Solar industry seeing results from diversity program


In October 2021, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) launched its Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice (DEIJ) Certification Program, which encourages broad participation across the clean energy industries and rewards companies working to create a more inclusive work environment, serve their communities, and attract, hire, promote, and retain diverse talent. In its newly released annual report that chronicles the program’s impact in its first year, SEIA notes that companies across the value chain are using the program’s 34 modules to raise the bar for DEIJ work in the clean energy sector.

In her introduction to the annual report, Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA pointed out that just few years ago the thinking was that because the industry was so young and still growing, they had time to strategize and to “do it right from the start”. But now the solar industry is a $33 billion industry that employs more than 250,000 workers in every state in the country, and the time is now.

“If we want the solar workforce to keep pace with the clean energy boom around the corner, complacency is not an option,” said Hopper. “We cannot expect equity to grow organically, and the actions we take today will impact our ability to reach our goals in the Solar+ Decade. Tools like the DEIJ Certification Program are absolutely necessary to close the gap between talk and action, and we look forward to building on the successes of this important program.”

The 45 companies enrolled in the certification program represent the entire solar value chain, from project developers, engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) firms, manufacturers, financiers to nonprofit organizations.

Of those 45 companies, 19 organizations achieved Bronze certification, two project developers achieved Silver (Forefront Power and Longroad) and one company, the manufacturer RES Group, achieving Gold. To achieve Gold certification, the company must have taken demonstrated and measurable steps to improve practices and policies.

“The solar and storage industry expects to generate more than $100 billion of annual investment by the end of the Solar+ Decade, and SEIA is laying the groundwork to ensure a diverse pool of stakeholders are uplifted by this wealth-building engine,” said Erika Symmonds, SEIA’s vice president of equity and workforce development.

Previous thinking was that DEIJ initiatives are too costly for small companies to take on. However, SEIA found that that does not seem to be the case. More than 75% of the companies participating in the program have fewer than 200 workers and 40% have fewer than 50 workers.

The report found that all companies enrolled in the certification program are not only doing diversity work internally, but they are all working externally with frontline communities. They also all have written DEIJ communication plans. And all of them have made DEI training available to staff. Half of them are offering unconscious bias training for hiring managers. And one-quarter use “buddy programs” in onboarding.

Companies enrolled in the DEIJ Certification program have access to monthy cohort meetings where they can discuss specific topics with others, and learn through collaboration. Some of the topics include supplier diversity, affinity groups, effective onboarding practices, and more.

SEIA is releasing several new program modules in 2023, including best practices for uplifting LGBTQ+ voices, offering inclusive health benefits, supporting apprenticeship programs, and creating inclusive spaces in the clean energy sector. Earlier in the year, SEIA released new modules about disability inclusion, mentorship and supporting military veterans in the workplace. Starting in Q1 2023, non-SEIA members will be able to enroll in the DEIJ Certification Program.

The DEIJ Certification Program was designed by Diversity Certified Professionals and uses an evidence-based approach to improve diversity practices within companies. The program was also designed so that all companies, regardless of their size, geographic footprint or resources, can achieve the highest levels of certification.

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