Globally, gender inequality is one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century. Men tend to dominate the top tier of the business world while women over-represent in low-paying jobs. And, in every US industry, men earn more than women. Among full-time workers, women earned less than 81 cents for every dollar made by a man in 2016. Since then, not much has changed. While the difference between the earnings of genders has shrunk, a significant disparity in how men and women are paid remains.
However, the relatively new energy industry may be a promising opportunity for women in the coming years. As major corporations and businesses all over the world switch to clean, sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel, more jobs are becoming available within the energy sector. And both women and the energy industry can benefit greatly from more gender diversity and equality in the field.
The Importance of Gender Diversity
Men and women have different viewpoints, ideas, approaches, and insights, which enables better problem-solving. In a rapidly changing industry like renewable energy, different approaches to problems are incredibly beneficial to supporting growth and development within the market. For instance, companies with gender diversity in leadership outperform their competitors by a 48 percent operating margin and better decision making 73 percent of the time. Moreover, companies cannot afford to overlook 50 percent of the potential workforce and expect to compete in the energy industry, not to mention the global economy.
Room for Improvement
Currently, women make up almost one-third of US wind and solar energy jobs. Similar proportions of women also fill roles in other energy fields including biofuels, coal, and combined heat and power. This is relatively high when you consider the fact that females account for only 20 percent of workers in tech jobs. Thus, the industry could view the number of women in wind as an improvement from five years ago, when women only filled 20 percent to 25 percent of wind jobs.
While these numbers may sound like a positive move to some, others see major room for improvement. From 2017 to 2018, the demographic profile saw little change, with women making up 26.3 percent and 26.9 percent of the solar workforce respectively. In other words, the solar industry — as well as many others — have a long way to go before closing the gender gap.
Opportunities for Women
Luckily, this disparity means there is no shortage of opportunities for women within the renewable energy industry. Four years ago, the solar industry added about 51,000 new jobs and women filled half of them. Then, in 2017, the energy sector employed roughly 6.4 million Americans, a 5 percent increase from the previous year. Furthermore, researchers estimate that renewable energy will provide power to support the majority of America’s energy needs by 2050. So, whether it’s installing photovoltaic solar panels or inspecting wind turbines, more and more jobs will become available for all genders to fill in the coming years.
Time for Change — and Bravery
The question remains: will the gender gap lessen in the renewable energy industry? Well, that’s ultimately up to society and women. The past generation was mostly raised in a culture that encouraged boys to pursue science, technology, math and engineering and girls to pursue more domestic roles or desk jobs. By the time these girls reached college, they gravitated toward consulting and project management rather than construction. In the future, cultural norms must shift if society is to encourage women to pursue careers in renewable energy.
Additionally, women must be persistent and unwaveringly brave if they are determined to rise through the ranks of the energy sector. Currently, women account for 45 percent of the industry’s administrative jobs, but only 28 percent of STEM roles. This lack of diversity can alienate and discourage women who are just beginning to study for or enter the field and is often the case in many places where only one or two women are present onsite.
Therefore, women must rise up and support each other, helping one another climb the industrial ladder. But it all starts with the decision to be brave enough to jump into the field. If society and women continue to make moves to create a more diverse energy industry, we may very well see the gender gap lessen in the future.
Emily Folk is passionate about renewable energy and sustainability and more of her work can be found on her site, Conservation Folks.