What Will It Take to Get More Women in Green-Energy Jobs?

The growing field is currently dominated by men.

Claire, Carly, and Arzoo are ambitious, some of the hardest working people I've ever worked with. They are determined to make a difference with their college degrees in sustainability and communications when they graduate in 2014, and with supportive families and greats , they are off to a strong start.

Working with me at Green Connections Radio, they hear about all these cool green energy jobs, and how the average pay in STEM careers is about $7,000 above the average. They listen to successful women and men talk about the industry and the opportunities for rewarding careers in this field. They get excited about their own career prospects. But also see how few women are in this field.

A Promising Jobs Sector
Kate Gordon, Director of the Advanced Energy and Sustainability program at The Center for the Next Generation, compared the massive impact of the innovations in energy and sustainability to the high-tech revolution. "(W)ould you call a police officer in his patrol car.... part of the hi-tech economy? Probably not, but he's using a computer every day during his job and it's fundamentally changed his job.... The green economy is sort of similar to that...it will have a profound impact on the entire economy as we do these transformations."

It's starting to transform the economy already.

Employment in 2011 in Green Goods and Services grew by 4.9 percent, much higher than overall job growth, which was 1.2 percent, according to Nicholas Fett, an Economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This includes jobs in renewable energy, but not in fossil fuels.

The Pew Clean Energy Action Plan 2012 declares the global economy is at "The Clean Energy Tipping Point" with worldwide clean energy investments 600 percent higher than in 2004, to $263 billion, creating "thousands of jobs in the United States and around the world. Globally, an estimated 5 million jobs were connected to the clean energy sector by the end of 2011." They predict the clean energy sector "could expand to $1.9 trillion in revenues between 2012 and 2018...." And says, "The International Energy Agency forecasts that clean energy will provide half the electricity generation capacity installed over the next 25 years....(attracting) up to $5.9 trillion worth of investment."

The fossil fuel-based energy sector is bursting at the seams, too, especially in natural gas, expecting to create up to 3 million jobs over the next few years, according to George Blitz, Vice President of Energy and Climate Change at Dow Chemical.

Public and private Investors are investing in disruptive and incremental energy-related technologies, because they all see the need for and transformative nature of clean-tech—and the economic boom it will bring.

Arzoo wondered aloud in blog post whether there will indeed be a job for her upon graduation. "With the U.S. mired in political gridlock, 'sequester' spending cuts taking effect, and an economy riddled with unemployment, does a focus on green energy make sense in this financial climate? Will there be a job for me in this field when I graduate college in 2014?"

Maybe Not
Of the millions of jobs in the energy sector, only 12 percent are held by women, according to the renowned research firm Catalyst, and the BLS reports that only 13.6 percent of engineers and architects are women. One key job growing as a result of clean tech innovation is that of electrician, especially with development of the smart grid and new energy efficiency technologies. The BLS projects the number of electricians to increase by 23.2 percent by 2020. How many electricians are women? Just over two percent, the same as in 1970, according to the Census. Another economic opportunity lost to women.

Furthermore, the most growth in Green Goods and Services jobs in 2011 by far, according to the BLS, came from the heavily male-dominated manufacturing and construction industries. What's worse, the jobs being cut are generally held by women, that is, state and local government jobs. Heather Boushey, economist with the Center for American Progress, explained in Slate that, "State budget crises have led to job losses that disproportionately affect women, who make up the majority of state and local government employees."

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