because I see myself as an influencer.”

Woman are, however, persisting, taking up more technical and senior roles. This is something that, according to Jiang Shaoming, will be good not just for equality, but for the industry’s environmental impact. Shaoming works for China’s MOON Tech, and is devoted to R&D on environmentally friendly refrigerant systems.

“ I believe that, in our industry, women have greater awareness than men with regards to environmental conservation, safety concerns, and energy saving,” she said.