The large-scale deployment of renewable energy is not only necessary to avert the dangerous consequences of climate change. The renewable energy sector also supports thriving local economies by creating direct employment opportunities and supporting economic activity in related sectors. But studies show that women are missing out on job creation in this sector.
Studies demonstrate that in the absence of appropriately targeted education, training, job placements and supportive social policies, the transition to renewable energy might exacerbate existing gender inequalities despite an overall increase in job opportunities in this sector.
Generation and distribution of renewable energy is more labor-intensive than analogous work in traditional oil and gas industries. IRENA estimates that the renewable energy industry employed 11 million people globally in 2018 and that the number of jobs in the wind energy industry alone has grown from 750,000 in 2012 to 1.16 million worldwide in 2018. Young professionals, particularly millennials (those born in the 1980s to mid-1990s), are increasingly choosing careers based on social/environmental impact criteria, and are drawn to the renewable energy sector rather than fossil fuel-based industries.
Many sectors of the renewable energy industry will require a steady pipeline of technical skills and knowledge to sustain innovation. For example, offshore wind is forecasted to become a USD 1 trillion industry by 2040, according to the IEA. In order to achieve its full potential, the industry will need to improve and scale up so that wind technology keeps growing in efficiency, reliability and suitability for different environments.
However, career advancement opportunities in the renewable energy industry are still not gender-equitable, and women continue to face barriers to recruitment and job retention. Careers in the industry are often not recommended to women via traditional channels such as career counselors, student advisors, job centers and recruitment sessions, according to a report by C3E International. Furthermore, professionals working in male-dominated fossil fuel-based industries tend to be more informed about changes taking place in the industry – and opportunities to move into the renewable energy sector. As a result, women are less likely to benefit from job creation in this field.
Women in Wind’s Wind Energy: A Gender Perspective report, conducted in collaboration with IRENA and published in January 2020, found that women constitute only 32% of the renewable energy workforce globally and only 21% of the wind energy workforce. The role with the heaviest representation of women in the wind industry was administrative jobs (35%), with only 14% of STEM jobs and 8% of senior management roles held by women.
The growth of the renewable energy industry will bring tremendous job creation to new and existing markets, and the dividends of this growth should be distributed equally. But this can only be achieved with the full support of businesses across the sector, and with proactive programs and policies that compensate for pre-existing gender biases and unequal access to career development opportunities.