Where Are The Women In Green--Dead Horse Edition

I have written and written on the gender disparity in green building and renewable energy.  Today I am beating that poor horse just one more time, but it is so important to me that I hope you will indulge me.

Today I received the invitation from the American Council on Renewable Energy National Policy Forum, which is scheduled for December 8-9 in Washington. There are 34 speakers at this program, one of whom is female (big shout out to Lisa Frantzis from Navigant Consulting).  The invitation (which you can see for yourself here) makes this disparity visual. 

What is the cause of the gender disparity at this event? Is it ACORE, a very good organization as a general proposition, not being aware of the gender disparity in the program? Is it the lack of women in Congress and other federal leadership positions as a whole, thereby reducing the pool to choose from for this event? Is it a failure of women in this field to promote themselves as speakers to this type of event?  Choice D, all of the above? 

I do not think that including women in a program purely for the sake of gender diversity is a positive outcome of this type of discussion.  Rather, in an industry which is predominantly male dominated,  the organizers of programs like this one should make an effort to identify women who are qualified, which may take a little more effort, but produce a more balanced program. 

By identifying and promoting women in this type of forum, more women are likely to come and to be involved, thereby creating a larger pool of qualified professionals, and beginning to address the gender disparity as a whole.

Where Are The Green Jobs For Women?

I am speaking today and the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC at a forum on green jobs for women.  Although policymakers assert that government investments in green initiatives can produce 20% more jobs than traditional economic stimulus measures, women are not finding as much employment in the green sector as men.  I wrote about this issue for the first time last year, my original post is here.

The issue that I am presenting on today is the low representation of women in white-collar green jobs.  When polticians talk aboout green jobs, the focus is most often on blue-collar work--workers insulating homes or installing solar panels.  There is no doubt that women are historically underrepresented in manual labor contruction work--women account for just 3% of building trade workers.  This gender disparity is no different when electricians turn from hooking up HVAC units to hooking up solar arrays. 

But what about white collar green jobs? There are no practical barriers to entry for women to become construction or energy lawyers, to finance green projects or to create businesses that develop or market innovative green products.  Gender equity is only one of the issues here--it is new efforts in these areas which will create demand for blue-collar and white-collar workers alike, and create new revenue to reinvigorate the American economy. 

And yet women are underrepesented in these areas as well.  Women make up just 16% of the leadership of the ABA Construction Law Committee, and a lower percentage of scientists, researchers, engineers and financiers.

What to do? 

  • Qualify white collar green jobs for economic incentives--this will benefit the green economy as a whole.  If there are no new businesses creating demand for people to caulk houses or build solar arrays, all the green job training in the world will be wasted. This will benefit men and women alike.
  • Create targeted green training (and RE-training) programs for women in law, business, engineering and finance. Alumni groups from higher education institutions could take on this effort, and make the training available not only for their alumni, but to professionals within their geographical area.
  • Create set-asides in green purchasing programs for women-owned green buisnesses, particularly in government programs and large companies going green,.
  • Take on the issue--USGBC and other high profile green organizations and government entities need to make women's participation in the green economy a priority.