Diversity & Inclusion in the US clean energy sector – cause for concern?
Published 28th January 2022
By Kamogelo Motse, Research Associate
The clean energy industry in the United States is becoming a growing hub of economic activity, with the U.S. senate passing a $550 billion clean energy investment bill in 2021. Laws such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has also been passed that will ensure that infrastructure, necessary to deliver clean energy, is built to support the energy transition.
However, there is a huge inequality problem in the United States as women and people of color are lagging in being part of this growing economic activity and mostly hold non-senior technical roles and administrative jobs as opposed to being decision makers. Whilst great progress is being made in the sector generally – with 32% of women being part of the renewable energy workforce as opposed to only 22% making up the oil and gas sector workforce.
A report compiled by BW Research for several energy associations shows a dark image of underrepresentation in the U.S. clean energy sector. According to the report only 17% of Hispanics and Latino’s, 8% of black people, 8% of Asians and 2.5% of Pacific Islanders and Native Americans are employed in the clean energy sector.
However, the jobs that are held are not senior or technical roles. Hispanic and Latino workers commonly hold low wage construction labor jobs while historically globally women have held administrative jobs rather than those in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics streams. It is important for women and people of colour to have roles in STEM streams because these jobs are higher paying jobs with good benefits and would allow them to participate in the economy effectively.
Have you heard of the quote, “if you can see it, you can be it?” The quote speaks to how important diversity and inclusion is. If people can see others that look like them in spaces that they never thought were possible it encourages them to know that in fact it is possible.
Diversity in an industry or workplace speaks to having people of different genders, races and sexuality. Inclusivity is how well these people are integrated and feel included in the workplace. The clean energy industry in the United States suffers from a diversity problem and without diversity you cannot have inclusivity. The clean energy sector in the U.S. employs about 3 million people with 61% of workers being white and only 27% being women.
Women and people of colour do not hold a significant number of senior management roles that have to do with the clean energy revolution. This is due to women and people of color being disadvantaged in terms of having access to better education and proper job training.
Firstly, people of color have been disadvantaged when it comes to getting proper access to education. Schools that are attended by students of color have been predominately underfunded, not had proper qualified teachers and a quality curriculum.
Secondly, women do not have a lot of representation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics jobs because women are not encouraged to take these majors in university or college and you will find about only 21% of women major in engineering in the United States.
This issue needs to be addressed by having proper funding in schools that minorities go to and affording them a quality curriculum with good educators. Young girls should be encouraged to take subjects such as mathematics and science in school in order to give them the option of taking science, engineering or mathematics majors when they reach university level.
There is a mentorship program created by the Women in STEM Organization that matches university students studying in the STEM stream and women working in that sector with young girls in high schools. These are the type of programs that need to be created for young people of colour and young girls to bridge the gap of representation in that sector.
The clean energy sector in the United States is one that is growing with many jobs being created and investments and financing going into the sector. The issue of diversity and ultimately inclusion is one that needs to be addressed within companies and at government level so that women and people of colour living in America are not left behind in the energy transition.
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