Solar Groups Look To Further Improve Workforce Diversity

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The Solar Foundation and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) have released new publications that update and expand on earlier reports to show where the solar industry stands on diversity and inclusion and to offer ideas for improvement.

According to the groups’ comprehensive study, solar companies are doing a better job of tracking employee demographics, and they generally provide positive work environments for their employees. However, the study says senior leadership in the industry lacks diversity, and gaps still remain in wages and job satisfaction.

The two groups also released a diversity and inclusion best practices guide to help companies and organizations within and beyond the solar industry build diversity and inclusion programs.

The U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study 2019 provides data on wages and career development for women and people of color in the solar industry. It is a follow-up to an initial report released by The Solar Foundation in 2017.

“There are many exciting job opportunities in America’s growing solar industry, and these jobs should be accessible to all,” comments Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of The Solar Foundation. “Given the importance of the solar industry in building the energy infrastructure that is needed to confront the challenge of climate change, the solar industry has a tremendous opportunity to serve as a diversity and inclusion workforce model for the wider economy.”

The study, based on a statistical survey of solar employers and another survey of employees, found the industry still has more work ahead to meet its commitments to diversity and inclusion in the workforce. Some of the key findings include as follows:

  • Among all senior executives reported by solar firms, 88% are white and, 80% are men.
  • Of the solar workforce, 73% are white, compared to a U.S. workforce average of 78%.
  • Women make up 26% of the solar workforce, while the U.S. workforce average is 47%.
  • Women in solar make 74 cents on the dollar compared to men. Moreover, 52% of men feel they have successfully moved up the career ladder, compared to only 37% of women.
  • Solar companies tend to rely on personal or professional networks in hiring, but this may limit their ability to recruit diverse candidates. Only 28% of Hispanic or Latino employees found their jobs through a referral or by word of mouth, compared to 49% of non-Hispanic employees. Only 28% of black or African American employees found their job in this way, compared to 44% of white employees.
  • Just 36% of solar companies formally track employee demographics and diversity. However, this is an increase from the 2017 study, when only 27% of companies did so.
  • The majority of solar employees surveyed reported a positive working environment. In total, 73% of respondents agreed their firm cultivates a culture of respect, equity and positive recognition of differences.

Overall, according to the groups, the solar industry has more work to do in order to reflect the diversity of the overall population – a challenge that is shared with the wider energy industry, they say. The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2018 found that black or African American workers comprised 8%, Hispanic or Latino workers represented 17%, and Asian workers comprised 9%.

The reports were released during an event at the National Press Club introducing SEIA’s #DiversityChallenge. The challenge, issued in coordination with many of Washington’s energy trade associations, asks organizations to be active on social media by sharing their efforts to improve diversity and inclusion; sign on to the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge; attend SEIA’s #DiversityChallenge event today; and finally, mount a sustained effort to address diversity & inclusion at their company and in their industries.

“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,” says Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s 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.”

“Diversity and inclusion are essential to making the solar industry as accessible as possible,” notes Scott Wiater, president and CEO of Maryland-based Standard Solar. “While the industry is working hard toward expanding into all communities, studies like this highlight where the gaps are so we can do a better job on filling them. Over time, we hope that our industry workforce will be as diverse as our world, and studies like this will help us get there.”

“You can’t change what you can’t see,” says Erica Mackie, CEO and co-founder of GRID Alternatives. “Accounting for gender and racial inequities within the solar industry with a study like this is the first step. I encourage all companies to go further and take concrete steps to assess and be transparent about equity, inclusion and diversity in their workplaces.”

The Diversity Best Practices Guide for the Solar Industry offers suggestions for building and sustaining a diverse and inclusive culture, provides case studies on actions currently undertaken by solar organizations, and points out areas where organizations can examine their work practices and look for areas of improvement. The guide, organized into five focus areas, provides best practices and tactics for a variety of workforce-related topics, including outreach and recruitment, interviewing and hiring, retention, upward mobility, and cultural inclusivity.

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