The generation of electricity from wind increased more than five-fold from 2010 to 2022 as states, regions and countries act to reduce the use of fossil fuels to meet their climate goals. The massive investment in wind energy created lots of new jobs, from 500,000 in 2010 to 1.3 million in 2020. But who claimed these jobs? Is the distribution of employment equitable among gender, race, income, and other dimensions of the population? The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and its partners addressed the gender issue.1 Their survey found that women represent 21% of the global wind energy workforce, putting that industry behind other renewable energy sectors. The report identifies barriers to women’s advancement and describes gender-inclusive policies that could realize the valuable skills and knowledge that women bring to the workplace.
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Participation rates vary across roles: At 14%, women’s presence in wind energy jobs requiring knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is lower than in non-STEM positions (20%) and administrative jobs (35%). Women account for just 8% of senior management, defined as ownership, board membership, or directorship of an organization.
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IRENA’s survey asked participants for their perspectives on gender-related barriers, including pay gaps. Overall, 53% of respondents acknowledged the presence of gender-related barriers, but this figure diverges according to who is responding: 65% of women acknowledged these barriers, compared to only 35% of men.
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When asked to rank certain barriers in order of importance, respondents chose: (1) perception of gender roles and cultural and social norms; (2) lack of gender targets and prevailing hiring practices; (3) lack of awareness of opportunities, self-perception, and discouraging workplace policies; and (4) lack of STEM and non-STEM backgrounds. Respondents also noted that fairness and transparency in internal policies were among the most pressing concerns related to the retention of women in the wind energy workforce, especially during employees’ childbearing years and periods of caregiving. Other barriers to retention include lack of remote work, flextime, gender targets, mentorship and training programs, parental leave, and onsite childcare.
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The IRENA study concluded that by “effectively fail[ing] to acknowledge the advantages of employing women, the overall wind energy sector will be deprived of the fresh perspectives that women can bring.” Survey participants broadly supported both changing the social and cultural norms that contribute to the gender imbalance in the wind sector and highlighted key steps that companies can take to accelerate change, including measures to ensure greater fairness and transparency in internal processes and policies to support a better work-life balance.
1 International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Wind Energy: A Gender Perspective. IRENA, Abu Dhabi, 2020, https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jan/Wind-energy-A-gender-perspective