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Honoring the Contributions of Black Americans in the Solar Industry

Tuesday, Feb 18 2020

Abigail Ross Hopper
black history month


As I think about the diversity, equity and inclusion efforts of my organization and the solar industry, Black History Month offers a great opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been and where we need to go. When I first walked in the door of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) a little over three years ago, the lack of people of color struck me. On day one, I set out to do something about it.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are now core principles of SEIA and we’ve taken several steps to change our own practices. And I’m proud of the progress we’ve made. I think it’s important that we publicly share this progress to remain accountable for the statements we make about prioritizing diversity and inclusion: in 2019, 57% of our new hires were women and 43% were people of color. Four out of five directors hired in 2019 were people of color. While the latest Solar Jobs Census shows us that the solar industry has a long way to go, I can say that SEIA is practicing what we preach.

Over the past few years, we’ve prioritized educating our staff on creating an inclusive environment and we have held multiple all-staff training sessions on the subject. I, along with three colleagues, participated in a two-and-a-half-day long training sponsored by US Bank around institutional racism. We brought the take-aways from that event to our entire staff. SEIA is supporting D&I-focused learning as part of our staff’s professional development, and as a result, our team from various levels of the organization are currently studying to become Certified Diversity Professionals.

SEIA secured tickets for all of our DC staff to visit the African American History Museum in early March. We are also providing support to our remote staff who are unable to participate and will be helping them find a local museum or activity of similar significance. This will be an important opportunity for staff to learn and reflect individually and collectively, building on our ongoing work to shift the culture in our organization and industry.

Next month we are releasing a Supplier Diversity Guide, which companies can use to develop an internal tracking system and identify new opportunities to support minority-, women- and LGBTQ+-owned businesses. Our diversity and inclusion webinar series will run quarterly in 2020, highlighting different topics during each session. Last year at Solar Power International, SEIA hosted the first-ever Blacks in Energy and LGBTQ+ receptions. Now, we are planning networking events at regional conferences and at Solar Power International in 2020 in partnership with organizations such as the American Association of Blacks in Energy, Hispanics in Energy and Asians in Energy. SEIA also is beginning to evaluate new contracts and partnerships based on the firm’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

We are building on our #DiversityChallenge initiative from 2019, where we challenged other trade associations and energy companies to highlight and ramp up their commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion. As a result of this work, more than 70 companies and organizations across the energy community signed up for the PwC CEO Action Pledge. As part of our 2019 commitment to the challenge, we forged new partnerships and participated in two panels during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Leadership Conference. We plan to continue our engagement with the Caucuses in 2020.

To the black-owned solar businesses and black employees in our industry, thank you for the great work you do. We’d like to acknowledge and celebrate your achievements—we encourage you to share your stories on social media and tag @SEIA or @HopperAbby so we can spread them far and wide.

And know that our work on and commitment to diversity and inclusion is never going to end, as long as I run this organization. Our employees, our industry and our partners can count on it.

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