We Want More Women Working In Solar: Here’s The Plan.

female solar installer Australia

Image Credit: Finn Peacock and his AI helper

The solar industry’s getting serious about gender balance. The Smart Energy Council’s Gender Action Plan (GAP) sets the stage for an estrogen-fueled transformation and was unveiled in a webinar last week.

I mean, come on, a measly one-third of the solar workforce are women, and the Smart Energy Council says they’re mostly in admin, with a smaller number in sales and very few up on roofs installing systems.

I think it’s great the Smart Energy Council is taking action to improve equality. But if you’re one of these folks who think this gender equality thing is overrated, do us all a favour and take a hike.  Chat with your mum about why she deserves fewer chances than your dad. Or, even better, try explaining it to your sister, but I can’t promise you won’t get a knuckle sandwich.

Why the Gender Action Plan Matters: Raising Awareness and Making a Difference

I’m dishing out the deets on this Gender Action Plan for three reasons:

  1. To spread the word that the solar industry is finally addressing this issue.
  2. To let those solar installers know what’s up when they hear about the GAP.
  3. To offer suggestions on how you can help, no matter your industry.

So, the GAP webinar happened, and it struck a 50-50 balance on gender representation among the speakers. Not too shabby, huh?

Gender Action Plan webinar speakers

Australia’s Ambitious Emission Goals Need More Women

Now, Australia’s government has some pretty ambitious emission-cutting goals, which means the renewable energy sector needs a boatload of new workers. According to one estimate, we must go from 120,000 currently employed in renewables to 600,000. And guess what? If we don’t level the playing field and give men and women equal access to these jobs, we’re looking at a world of trouble:

  1. It’ll be harder to fill positions with a smaller applicant pool.
  2. Labour costs will skyrocket thanks to supply and demand.
  3. Worker quality will suffer because the best candidates won’t get a fair shot.

Sure, it’s a little icky to say we should be more inclusive just because the industry needs the help. You should give people a fair go because it’s the right thing to do. But, hey, I’ll take it. Money talks, after all.

Team Gender Force, Assemble!

The GAP’s 2030 goals are to up the number of women in the solar industry from 32% to 50% and to boost the proportion of female solar installers from 2% to 30%. They’re going to do it by assembling teams in solar companies that’ll shake up self-perceptions, change behaviours, and create more inclusive workspaces. Sounds like a plan. In fact, it sounds like a Gender Action Plan.

Gender plan terms

GAP Badges

Participants in the GAP get a shiny badge to show they’re actively working to make the industry better for everyone.  They can put it on their website and documents to show they are actively working to improve opportunities for women in the industry. But, how’s it all gonna be funded? Beats me. I just hope they don’t charge for the badges and slap a “good person tax” on the folks trying to improve things.

I also worry that these badges could lead to ridiculous situations where a company consisting of 10 women, two men, and an attack helicopter1 could be accused of not being inclusive because they don’t have a badge on their website.

Physical Strength Stereotypes

Part of the plan is to ditch the idea that women don’t have enough muscles to work on a roof.  Some aren’t up to the physical side of solar installation, but plenty of men are in the same boat.  If they’re not tested on strength, it’s not fair to require it for women and make an extra hoop for them to jump through.

Don’t Be A Jerk

Now, to create more inclusive workplaces, we all need to make some changes – especially you blokes. That means we must address our unconscious sexism and knock it off with unwanted advances and teasing. Don’t be a jerk, alright?

Solar blokes checklist

To help with this, one of the speakers, Nigel Morris, created a Solar Blokes Checklist and printed them on beer coasters.

Keep It Simple: Straightforward Steps to Build a Fairer Workplace

Building a better and fairer workplace is not complex.  Some people make a big deal of it with workshops and flowcharts, and seminars, but the most important steps can be summed up simply:

  • Don’t be an arsehole.
  • Never intentionally hurt anyone.
  • When giving criticism, make sure it’s clear, concrete, and constructive.
  • Be polite and — within reason — professional.
  • Don’t treat the workplace as a pick-up joint.

At the end of the day, we’re all just people trying to make our way in the world. So, let’s make sure everyone gets a fair shot, and if you’re being an arsehole, it’s time to change your ways. Trust me, you’ll be better off without that chip on your shoulder. And always remember what my grandfather used to say,

“Don’t be a $4 man with a $5 grudge. You may not like the way things add up.”

Footnotes

  1. God, I hate attack helicopters.  Why doesn’t anyone ever identify as a humanitarian helicopter?
About Ronald Brakels

Joining SolarQuotes in 2015, Ronald has a knack for reading those tediously long documents put out by solar manufacturers and translating their contents into something consumers might find interesting. Master of heavily researched deep-dive blog posts, his relentless consumer advocacy has ruffled more than a few manufacturer's feathers over the years. Read Ronald's full bio.

Comments

  1. John Mitchell says

    I think this an admirable initiative. How will they be addressing the gender gap with electricians who are a primary trade in the solar industry but not necessarily employed by them?

    • Ronald Brakels says

      I’m afraid no mention of renewable industry subcontractors was made in the Gender Action Plan webinar I attended. It is definitely an area that needs to be addressed.

  2. Justin B says

    I’m all for the don’t be a jerk, but has anyone bothered to ask females what they really want to do. Could it possibly be that most don’t want to do this work and would rather pursue other career paths.

    There’s 32% currently, I was surprised to read it was this high considering majority of roles in the installation and maintenance side of things, which most women do not enjoy.

    Men aren’t bad folks. I think you’ll find 99% of them are good honest workers, who helped make this industry what it is today.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Even with ideally equal opportunity, fewer women than men may want to work on the installation side of things, and if that’s what people freely decide that’s fine. But having more or less equal opportunity is important so people can decide what they want to do based on their own inclinations and talents rather than on what others think.

  3. George Kaplan says

    Equal opportunity and a respectful environment is entirely fair, but, and this might be old fashioned aka sexist, has the Smart Energy Council actually looked to see what’s wanted and needed?

    Do women actually want a 50:50 share of the solar workforce? Do they want a 50:50 split of the roles on hot sunny angled metal rooftops lumping hot heavy ‘planks’ of metal, glass, and other assorted materials?

    And who’s going to raise the next generation of solar workers if all the women are on rooftops wiring up new panels, hooking up inverters etc?

    Hey I did say this was going to be old fashioned! (Assuming this gets past the mods – and now that I come to think of it almost none of the comments on SQ seem to be by women).

    Frankly most of the women I know well would fall on the ‘old fashioned’ side of the spectrum – prefer to raise their kids at home, maybe work a few hours once they are school age, or if they don’t yet have kids (or said kids have left home), either support their husbands, or do full time work.

    It’s one thing to ensure equal opportunity, it’s another to demand, then force, an unwanted 50:50 split. Is the Smart Energy Council planning on focusing on opportunity or outcome? The first is good, the latter not.

    An yes I’m probably just partially ‘triggered’ by the term inclusive which these days is often code for supporting and enabling discrimination. 🙁

    (Yeah I don’t think this will get past the SQ mods, but hey I could be in for a shock, right?)

  4. David F says

    Frankly couldn’t give a damn about genitalia, but tbh this reeks of sexism and “me too”. Most of us in construction roles get the idea sexism should have been over years ago, many of us understand that good things come to those that can wait.
    Wanting to change the gender of trades by forcing quotas will only lead to resentment and people in the job who “don’t want to do the job” but got offered an outrageous sweetener to do the job.
    Met a female concretor yesterday and she was outstanding (at the job with a great attitude and someone who had humour and “fit”), but the first and only female concretor I’ve met as tower crane crew and I’ve done the job for a long time.
    I just wish people had the common sense to understand it is not pushing that brings good balance, it is removing obstacles that brings balance.
    There is good reason we don’t see a 50/50 split of male to female in bricklaying for instance and exactly the same in nursing. Give it time and equitable opportunity, not overarching control. It will happen naturally and the level will set itself, tariffs, subsidies and dictated quota mixes only cause imbalance in natural environments.

  5. Hey comment chat guys, I get your opinion, I really go – but I think there is something more to this.

    Maybe it’s just a female issue, but females really need female representation to know what they can achieve and what they can’t. The reason there aren’t many female engineers or electricians is that they don’t see females in those kind of roles, but this is changing.

    Take for example the skate industry, 20+ years ago you would think females are just no good at skateboarding as males were miles ahead, no females in sight. But slowly females started breaking through, and the talent of female skateboarders nearly match the males now. Tony Hawk lands a 720 breaking a glass ceiling then only a few years later Sky Brown manages this amazing feat.

    My point is, by giving females a little lift, giving them some extra encouragement, you can have a stronger, smarter industry with 50% more talent.

    I’m a female – been in the industry for over 12 years. But after leaving university never would I think I would be in the solar industry let alone enjoying it.

    I got my foot in the door in an admin role, but worked my way upwards. Does the main entry door always need to be admin roles – maybe it’s up to males to open up more doors to females.

    • Good work Kristy for pushing through the hard things to get where you are now.

      I’m not in the industry, but I expect there are still barriers there, and getting good role models is crucial for people to feel the opportunities still exist.

      My issue is when people start saying we need 50% of each gender in any area. Studies in the Nordic countries (the most gender equal in the world) show that the more equal societies become, the stronger the gender inbalance seems to come in many fields, as women move away from technical jobs more towards caring jobs. Which is great as it should be about opening up all fields to whoever wants to work there.

      • Cheers Derek.

        I agree with you that not all industries or job types need to be 50-50.

        Although I think a fairly even balance is crucial in decision-making fields like the government to achieve the best outcomes for everyone… which may require a quota until we become a more even society.

        But when you’re a female attending a solar industry event and you look around the room to see 95% males, you’ve got to think something off.

        • I appreciate where you are coming from. I’m in Childcare and it is common that I’m the only male in the room. We have been trying to address it for years, but with no real success. Again, not aiming for 50%, but 10% would be nice.

  6. “My point is, by giving females a little lift, giving them some extra encouragement, you can have a stronger, smarter industry with 50% more talent.”
    Installing a 50% participation quota based on genitalia (or identified gender) is the way to bring 50% more talent? Sorry, but your post looked biased to me.
    Last job I was on had a few female (apprentice) sparkys, the trailblazers have been out in frontt for years like SA’s plumbing apprentice of the year who won the title two years running.
    Refer to the other post with regard to quotas, incentives would be better. Here’s hoping the council are clever enough to bring inventive that includes the right people rather than just ticking KPIs.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Dave, there was no mention of a quota in the article or at the information webinar and no mention of one by Kristy.

  7. I was 1 of 3 female apprentices Technicians employed by Telstra in Victoria in 1984. The most annoying thing for me was the rude and insulting attitudes of women of my own age. The blokes were fine.
    We had solar installed in 2009. The team of installers included 1 woman who ran around on the roof putting panels up as well as arguing the finer points of the installation with the inspector.

    • Good stuff Julie, that is quite an achievement for that time. At DRCS’ apprentice training school in 1980 there was one female Radio tech apprentice in the 6 of that trade among the Dozen Fitter/Turners, 20 Sparkies and dozen sheeties.
      One thing I’ve noticed over the last few years is generally how much harder the females have worked in terms of gaining their knowledge and therefore have made arguably better tradespeople.
      Did you have any perception that the inspector was disagreeable with the particular installer’s arguments?

      • Hi Dave.
        I have to say I would never have lived it down, if I’d fallen through a ceiling or refused a job because of the filth. My patch included lots of heavy industry. Not all the people I worked with were happy with heights, filth and confined space.
        The problem with my solar installation. I wanted to use the panels as a roof over my chook food bins. It took a while to find a teem that was ok with that. The local blokes all spouted stuff about how I was not permitted to dictate the location or angle of the panels. I ended up getting a team from Melbourne down for the day who did 2 systems. One for me and another at my sisters.
        Once our inspector got over the location of the panels, the discussion turned to the switch isolating the panels from the inverter. On a wall near the inverter. Not up on the roof. There was a lot of quoting regs and discussion regarding interpretation. The installer knew the regs just as well as the inspector and didn’t back down. The discussion was amicable and in the end everyone was happy.

  8. I actually attended the session last week at the SEC Conference that Sam Craft from AWISE spoke at and found it interesting and agree that we need more women in our industry, if it is their choice to do so.
    I certainly agree that women would very capable of doing the work.
    In the whole time I have been in the industry we have not had 1 women apply for a job in the install side of the business which is the bulk of our workforce.
    If you look at other industries you will find that the gender ratio is the opposite to our industry and skewed either similar or worse than what ours is.
    The nursing/midwife industry about 88% are female, the teaching industry 71% are female, and hairdressers are 85% women.
    I have never heard anything about a Gender Action plan to correct these figures and neither do I see a need to change them as it is obvious that more women then men are choosing to work in these fields and they all are doing a fantastic job at what they have chosen to do.

    • Hi Peter, I know of several men who have left the teaching profession they loved because of the stress caused by false accusations made by female students. My husband worked for some years in maintenance at a girls high school and even he had to deal with a number of incidents.
      I guess what I am trying to say is that statistics don’t always give a clear picture of why things are as they are. My mother had a barber cut her hair for 30 years, do you include barbers in your stats?
      I have copped heaps from my own gender and still do because of the work I do. It has always puzzled me why some women will do this in this so called equal opportunity world we live in. I have also sat through a number of job interviews where some bloke says ” well love I wouldn’t want my wife or daughter doing this job your applying for so why do you think I would give it to you? ”
      Perhaps quotas are not the answer. Positive role models and promoting the fact that women can, and happily do work in a wide range of trades has got to make it easier for young women looking to enter one of the male dominated trades.
      On a lighter note it’s great to see that these days large building sites tend to have doors on their toilet cubicles and some even provide a female toilet unlike when I started work as a shy 20yo in the 80’s.

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