Come on ladies, shatter that glass ceiling! It seems to be that more women are gaining ground in the solar industry with positions not only in engineering and installation, but also in sales and management. Studies have shown that a more diverse workplace results in more revenue and satisfied employees. Individual women as well as associations are making a change for gender diversity in the solar industry. And this is happening in both developed and underdeveloped countries creating better opportunities for women everywhere.
Erica Mackie of GRID Alternatives and Ahmad Chatila of SunEdison explain five important components: training, hiring, visibility, mentorship/sponsorship, and opportunity; that need to be taken before industry workforce diversity goals can be met. These two women emphasized that companies need to work on expanding their recruitment searches to try to include more women and then create programs to mentor and guide new employees to higher positions. Companies are now providing internships or internal training targeted at women for education purposes. Conferences and panels can help with visibility, but only if women in leadership or senior positions participate.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics women are “earning degrees at a rate of 1.4 to 1 over their male counterparts.” This means that there are more women just as qualified for the positions as men. And considering women make up about 50% of the population it would seem almost rude not to include them in decisions for solar projects. Women in Solar Energy is an non-profit organization formed in 2012 whose goal is “supporting the recruitment and retention of women in the solar workforce.”
Recently the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has joined their cause by contributing a hefty donation and “setting an example for the industry” with hope that others will follow suit. The organization already harnesses many of the components Mackie and Chatila mentioned by providing programs, panels and a job board. Emphasis must now be put on making sure women know that these resources are available for their use.
Now women in Africa are becoming solar engineers and taking their jobs into their own hands. UN Women started a program in 2004 that takes illiterate women from rural areas in Africa and teaches them engineering in order to eventually assemble and install solar lamp kits in their villages. The women leave their families and travel to the Barefoot College of India to take classes often in a different spoken language than they are used to. Talk about a change!
One 53-year-old woman from Liberia, was able to give up physically demanding agricultural work for this project and it has forever changed her life. “I am not just a farmer like everyone else, she says with a clear sense of pride. I am a solar engineer now and I want to electrify my village and other neighbouring villages.” The initiative also allows solar energy to replace kerosene so it is estimated that it saves about “160,000 litres of kerosene a month across South America, Africa and Asia.”
These projects follow on the heels of attempts to get more young women interested in STEM earlier in school. “According to The Solar Foundation, women already make up 18.7 percent of the solar workforce,” but there is still more work to be done. Ultimately the goal may be for women to realize what role they play not only in the workforce, but in the purchasing of residential systems. Glenna Wiseman, co-creator of web-based company called Women4Solar, said “seeing women working in all aspects of the solar business, including rooftop installations, can give female customers and potential customers the sense that going solar helps empower other women.” So women punch a couple more cracks in the ceiling and show how you can make a difference in this growing industry.