Dear Solar Industry: Celebrate Women’s History Month with Equal Pay

Last year, I was appalled to read in the U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study that the gender pay gap in the solar industry is 26 percent, which means that women in the solar industry earn 74 cents on the dollar compared to men. The gender pay gap in the solar sector is even worse than the US economy as a whole, where women earn 82 cents on the dollar. There’s also very little data in this report, and across the solar sector generally,  about the challenges women of color face as they push for pay equity. It’s no wonder that the same report noted that women are less satisfied with their position and income and much less likely to feel that they were moving up the career ladder than their male counterparts — who also outnumber them, especially in executive leadership positions. The gaping gender gap is just one of the ways the solar sector is on a trajectory to replicate the economic disparities of the past instead of building a clean energy future where we can all thrive.

Back in 2009 – as the extraordinary slate of policy, technology, and financial innovations that have helped cut the cost of solar by more than 70 percent  were getting underway – I served in the Obama White House on the President’s energy and climate team. We envisioned the emergence of a new clean energy economy as an open field where new leaders representing the beautiful diversity of our nation could build companies, build careers, and create good jobs. The solar jobs are there, but we’re failing to deliver on the rest. 

What can we do to get on track? If you’re a C-Suite executive or serve on the board of an organization in the solar sector, you have the power to take immediate and measurable action to close the gender pay gap as one step towards more equitable futures.

First, make a statement. Systems produce outcomes based on the values at their core. As a leader, if you don’t make your values clear, inertia will take the helm and perpetuate the past. Recognizing that diversity and inclusion, including pay equity, is a business imperative, the Ernst and Young (EY) commitment to pay equity and diversity began with their Executive Committee Board and extended throughout their organization. Follow their lead. EY makes it easy by publishing their playbook

Next, keep score. Measure and track pay equity in your own company, and where there is a gap, make it right. Learn how to do it from the leaders. When an audit uncovered pervasive statistical differences between compensation for women and men, Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff took action to correct it across gender, race, and ethnicity. You can do the same. 

There is no final, third step because achieving equity is a continuous improvement process and we – as individuals, as organizations, and as an industry – can always be better. I can tell you this, though. Men must be part of the solution because they occupy 80 percent of the executive leadership roles in the solar industry and therefore must help lead this change. 

It’s Women’s History Month in 2020. The World Economic Forum says it will take 257 years to close the gender pay gap. I say the US solar industry can do it much faster. So here’s my challenge to you. In celebration of women’s history and of our futures, make a statement, keep score, and close the gap in your own organization. Keep the promise of an equitable clean energy future. We’ll all be better for it.