Only 18.4 percent of bachelor's degrees in engineering are awarded to women, 22.6 percent of master's degrees, and engineering Ph.D.'s to women decreased one percent to 21.8 percent in 2011.
A key entry point for entrepreneurial innovations and the funding to back them are Small Business Innovation Research grants, or SBIRs, awarded by the government. SBIR grants provide seed funding and are a kind of "seal of approval" that attracts more investment from both public and private investors. How many cleantech SBIRs go to women?
Only six to seven percent of the applicants for SBIR grants are women and that number hasn't changed since 1983, according to Dr. Tina Kaarsberg, SBIR/STTR Lead in the Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office.
Women not getting these critical research grants, or energy and STEM jobs, or engineering degrees, means that women are not in the pipeline for the economic gains from these innovations and jobs of the future.
Lack of Women in This Key Sector is An Economic Threat
So what? It matters that women are not landing many energy/green jobs, because the U.S. cannot compete with half our talent on the bench. This seriously handicaps America's competitiveness, at a time when the competition is fierce.
The Pew Clean Energy Report states the stark reality, "With the global clean energy sector growing in size and reach, the United States finds itself at a competitive crossroads. Once a world leader in innovation and manufacturing of clean energy technologies, it now faces considerable competitive challenges as worldwide clean energy leadership shifts from the industrialized Western powers to the emerging economies of Asia."
How can a country be competitive with half its workforce out of the fastest-growing, most innovative industry?
Fewer women means less diversity; less diversity means less innovation; less innovation means less economic growth; and less economic growth is a serious economic threat. So is a huge skills-jobs gap. As the new breadwinners, the threat to women's economic prosperity also means that families can be at further risk as well.
Women Can Be the Competitive Advantage
Innovation is at the heart of growth in any new sector, especially STEM-related ones, and the best driver of innovation is a diversity of perspectives, experiences, and expertise at the table. We need women's ideas, perspectives, solutions and ingenuity. As a UC Davis Graduate School of Management report on women on corporate boards put it: "Diversity = Return on Investment." UC Davis' Amanda Kimball said, "Innovation happens when new perspectives are celebrated...." and she added, "women brought a clear financial benefit to the firm."
But There's a Lot of Catching Up to Do, and Fast
Kimball pointed out that "(women) will stand out as being unique and bringing something new to the table.... women bring a perspective to the table that businesses are sorely lacking right now..."
I have complete confidence that Claire, Carly, and Arzoo can gain the skills and make a convincing case that they "bring something unique and new to the table." If, they have the opportunity to gain the experience and hone the skills that will make them "qualified." We must make sure they, and all women, have those opportunities.