If trade shows are any indications, the solar industry appears to be making progress on gender issues. While hiring “booth babes” is still a practice, it has been a full five years since we witnessed women in cages at the booth of a solar manufacturer, and even the company that gave us women dressed in skimpy bunny outfits at Intersolar North America two years ago seems to have gotten the memo.
In terms of less anecdotal evidence, yesterday Sunrun announced a significant milestone in gender equality. The company reports that its internal review confirms that it is paying its employees the same wages for similar positions in similar locations, regardless of gender.
“Fair and equal pay for all genders and races is a fundamental human right and integral to the Sunrun ethos,” said Lynn Jurich, Sunrun co-founder CEO. “In the United States today, the workplace inequity that exists is unacceptable.”
Sunrun had taken a pledge to reach equal pay in 2016, and notes that it voluntarily stopped asking candidates for salary history, more than a year before a California law made it illegal for employers to rely on past salary history. This law, AB 168, is seen as a way to help employers close the existing wage gap, wherein nationally women are paid 82 cents on the dollar for what men make.
The company also reports that it provides equal parental leave for both male and female employees, and that women compose 50% of its senior leadership and 40% of its Board of Directors.
27% of the workforce
However, despite Sunrun’s achievement the larger industry is still struggling with gender issues, and this can be seen sheerly by who is present and who is not at any trade show. Women made up only 27% of the solar workforce in 2017, according to the latest Solar Jobs Census by The Solar Foundation. While this is far less than the 47% in the overall economy, it is around the middle for energy industries, which are in the 23-32% range.
Kristen Graf, the executive director of Women in Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE), argues that we should not be satisfied with this. “There are a lot of people who recognize that this is important, but haven’t put in time or energy,” Graf told pv magazine at the Intersolar North America trade show earlier this month. “The reality is that this is going to impact the success of this industry.”
WRISE held a breakfast meeting on the second day of Intersolar North America, which was widely attended and where leaders of local WRISE chapters spoke about the work that they are doing to achieve equity and inclusion in their workplaces.
But gender issues are not the only demographic challenges that the solar industry faces. Despite employing a larger number of Latinos and veterans, black workers and older workers are still under-represented in the industry, with African-Americans representing only 7.4% of the solar workforce, as opposed to 11% economy-wide.
The particularly ugly case of racial discrimination that is the subject of a lawsuit in California reinforces the point that we can and must be better at providing inclusive and fair environments for all workers.