By Pamela Cargill
If you’ve ever experienced a career setback during your time in the solar industry and had nowhere to turn, bemoaned the lack of visibility of women and minorities in leadership positions, or felt alone in your career journey, you have an opportunity to shape the future you want to see in supporting the diversity of the solar workforce. While there have been a number of recruitment or training efforts aimed at women or minorities over the year, no organization has mounted a cohesive effort to unite them until now.
On October 7, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) facilitated a webinar introducing Women in Solar, a new nonprofit. Its mission? To promote the involvement of women in advancing all aspects of the solar energy industry. Executive Director Kristen Nicole and organization VP Sara Rafalson led the presentation with opening remarks from board advisor Carrie Cullen Hitt of SEIA.
Kicking off the top of the hour, SEIA CEO Rhone Resch set the stage for the work ahead of Women in Solar, quoting from recent Solar Foundation data that shows that women make up less than 19% of the solar workforce. While that’s ahead of the general construction trades at 12%, it represents an opportunity that Women in Solar can spearhead and rally support around. SEIA has signed on as a founding sponsor of Women in Solar and has been joined recently by generous gifts from Clean Power Finance, SunPower, and ViaSys.
The group began as a series of conversations in 2010 and 2011, after the now-founders of Women in Solar realized there was no consolidating effort in the solar industry equivalent to Women of Wind Energy. While the initial excitement led to hopes that the group could launch and take off within a matter of months, the founders realized it would take time to organize stakeholders, onboard advisors, and begin coalition-building efforts that would support the eventual 2014 official filing of nonprofit status. A turning point for Women in Solar came with the 2013 post-Intersolar blog criticizing booth babe culture at that year’s event. Many voices that had expressed interest were turning to the nascent group looking for leadership.
Kristen assured attendees that Women in Solar is not just a group for and about women. The group is concerned with promoting and sustaining diversity in the solar workforce and welcomes allies to join and support the nonprofit’s mission no matter what their gender.
While there have been many women’s efforts over the years in solar, few have generated more than momentary excitement and efforts have rarely built upon one another. Sara explained that Women in Solar wishes to position itself as a clearinghouse for diversity efforts within the solar industry for recruiting, retaining, and retraining within a transparent nonprofit framework.
Sara made her call for interested parties to become members and serve on or shape a committee in one of the program areas currently outlined by Women in Solar. Interest areas currently include:
- Mentorship, a member-to-member program to connect younger solar workers with more senior women.
- Career Development, including partnering with GRID Alternatives/SunEdison Women’s Initiative
- SheSpeaks Solar, a program partnership to increase the diversity of speakers within the conference circuit
- KidSun Project, increasing engagement in K-12 with solar technologies and related opportunities
- International Programs, currently a partnership-based effort highlighting groups likeSolar Sister.
The membership of Women in Solar is still under 100 paid members, but it’s growing quickly. A founding membership is $150 (with a 25% discount for NABCEP-certified professionals and a 50% discount for students). The group will remain a general membership organization during its founding period and avoid the chapter model to keep the organization streamlined during startup. Both Sara and Kristen reiterated that an active, involved, and interest-diverse membership base will provide the strong direction and execution the group needs to become effective in its mission.
Women in Solar leadership is concerned with remaining agile and providing the most relevant services for its members and the solar industry as a whole. In this service, the organization is liberally using the partnership model to consolidate information about many of the great programs already out there as opposed to trying to scratch-build competing programs.
The opportunity here to create a lasting and valuable support structure within the solar industry is outstanding, but founding visionary member-volunteers are needed to create, shape, and drive the programs most relevant to its members. Get off the sidelines today and join the efforts of Women in Solar, growing a vision of a more diverse and supported solar industry workforce!