As the solar industry continues on its historic path of transforming the nation’s electricity system, it is also in need of transformation.
We have long known that the solar industry is not as diverse as the larger workforce, from statistics released by Solar Foundation. However, the problem is much more severe at the top, as revealed in the U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study 2019 issued yesterday by the Solar Foundation and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
While the solar workforce is 73% white and 74% male, among senior executives at the solar firms polled by the two organizations, 88% are white and 80% are men. This is in addition to a 26% gender wage gap in the solar industry, with men more likely to earn higher wages than women at all position levels, and more likely to indicate that they are satisfied with their position.
To be clear, this isn’t necessarily worse than other industries, and while the two organizations provided complementary data that showed that the diversity of the solar industry is still better than either oil and gas or the utility industry, they provided no such comparisons on who fills executive positions in other industries.
However, as a progressive, 21st century industry, many within solar hold it to a higher standard. “I felt it was important to make this a public issue — to challenge others to stand up and account for the work they are doing,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA President and CEO.
“As leaders, we have a responsibility to create cultural change and address the systemic forces that have allowed discrimination to fester. We need to take account of our own actions and ask ourselves, are we doing enough? It’s imperative that we take proactive steps to advance these issues, because it isn’t going to happen on its own.”
Over the last few years leaders such as Hopper and the Solar Foundation’s Andrea Luecke (incidentally, the leaders of most of the top solar advocacy organizations in the United States are white women) have pushed diversity as an issue.
However, one of the factors identified in the report that could be keeping solar company leadership white and male is the way in which new hires are found. According to the report, three of the top five recruitment methods that respondents are using to fill open positions rely on “professional and personal networks”.
The report also finds that “People of color were much less likely to find their current position through an employee referral or by word of mouth.”
Latinos finding success in solar
Not all of the report’s findings were negative, and the position of Latinos in the solar industry was a bright spot. While the portion of solar employees that are Latinos is the same as the national workforce (17%), the report found that Latinos are actually over-represented in manager, director and president positions.
Latinos also reported higher job satisfaction and pay compared to non-Latinos.