Women in the energy efficiency workforce [guest post]

Hi, my name is Crystal Yeh and I’m an intern at Sealed this summer. I’m an Environmental Studies major with a minor in Public Policy at Hunter College. Much of my responsibilities involve interacting both with customers and with our partners so this sparked my interest on the top of gender disparity in the green workforce. 

It’s almost a cliché for woman to write this truism: “there are disproportionately few women in my field” without eliciting eye rolls. But I have to say it: there are disproportionately few women in the home energy efficiency business. Moreover, there are disproportionately few women in green jobs in general. Why is that? 

Bureau of Labor Statistics show that only a small percentage of women are in fields such as engineering, installation, repairing, industrial production managers, etc. (More on that here). Many green jobs relate to energy or infrastructure, all of which currently lack women.

I recall talking to a beloved honors math teacher who attended engineering school and he told me “when I was in engineering school in the 60s, there were 4 women out of a graduating class of 300.” Flashback to when I was deciding what college to attend, I seriously considered attending a great engineering school and majoring in environmental engineering (I ended up choosing an inexpensive college and majoring in the policy side of environmental studies). I found that the school that I was looking at was 70-30 Male-Female, and this is with over a decade of initiatives to bring more women in. When making this decision, my mother reminded me that an engineering school “might not be fit for a girl” explicitly, and she’s certainly no sexist in general. 

The lack of women working in these industries ultimately stems from inertia. One of the basic tenets of physics is that a body in motion tends to stay in motion. As STEM industries have been traditionally male-dominated, any changes are an uphill battle.

Encouraging women to enter the green workforce isn’t only beneficial to the individual, but it may be a huge asset for companies as well. A Catalyst report on Fortune 500 companies found that companies with the highest numbers of women board directors and women corporate officers on average achieve higher financial performance than those with the lowest. Women also tend to reinvest more into families and communities which may create a positive externality for society as whole, especially in a field such as environmental services that have a social goal. Furthermore, given that the green workforce has expanded 4.9% annually, 4 times that of most industries currently in our economic recession, it’s only reasonable that women proliferate the field accordingly. Women entering the field would be beneficial to both individual and business. 

Proposals to incentivize women into sections of the workforce that are traditionally male-dominated include offering mentoring and networking to women via their academic institution or having quotas on women employees in individual companies. Personally, I worry that this approach may cause resentment from people who view this as “special treatment” to a group or unfair to the “average male college student” who may not have such opportunities. 

I propose that it may be more beneficial to start from the bottom up and encourage girls from elementary school onwards to study subjects in the STEM fields. This way by the time they are of college-age, likely an equal proportion of males and females will be in the STEM fields and they will enter the workforce in equal numbers naturally. 

In the energy efficiency field, specifically, colleges should encourage women to be energy auditors and contractors. People naturally gravitate towards fields that they’re good at. In the efficiency field, women can play to their advantages: we tend to be more empathetic, pay attention to minor details and be likeable to strangers. If employers recognize this value that women add to the workforce, more women will be hired into the energy efficiency field. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *