Women still hold just a third of clean energy jobs, Fuller Project says
Jan 8, 2024

Women still hold just a third of clean energy jobs, Fuller Project says

"There is a historic opportunity to rebalance this field," with federal infrastructure funds, says Aaron Glantz of the nonprofit newsroom.

Last June, President Joe Biden flew to Silicon Valley to tout the massive federal investment in clean energy made possible by the Inflation Reduction Act.

For a long time though, women have been largely shut out of clean tech jobs. And an investigation by the nonprofit newsroom The Fuller Project, reported by freelance science journalist Kate Gammon, found that last year, women filled just 32% of green energy jobs, up just 1 percentage point since 2008.

Marketplace’s Lily Jamali spoke with senior editor Aaron Glantz about The Fuller Project’s sometimes graphic findings.

The following is an edited transcript of their conversation

Aaron Glantz: Our reporter Kate Gammon went out and talked to some of the female workers in this sector. And she found that out on the front lines of these construction sites where people are putting up solar panels, there is a lot of endemic, just direct sexism. People drawing penises on port-a-potty walls, making direct sexist commentary towards their colleagues, propositioning female workers at work. And that’s a lot to get through. A second factor is the historic pipeline issue. If you look at the skills that are needed to install a solar panel or a windmill at the working-class level, you’re looking at a predominantly male workforce. But we also ask, why then would this be extended to those upper echelons, the more white-collar jobs? You know, the woman who we quote in our story, who’s vice president for GRID Alternatives, which is the nation’s leading a nonprofit installer of solar panels, noted that when she was at MIT, in an engineering program, half of her classmates were women. And it was only when she went into this green energy sector that she started to find herself in extreme minority.

Lily Jamali: Let’s talk about the government’s role in this because in the article, you note that the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law require applicants for this clean tech money to lay out plans to promote diversity and accessibility. So it seems like the issue is that they’re asked to do that, but there are no targets. Is that right?

Glantz: The only target that exists is something that comes from an executive order signed 45 years ago by Jimmy Carter. And it says that there should be 6.9% of hours worked on federal construction sites performed by women. Basically, women make up 50% of the population, they make up about 50% of the workforce, the only standard on the books is that women should be handling 7% of the work. And even that is a goal. It’s not a requirement. So we haven’t yet looked at these community benefits plans that the companies applying for this federal subsidy are submitting. I’m not familiar with what’s in them, how aggressive the Department of Energy is in monitoring them. And what our investigation shows is that all of that is very, very important. So we’re going to be diving deeper in the new year. We hope other people start scrutinizing this as well, because with so much money going out the door, there is a historic opportunity to rebalance this field, or for us to just basically subsidize an industry which has been employing twice as many men as women for a generation.

Jamali: Now, you put your findings in front of people within the federal government. You, it sounds like, spoke to someone within the Department of Energy specifically. What did they have to say?

Glantz: I mean, they say that they know that there’s a big gap, and they have to close it. But as we’ve discussed, the standards and the tools that they’re utilizing are pretty minimal. And the only thing is these guidelines that say that 7% of the working hours should go to women, which is, like, not even 1 in 10. So —

Jamali: We’re functioning off of something written in the 1970s, as you’ve laid out.

Glantz: Right, right. So we’re assuming that the world has not changed since Jimmy Carter was president and there was no such thing as, like, a computer, really. So I mean, that’s where these regulations date from. So I think this is really something that goes beyond the bureaucrats, right? Is this something that the president should be discussing, that members of Congress should be discussing, that should be discussed at industry conventions? You know, the people at the Department of Energy, they just follow the law. And what we found is that the law is actually quite weak.

Jamali: And Aaron, what is your sense of how aware the companies in this clean tech sector are of this problem?

Glantz: I would say, first of all, that the largest solar energy company in America, NextEra Energy, which has 15,000 employees, three-quarters of its employees are men. That is the case both, again, from the front-line workers and in the suites. And the reason we know this is it is in their published reports, right? So they know, they are aware of it. Now what do they think? Our reporter called them, they didn’t call us back. So I think that this is something companies are definitely aware of —

Jamali: They must know. I mean, that’s probably one of the first demographic markers they look at.

Glantz: Or maybe they just, like, look around their office and notice that they’re all a bunch of guys, right? So the question is, is anyone asking anything of them? And is there any real robust discussion around this? And I don’t think that’s necessarily been the case yet. And I think that’s the, you know, some of the discussion that we’re hoping to get going with this reporting.

More on this

Aaron mentioned the pipeline problem. For more on the gap in professional skills and education, we’ve also posted to a recent analysis from LinkedIn.

It found that 1 in 10 women on the platform had a “green skill” — the professional skills required to work in the green energy sector, as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics — compared to 1 in 6 men. Those skills include expertise in areas like energy management and environmental policy.

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Daisy Palacios Senior Producer
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