Systemic Racism and Sexism
|Women make up 47% of the overall U.S. workforce, but only 26% of the U.S. solar workforce; black or African American employees make up 12.1% of the American workforce and only 7.6% of the solar workforce.||In the solar industry in 2019: the median level wage for men was $29.19, while the median level wage for women was only $21.62.||The report states that only 20% of solar company senior executives were women and 12% were non-white.|
Racism and sexism are alive and well in the US, even in the solar industry. These systemic problems have to be faced and taken on with deliberate, intentional efforts to rectify centuries of injustice. There are ways to fix this. Instead of fearing differences and ignoring our human need for love and acceptance, we centralize these things. This is not butterflies and bs; studies show that diverse, inclusive organizations are more successful and innovative. It’s just time to lay down the truth and celebrate our differences and human emotions, not vilify them. It’s going to feel strange and uncomfortable for some at first, but we have to make intentional efforts to bridge these gaps in human decency and development.
Solar industry professionals may tell you that any racial disparities in solar deployment are unintentional, but that is exactly the problem. Unless we are intentional – intentional in including low-income people and communities of color in our outreach, education and business development efforts, intentional in who we employ and the customers we seek to serve, and intentional about where we locate our businesses – these communities will be left behind. SEIA Diversity Best Practices Guide
There are plenty of clean energy jobs to go around; we should make sure everyone can benefit from them, and also from clean energy. We have a long way to go, especially with the backward progress on acceptance and working together over the past several years. The Solar Foundation and the Solar Energy Industry Association produced the US Solar Industry Diversity Study 2019. This contains many useful definitions and facts. For example:
- Diversity encompasses factors such as age, socio-economic status, educational background, religion, political views, and veterans status, to name a few examples. It refers not only to diversity in demographics, but also the unique lived experiences that people bring to the job.
- Alongside diversity in hiring, successful companies also prioritize creating a workplace environment that values inclusion and equity. Inclusion refers to a culture where people with diverse needs and perspectives are free to express their identities in the workplace. These companies create a culture of respect and accommodation where all employees feel that they can “be themselves” at work.
- Equity refers to the notion that everyone in the workplace has an equal opportunity to succeed. An equitable company works hard to create a fair working environment and equality of wage, promotion, and other opportunities to all employees.
- A commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity has become a necessity in an increasingly diverse America. Non-Hispanic whites are expected to make up 44% of the U.S. population by 2060, compared to 62% today. Women have consistently made up 47% of the U.S. workforce since 2000, an increase from 28.6% in 1948.
- Research has repeatedly shown that diversity improves a company’s bottom-line results, and this is particularly true for companies with diverse leadership. A 2018 study by McKinsey & Company found that “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.” For executive teams with ethnic and cultural diversity, this likelihood rose to 33%.11 A study by the Boston Consulting Group measured revenue tied to innovation (products and services launched in the past three years), finding this revenue was 19% higher for companies with above-average diversity in management.
- Expanding recruitment to more diverse candidates also leads to a competitive advantage. It will help solar companies improve their recruiting, allowing them to broaden their base of potential employees and create a pipeline of skilled workers. In the latest National Solar Jobs Census, one quarter of solar companies reported it was “very difficult” to hire qualified employees, compared to only 18% in 2017. Reaching out to diverse populations will build stronger teams and place companies in a better position for growth.
- Finally, the industry should embrace diversity and inclusion in a broad sense, extending not only to their employees but also the customers and communities they serve. Today, people of color face many barriers to the use of solar energy. This is especially true in the residential market. Compared to white and non-Hispanic Americans, Hispanics and African Americans are not as likely to own homes, which is usually a barrier to installing solar. African Americans and Hispanic Americans also have a lower median income and higher poverty rate compared to non-Hispanic whites. For African Americans, the legacy of slavery and systemic discrimination across generations have created awealth gap that persists to this day.
- As detailed in this report, however, the solar industry does not yet reflect America’s diverse population. Both women and African Americans are underrepresented in the industry, and there is a major gender gap in wages and opportunities to move up the career ladder. The majority of solar companies also have not developed metrics or formal strategies to make the workforce more diverse.
—US Solar Industry Diversity Study 2019
“More than any other racial group in the United States, African Americans struggle to afford baseline energy needs, a state known as energy insecurity or energy poverty. As a percentage of their income, black households pay upwards of threefold more than white households for energy. They’re also disproportionately affected by utility shut-off policies, leaving them more vulnerable to dangerously hot and cold days.” —GreenBiz
“Residents of neighborhoods with black or Hispanic majorities are much less likely to have rooftop solar than residents in white neighborhoods, even after accounting for differences in income and home ownership rates, according to a paper published last year in the journal Nature Sustainability.” —Inside Climate News
If you’re white or otherwise non African American or Hispanic, try and picture yourself in this situation that your fellow Americans face, all the extra stress, through no fault of their own. How would you feel?