The Push to Bring More Women into Cleantech and Sustainability

 In WCS Blog

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Posted by Guest Contributor


Why aren’t there more women in solar and other industries related to cleantech and sustainability? This kind of question is being asked across many tech fields. When it comes to cleantech, quite a few areas are still in the process of maturing — and with that maturation comes both a greater awareness of the issue and more initiatives to do something about it.

Solar is a prime example. More organizations are forming to support women in solar, and the spotlight was on one a few weeks ago, at a webinar on Women in Solar. Following on Pamela Cargill’s up-close look at that is this article from SolarEnergy.net, which delves into not only Women in Solar but also our very own Lisa Ann Pinkerton and Women in Cleantech and Sustainability.

Behind the Push to Bring More Women into the Solar Industry

The biggest trade association for solar energy in the U.S. has put the need to increase the number of women in the industry front and center this week.

On Tuesday, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) hosted a webinar showcasing the organization it has invested in to help equalize the gender diversity of solar’s predominately male workforce.

In May, SEIA cut a $10,000 check and signed on as a founding corporate member ofWomen in Solar Energy, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of women across the solar industry and in leadership positions.

Women comprise 18.7 percent of the U.S. solar workers according to the latestresearch by solar job tracker The Solar Foundation. The industry employed 142,698 people in total as of November 2013.

Women in Solar Energy had been functioning as an informal organization until January when it obtained nonprofit status.

Since establishing nonprofit status, Boston-based founder and executive director Kristen Nicole, pictured above, has been angling to establish Women in Solar Energy as an essential organization for women in the industry.

Nicole, who is also a consultant on grid and solar integration, has already helped Women in Solar Energy usher in a variety of programs, such as SheSpeaks, where member bios are submitted to industry conferences in a bid to increase representation of women on technical panels.

Women in Solar Energy’s work also includes such efforts as matchmaking women mentors with mentees, and shaping curriculum for school-age children to cultivate an early interest in solar.

During the SEIA-hosted webinar Nicole also spoke of Women in Solar Energy’s burgeoning efforts to get a women’s annual leadership conference started next year.

Beyond an overview of the organization, the webinar worked to bring more members and volunteers to Women in Solar Energy.

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“We are really getting off the ground,” said Sara Rafalson, vice president of membership and communications for Women in Solar Energy. Sara is also a senior associate at the solar energy finance and investment firm Sol Systems.

Women in Solar Energy has under 100 members. Membership is not free and will run an industry professional $150 annually to be an official part of the organization.

Rafalson, pictured at right, explained that now is a prime time for interested parties to support the organization and get involved if they want to help shape the organization.

For any organization of this stature to make a meaningful impact some serious money is needed. Women in Solar Energy has set a $100,000 fundraising goal for the year. In addition to SEIA, three corporate sponsors, which include industry leaders Clean Power Finance and SunPower, have signed on.

Although Nicole and Rafalson didn’t discuss specific donation amounts from Women in Solar Energy’s latest corporate sponsors, it was made clear that SEIA remains the biggest financial supporter.

Women in Solar Energy isn’t the only organization working to bring more women into the industry. Multiple efforts have taken root this year to improve the gender balance in the industry as written about previously on SolarEnergy.net.

As the call to bring more women into the solar industry gains momentum, another group based out of San Francisco is looking to improve gender representation by supporting the needs of women across the cleantech and sustainability space.

Currently waiting for official decree of its nonprofit status, Women In Cleantech & Sustainability has been ramping up its efforts.

The organization was founded in 2011, and filed for nonprofit status in February in part to pave an easier road for going after sponsorships and grants.

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There is no fee to join Women In Cleantech & Sustainability. To date, the organization has more than 600 members, most hailing from the San Francisco Bay Area, according to Lisa Ann Pinkerton, founder of Women In Cleantech & Sustainability. Pinkerton, pictured at left, is also founder and president of public relations and marketing firm Technica Communications.

Women In Cleantech & Sustainability activities include networking events, talks and trainings.

In September, the organization started its first annual TED Talks-style event, which included speakers such as Kirstin Hoefer, senior vice president of customer solutions for Clean Power Finance; and Carol Neslund, vice president of sales forEnphase Energy.

In late October, Women In Cleantech & Sustainability will offer a training focused on helping women who are working in the likes of the traditional tech industry transition to career in cleantech or sustainability.

Among the programs Pinkerton has on the organization’s agenda to start next year is avirtual, global leadership summit. There are more than 40 different women’s cleantech or sustainability organizations around the world, according to Pinkerton,

“We aren’t talking to each other,” she said about the lack of communications between the organizations.

Pinkerton believes that women’s advancement in the cleantech and sustainability space can be accelerated if these more than 40 women’s organizations open a dialogue, share best practices and support one another.

She also wants an initiative advancing women in cleantech and sustainability to be developed by participants during the summit that all the organizations can back.

“We don’t have the luxury of waiting around for the cleantech and sustainability market to really mature naturally,” she said in regards to ensuring equal gender representation. “We need to put as much effort in them as we can.”

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I'm the WCS web designer. I started my freelance design firm Rosstamicah Design in 2008 after working as web principal for various companies, and have built sites for many companies in the renewable and energy industries.
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