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Abigail Ross Hopper: Prioritizing Equity in the Clean Energy Transition

Wednesday, May 08 2019

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Abigail Ross Hopper
abby diversity event

When I first entered the solar industry over two years ago as the new CEO of SEIA, I came in with three priorities:

  1. Defending our wins at the federal level
  2. Creating more market opportunities at the state level
  3. Improving diversity in our industry and at SEIA

This week I challenged our members and energy organizations broadly to take steps to address diversity. Nearly 80 energy companies and organizations answered that call. They made commitments to diversity on social media, signed a formal pledge to address diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and are already taking steps toward creating a more equitable work environment.

While all the enthusiasm for diversity is extremely encouraging, the industry is nowhere close to where we should be. In fact, the 2018 Women in the Workplace report, a joint study by LeanIn.Org and Mckinsey & Co., found that nearly half of all men and, remarkably, a third of women think that when just one in ten senior leaders in their company is a woman, that’s enough gender diversity.

This is a clear sign that the balance between men and women in executive leadership roles is severely lacking in offices and companies across the country.

The “one in ten is enough” attitude carries over throughout the workplace and into behaviors that reveal a culture that disrespects and devalues anything other than the dominant group. When organizations do not have a diverse leadership team, women are 20 percent less likely to win endorsement for their ideas. People of color and members of the LGBTQ community are even more adversely affected, as they are 24 percent and 21 percent, respectively, less likely to gain endorsement for their ideas. This lack of validation has cascading effects, both on future advancement opportunities and an employees’ sense of inclusion in the workplace.

This issue is one that we all need to discuss more publicly. We cannot continue to exclude and limit the talents of extremely capable groups of people from the professional workplace. We have a responsibility to take account of our own actions and ask ourselves, are we doing enough? We cannot wait for change to happen; we must work tirelessly for it because change isn’t going to happen on its own.

diversity challenge roundtable

People have long thought of solar as an activist-minded, socially conscious industry that cares about the environment, equity and community. There is no doubt that there are strong elements in our character and culture as an industry that places value on these central issues. But, like other industries, there are engrained cultures in solar that have not historically lent themselves to diversity and inclusion. Tackling these problems is not something that happens by itself.

This is why SEIA’s and The Solar Foundation’s Diversity Best Practices Guide for the Solar Industry lays out concrete steps for improving diversity in our industry. Although it is just one step, the guide sets a bar for establishing effective and equitable diversity and inclusion policies.

My hope is that every organization engaging in the #DiversityChallenge, and those that don’t, will take tangible, intentional action to implement the suggestions in our best practices guide to encourage this critical cultural change.

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