Problem 1: The clean energy industry is white-male-dominated.
The energy industry is in a state of transformative flux, riding on the back of renewables. Clean energy provides the chance to bring far-reaching, systemic change to society, effectively translating into critical opportunities for greater inclusion and equality. Historically, the clean energy sector has been a male-dominated industry. Recent surveys show that women have been vastly underrepresented in the clean energy workforce and among crucial decision-making bodies in the public and private sectors.
Disparities in the clean energy sector
According to a 2019 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), women hold 32% of renewable energy jobs. However, there are still sharp gender-based discrepancies. Both STEM-related and non-STEM employment accounts for sharp disparities between men and women, with women accounting for only 28% of all STEM jobs. The energy sector remains one of the least equitable sectors across the United States of America.
For instance, even as solar jobs multiply across the nation, workers in this proliferating sector are yet inundated by white males. The overall solar workforce is 73 percent white, and women and gender non-binary people make up less than 28 percent of solar workers.
Figure 1: Solar industry by gender, race, and ethnicity
The lack of diversity in the clean energy workspace also persists in the wind industry, where less than one-third of the total employees are females. Moreover, 93.6% of wind energy technicians are men. The numbers are harder to pin down for ethnic minorities. The ongoing energy transition to renewables offers the chance to re-capitulate the gender bias, with women becoming equal partners in the workforce and serving as catalysts for innovation and change. However, these trends are synonymous across the globe, with the Middle East and North Africa accounting for male-dominated clean energy workspaces.
The Middle East and North Africa
The Middle East and North Africa are beginning to shift to sustainable alternatives. This is a refreshing change since low production costs and little government intervention have rendered fossil fuels the cheapest form of energy. Moreover, the abundance of fossil fuels in these regions increases the population's dependency on them.
Nonetheless, like in the States, women's employment opportunities for clean energy remain limited. Women in MENA already have a generally low participation rate in the labor force. Only 20% of women in this region are employed or seeking employment, which is less than half of the global average. Despite MENA having 50% of female graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, the clean energy sector is mainly underdeveloped for women. The exclusion of women comes at an overall cost to the region's economy. The IMF estimates that including women in the clean energy workspace could add up to 20% of the region's total GDP.
Barriers to energy inclusivity
The limited professional networks and mentoring opportunities are one of the central barriers to inclusivity. Not only does this prevent underrepresented populations from accessing these relatively high-paying jobs, but it also dents economic growth and development. Moreover, the implicit gender imbalance is slowing down progress, innovation, and career advancements in the renewable energy sector. The barriers to women’s participation are outlined below -
Figure 2: Barriers to women’s involvement in deploying renewables.
As illustrated in the graph above, gender hierarchies in society are responsible for the lack of control that women exercise in the renewable energy sector. The pandemic also resulted in a sizeable economic fallout for women, exacerbating their chances of seeking job opportunities in various economic and social sectors. Another issue is that employers frequently note hiring difficulties for new workers who lack credible training, experience, and technical skills. The underrepresentation of minorities from different cultural backgrounds and nationalities decelerates the exchange of ideas between other working-class groups. The cross-breeding of ideas stimulates innovation, but the lopsided deployment of human capital continues to hinder the same. Supply-side policies like education and training are the essential prerequisites to achieving equity. Also, mainstreaming gender perspectives can facilitate inclusivity in the workplace.
Why are women an asset to the clean energy industry (and the economy)?
While women’s participation in the clean energy space has grown, gender parity remains elusive. Not only does this negatively impact the industry, but it also strains the economy as a whole. A recent study found that businesses with gender-diverse boards are far more productive and dynamic than male-dominated workspaces. Additionally, companies with 30% female leadership are more likely to succeed in industries related to STEM than businesses with no female participation.
Figure 3: The positions occupied by women in the clean energy industry
The emancipation of women is an effective catalyst in bringing about a holistic perspective in the workplace, fostering new ideas and innovations. A study published in the European Journal of Political Economy examined data from a broad sample of nations. It found that having more women in legislative bodies resulted in stronger climate change legislation. Furthermore, countries with higher political and social standing for women have smaller climate footprints and lower greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent analysis from Rachel's Network. This nonprofit organization focuses on women and environmental concerns. The study revealed that the average League of Conservation Voters score for female senators was 71, compared to 46 for their male colleagues, based on an analysis of scorecards for U.S. House and Senate members from 2006 to 2018. In the House, men scored 43 while women scored an average of 70.
Uplifting women in the clean energy sector provides a pathway to their social and economic security. Government funding for workforce development at a grassroots level can help integrate women into the clean energy sector smoothly. Not only will this allow women to become equal partners in the clean energy movement, but it will also give them a chance to hone their skills and offer creative solutions to facilitate economic growth and development.
Women becoming equal partners in the clean energy movement is an incoming change. However, there is still a long way to go to achieve parity since these gender gaps in employment extend across various energy sub-sectors. In the long run, though, the economy stands to benefit since women are pioneers of creative change and solutions. Furthermore, inclusivity in terms of the integration of racially subjugated minorities is also in the works, providing a much-needed holistic perspective to issues of global significance.
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