Underrepresentation of women in solar requires ‘holistic approach’

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Solar energy leads not only to renewable energy generation but also the way for gender inclusion. Our sector employs almost the same percentage (40%) as the oil and gas sector (22%) and wind sector (21%) together, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency's report “Solar PV: A Gender Perspective.” In that sense, we can be very optimistic regarding the attractiveness of our sector for women for its contribution to sustainability and positive impact on social welfare in developing countries.

Women often face more challenges than their male colleagues in most industries worldwide due to the lack of social and gender equality policies and cultural legacies. At Women in Solar Europe Network, we are gathering specific data to help us understand the obstacles that prevent women from reaching leadership positions in our regions. Although it's still early days, our initial data shows that 91% of women have encountered career barriers. This figure is much higher than the 60% reported in ‘Solar PV: A Gender Perspective,' although their percentage varies depending on the data set. Observing how our percentage changes as we collect more data will be interesting.

The solar and energy storage industry is full of opportunities for women, but we need to set the correct path proactively. Many companies in the sector prioritize diversity and inclusion and strive to create an equitable work environment by supporting mentorship, networking, and professional development initiatives such as the WiSEu Network. Unfortunately, this is not the case for all organizations. Many male C-Levels don't have inclusion in their business agenda, and they might pay a high price for it.

According to many reports, such as Diversity Wins (2019) from the Mackinsey series, companies with higher representation of women in leadership roles and ethnic diversity ‘are most likely to outperform competitors in profitability'. Equity and Inclusion are usually recognized to contribute to innovation as they avoid blind spots caused by the group mentality.

It is worth mentioning that the representation of women across the value chain in different segments, roles, and leadership positions varies significantly. Returning to IRENA's “Solar PV: A Gender Perspective” report, manufacturing employs the most significant proportion of women, 47%, while installers employ only 12%. In Europe & North America, women in administrative roles account for 50% with no progression to leadership roles, where women hold globally 30% of managerial positions and 17% of senior management out of their share.

The underrepresentation of women in the PV industry needs to be addressed with a holistic approach from a cultural and educational perspective, motivating girls to pursue STEM careers, attracting young women to the industry from the university level, career development support from organizations starting at entry positions, and gender equality policies from governments. It is not easy, as many actors are involved, but it certainly can be done.

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According to SolarPower Europe, by the end of this decade, solar energy is projected to generate the most job opportunities within Europe’s renewable energy sector, estimated at approximately one million positions. Consequently, our industry is experiencing rapid growth, continually attracting the younger demographic to its workforce. That is precisely the biggest opportunity and challenge. In my view, our options are limited; leaders must either evolve into pioneers or become relics of the past, and it all comes down to recognizing the value that gender equality and diversity—be it ethnic, cultural, religious, sexual, age-related, or pertaining to disability—add to an industry that must perpetually innovate.

Author: Carmen Madrid

Carmen Madrid is the Founder of Women in Solar Europe, the reference network for equality, diversity and inclusion in the sector. With nearly a thousand qualified members across more than fifteen European countries and partnering with some of the leading organizations in the solar and energy storage industry, the network provides women with a sense of belonging, tools, skills and role models on their path to career and leadership development. Carmen brings a perspective of over twenty years of international experience across different sectors and a commitment to contributing with her expertise to an equal, diverse, and inclusive renewable energy sector.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.

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