By Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO, Solar Energy Industries Association
Employing more than 250,000 Americans, the U.S. solar energy industry is starting a revolution, making our economy stronger and our air cleaner every day. The urgent issue we must now address is ensuring those benefits are accessible to people of all races, genders, ethnicities and economic backgrounds. As an industry, we must make diversity a priority — from those we employ to where solar projects are located.
As the CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, the national association for the solar energy industry, I recognize I have a particular responsibility to address this issue, and it’s one of my highest priorities.
This is precisely why I signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge. I’ve committed to making SEIA a space to have complex conversations around diversity and inclusion, implementing unconscious bias education and sharing best practices and challenges with others.
I’m proud to say we have made some progress.
For one, SEIA has developed a best practices guide to give the industry a road map for promoting diversity. We’ve created the Women’s Empowerment Initiative, which includes summits to increase women’s leadership and opportunities, and a webinar series on diversity and inclusion for our member companies. Recently, SEIA also announced a new effort with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to increase the solar industry’s recruitment of African-American students.
We’ve also partnered with the NAACP on the Solar Equity Initiative, a year-long commitment to provide solar energy infrastructure and job skills training in more than 30 communities of color and low-income communities. And just last month, the Department of Energy funded a program we’re working on with Cypress Creek Renewables, The Solar Foundation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes program and others to create career opportunities in solar for transitioning military veterans and those in underserved communities.
However, we still have a long way to go to make the solar industry look more like the rest of America. Today, our workforce is 74 percent white, 27 percent female, 16.8 percent Latino, 8.4 percent Asian, 8.3 percent two or more races and 7.4 percent African-American or black.
This needs to be improved — not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do. One study, by the Center for Talent Innovation, found that diverse companies are 45 percent more likely to grow their market share and 70 percent more likely to capture an entire new market. McKinsey found that gender-diverse companies are 21 percent more likely to outperform other companies in their industry, and ethnically diverse companies are 33 percent more likely to be more successful than their peers.
In addition, people with different backgrounds bring new things to the table: different ways of accomplishing goals, different ways to reach new communities and different ways to solve problems. Put simply, we make better, more creative and more financially savvy decisions when we have varied voices at the table.
As we grow, we must ensure it’s not just our workforce that’s diverse, but also the kinds of communities we’re in. We want to see a diverse set of communities adopt solar so that our energy powers and empowers all Americans.
Our goals may sound ambitious — they are intentionally so. A more diverse and inclusive industry will not come about in the course of business as usual. It will take a concerted, conscious effort to create the change we are looking for. A truly diverse solar industry will make us more productive and profitable, and help set an example for other industries. It will mean more equity and more opportunity for all.
My CEO Action Pledge is an initial step. Now we, as an industry, need to collectively commit to making diversity a priority in all our decisions.
The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion was spearheaded by PwC U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan.