Study shows where solar industry diversity falls short

solar jobs

Not a newsflash: White guys have it better than women and people of color when it comes to job opportunities and pay. What is noteworthy is the new research from The Solar Foundation in partnership with the Solar Energy Industries Association’s Women’s Empowerment Committee that provides statistically significant evidence of the hurdles that still need to be overcome, even in an industry as seemingly progressive as solar.

The 2017 U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study is the first comprehensive study on diversity of the U.S. solar energy industry. Findings show that racial diversity within the industry has remained relatively stagnant over recent years, and that all people of color, particularly women, are at risk of being left behind as the solar workforce continues its rapid growth trajectory. Of the major findings, only 8 percent of African American respondents reported that they have successfully moved up the career ladder, and 50 percent think they have not been successful in moving up in their careers and feel “stuck” in their current positions.

Men are significantly more likely to earn wages that fall in the highest wage bracket of $75 or more per hour. 36% of white male respondents earn salaries in this wage bracket, compared to 28% of men of color, 21% of white women, and only 4% of women of color.

Among other findings, just over a quarter of solar employers formally track employee demographics and diversity and just over 1 in 10 companies (11.5 percent) has implemented a strategy to increase the representation of veterans at their firms. Meanwhile, 14 percent of companies have a strategy in place to increase female workforce representation, and 7 percent have a strategy in place to increase representation of non-white communities.

As Abigail Ross Hopper, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, noted during the opening session of Solar Power International, this isn’t just some push for inclusiveness because it’s a nice thing to do (which would be a perfectly fine reason) but also because stats back up a more diverse work place being more successful and productive.

“We know from decades of research that diversity is strongly correlated with financial performance across businesses. In the face of tremendous workforce growth, it is critical to create a solar culture that welcomes, encourages, and advances equity and inclusion. The opportunity cost is too great,” said Kristen Graf, Executive Director of WRISE: Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy. “We need as many diverse ideas, minds, backgrounds, perspectives, and talents as we can get at all levels across the industry. This study has shown clearly that we are falling short, especially with women of color. Now that we have this important starting point, we can and must do better.”

The path forward

The 2017 U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study underscores the importance of diversity for employee well-being, strength of the workforce, and a company’s bottom line. The report also identifies a broad set of recommendations that solar companies can adopt to improve diversity. The action steps for solar companies include creating company-wide diversity pledges, establishing a formal diversity tracking and measurement tool, broadening recruitment efforts, implementing a “blind” job application process, and establishing diversity training programs.

“Just like having a diverse portfolio of energy resources is critical to our nation, so is having a diverse workforce,” said Julia Hamm, Smart Electric Power Alliance President and CEO. “The path towards a clean energy future can be best met when the industry reflects all of the customers it serves. The Solar Foundation’s Solar Industry Diversity Study provides a baseline, and now it’s on the rest of us to attract and retain the best possible ideas and talent by seeking out women and minorities for employment and advancement throughout our organizations.”

Props to the solar industry for producing such a study and holding itself accountable.

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