In 2021 utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) plants generated more than 1000 terawatt-hours of electricity, almost double the quantity in 2018.1 The solar PV sector is the largest employer within the renewable energy sector, accounting for some 4.3 million jobs in 2021 – one-third of all renewable energy jobs.2
Who benefits from the surge in solar jobs? The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) tackled this question with a survey of the global solar PV industry conducted in 2021. A total of 1283 organizations and individuals completed the questionnaire (294 organizations and 989 individuals). The solar PV survey follows earlier IRENA surveys on the overall renewable energy and wind energy sectors.3
The IRENA survey found that women represent 40% of the global solar PV workforce, which is almost double the share in the wind industry (21%) and the oil and gas sector (22%). Despite the higher representation of women, the report also identifies barriers to women’s advancement in the solar PV sector and describes gender-inclusive policies that could realize the valuable skills and knowledge that women bring to the workplace.
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Most women in solar PV hold administrative jobs (58%), followed by non-STEM technical positions (38%). The low representation of women in STEM positions mirrors other renewable energy industries, the energy sector as a whole, and the global economy. Some of the root causes are well known, such as the underrepresentation of women in STEM in higher education and pay disparities.4 Female representation in management, including “C-suite” positions, shows greater disparities: the IRENA survey found that just 17% of senior management positions in the solar PV industry are held by women.
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Gender bias refers to a person receiving different treatment based on the person’s real or perceived gender identity.5 Does gender bias in the solar PV industry produce barriers to the recruitment, advancement, and retention of women? That depends on who you ask. Women are nearly twice as likely as men to report the existence of such barriers. A similar disparity exists in perceptions of pay gaps. Men in the solar PV industry are much more likely to believe that women and men are paid equally. Women are far more likely to believe that men are paid more.
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One general barrier to the retention of women in the workforce is a lack of a supportive work life balance. Women often experience “role overload” whereby the time and energy invested in family and work exceed women’s capacity to perform both roles well or comfortably.6 The IRENA survey explored one aspect of the work life balance issue by asking both organizations and individuals about the availability of maternity and paternity leave. Only half the respondents indicated that parental leave was available at the legal national minimum. Individuals reported less maternity and paternity leave compared to the responses from organizations, reflecting a clear difference in perception. These results clearly indicate that parental leave needs to be expanded, and that employers and employees need better communication regarding the availability and need for parental leave.
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1 bp Statistical Review of World Energy, June 2022.
2 International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Solar PV: A gender perspective, International Renewable Energy Agency, Abu Dhabi, 2022, Link.
3 International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Wind Energy: A Gender Perspective. IRENA, Abu Dhabi, 2020, Link. International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Renewable Energy: A Gender Perspective. IRENA, Abu Dhabi, 2019, Link.
4 World Economic Forum, 3 things to know about women in STEM, February 11, 2020, Link.
5 Cornell University, Legal Information Institute, Gender bias, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/gender_bias, Accessed Marc4, 2023.
6 Straub, C. (2007), “A comparative analysis of the use of work‐life balance practices in Europe: Do practices enhance females’ career advancement?”, Women in Management Review, Vol. 22 No. 4, pp. 289-304. https://doi.org/10.1108/09649420710754246