The Importance of Gender Diversity in the Solar Technology Workforce

5250475208_643d3ed1a3_zBy Audrey Clark

Gender equality is a value that we take for granted these days. It is often mentioned that there can be a bias against women in math and science fields, but there’s little discussion as to why that’s an issue. If women don’t take an interest in science and technology, who’s really losing out?

Well, the truth is, it’s the companies, the industry, and – in the case of solar technology – everyone who cares about the environment who are missing out on valuable workers who can bring more to the table. Here are some reasons for encouraging women to pursue careers in solar technology.

More money

A white paper written by venture capitalist Cindy Padnos showed that tech companies operated by women earned an average of 12 percent higher annual revenues. What it comes down to is that, by hiring mostly men, a business is getting a fairly narrow range of perspectives on any given decision. By not hiring women, companies are neglecting to include a perspective that could help them to see the angles that not everyone recognizes. A more diverse company has an easier time staying on the cutting edge.

It’s marketable

A woman’s perspective on solar energy won’t just help to uncover new technological and business advancements; a woman’s perspective can also help from a marketing perspective. Customer bases are becoming more diverse. Perhaps 50 years ago, one might expect that most of the people concerned with construction and energy matters were men in tech and industrial fields, but is that true today? There are female homesteaders, female CEOs and female entrepreneurs who will more easily respond to the voice of a company with women in key roles than a company that sells solar tech by men, for men.

Solar technology is not gender specific

Solar technology is not inherently gender specific, nor is it stereotypically associated with one gender or the other. Where we generally expect that most people buying makeup are women and most people collecting sports memorabilia are men, there’s really no benefit to practicing a gendered approach to creating and selling solar technology.

Now, more than ever

According to RSI, there is a high demand for solar technicians as job opportunities in solar energy increased 13.2 percent in the field by 2012, and the solar energy field is expected to continue this growth.

Creating a more diverse workplace right now, and not later, means staying at the cutting edge of the industry, and it means helping to have a tremendous impact on the culture of solar. Hiring women today means that your company can be one of the reasons that, one day, people will say, “The solar power boom was built by diversity.”

Of most industries, we speak of fields that were pioneered by men, and many still employ more men than women. Solar technology is still young enough that it needn’t be doomed to the same fate in the public eye.

What can we do?

It has been said frequently, but it’s true: There aren’t enough women in tech fields. We can encourage young women to pursue careers in these fields, but beyond simply communicating with those you know, what are your options?

If you have the money, there are scholarship programs that you can donate to, as well as science departments at schools and within the community. The Girl Scouts have a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program, and big companies like L’Oreal work with local initiatives to bring science and technology camps to girls throughout the country.

The issue when it comes to women and technology is a cultural one, and as such, it’s nearly impossible for even the biggest and most powerful companies to fix the problem on their own. By trying to make your workforce as representative of the population as possible, by doing whatever is within your power to make solar technology more welcoming and more attractive to women, you may not change the culture overnight, but you will change it.

Image: Solar installers by Walmart Corporate via Flickr

Audrey Clark is a skilled freelance blogger covering a range of topics from careers and finance to travel and leisure, along with everything in-between. When not writing, she’s always on the lookout for her next adventure. Connect with Audrey on Twitter and Google+.

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2 responses

  1. As a woman who has been in the solar industry for over a decade, and often as the only woman in the room, I can say there is no easy solution to this problem. I would recommend for any women who are in the solar industry reach out to other industry women in support, especially more junior women. Stop worrying about competing with each other, stop tearing each other down, stop being jealous of someone else’s success; your real competition is the status quo.

    I would recommend supporting the work of the recently founded upstart industry group Women in Solar Energy:

    GRID Alternatives, a nationwide non-profit that installs solar for low-income homeowners, has also recently launched a Women in Solar initiative with SunEdison to onboard more women into the solar industry through hands-on experiences with solar installation:

    While these efforts are great, they don’t change the fact that once women are in the solar industry, they are often faced with company cultures that do not support their career goals or lifestyles needs, especially those raising families. Women will rarely see other women in the highest ranks of the company and will often experience great difficultly finding the sponsorship to advance in their careers.

    These are still the pioneer days in the solar industry; you can forge a successful path with hard work and determination. You have to be willing to fail a few times. You don’t need to play the “old boy’s network” game or settle for lesser opportunities. If you bring solid skills to the table, especially best practices and lessons learned from other established industries, you can demand your worth. Be a pioneer and forge your own path. If it doesn’t work for you at one company, be honest when you leave and move on.

    With regard to the “solar is not gender specific” comment— ok, while the “technology” is not “gender specific,” marketers should segment tools, tone, and messages to appeal to one buyer persona over another. This is the nature of marketing; different messages will appeal to different personas.

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