I recently received a phone call from a colleague upon return from her first major conference on clean energy. Before I could welcome her back from her trip, she blurted out that the conference went well, but she was strangely one of only three women attending among hundreds of participants. She wondered, “Is this normal for the clean energy industry?” and “Are women playing a significant role in the clean energy revolution?” My answers were: “Yes,” and “Not yet.”
At clean energy conferences, as well as global climate change negotiations such as the upcoming Paris talks in December on binding carbon emissions reduction agreements, the skewed participation can be obvious to many in attendance. However, I am struck by how little mention there is at these meetings of who is going to carry out the clean energy transition. There is plenty of discussion of why climate change is urgent, and what kind of mechanisms the UN climate change secretariat should be pursuing at the behest of governments. But there is not a lot of focus on building a new workforce—people who will install wind and solar systems, invent and manufacture sustainable technologies, and lead the world’s most significant economic transition since the industrial revolution. And what my colleague noticed at her conference is representative of the energy sector as a whole—half of the potential workforce is curiously missing.
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