Strengthening Clean Energy with a Diverse Workforce

By Kristen Graf, Executive Director, WRISE

(Reader Favorite from October 2018)

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible grid, is more than adequate to supply 80 percent of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050. Children who are currently in elementary school will be in their 40s by 2050, bringing those projected numbers to reality as they become members of the U.S. workforce. Now is the time to take a close look at the pipeline of potential clean energy workers ensuring that we are bringing the best minds and the most diverse perspectives to the table – both today and in 2050.

The Need for a Diverse Workforce

Prioritizing diversity both in terms of race and gender are critically important components for building a successful company. Research from McKinsey and Company makes it increasingly clear that companies with a more diverse workforce also perform better financially.

Some key takeaways from their Diversity Matters report:

• Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

• Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.


Similar findings are shown again and again as more reports and studies dive in on the benefits of a diverse workforce. Catalyst, Deloitte, The Boston Consulting Group, Credit Suisse, a meta-analysis by the Academy of Management by the Academy of Management of 140 studies have all found similar results and the Center for Collective Intelligence at MIT has found better group decision-making correlates significantly to three factors: how well the members of the group read each others nonverbal cues, how regularly the conversation shifts among the members of the group (as opposed to being dominated by one person), and how many women are in the group.

Current State of Play for Energy Companies and Trends

According to the 2017 U.S Energy Employment report published by the Department of Energy, energy-related sectors are relatively less diverse compared to the overall national workforce. Women remain a smaller portion of the workforce in the energy sector, ranging from 22 to 34 percent, compared to the overall economy, where women make up 47 percent of the workforce. While the energy industry at large remains slightly behind other industries in regards to diversity both in terms of executive leadership and overall workforce, the trends in recent years are encouraging but indicative of work still needed.

As the global renewable energy workforce grows to 24 million in 2030, diversity and inclusion will play a central role in the success of this industry. It is the mission of Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE) to achieve a strong diversified workforce and support a robust renewable energy economy.

The organization offers programs to support companies and individuals looking to:

• Recruit more women to work in renewable energy

• Retain and advance the great women currently working in the field

• Leverage the voices and experience of the women and men in our network to advance women and renewable energy

Some of work to raise awareness about recruitment and retention program work related to WRISE Corporate Diversity Program

Diversity and Inclusion Needs to Start with our Current Workforce

There’s no single solution to solving energy’s diversity problems, but an important first step is for companies to track internal data and identify areas for improvement. Different companies will have different needs and different bottlenecks, but once a company sets a priority, there are several concrete steps available for building a culture of equity and inclusion and working towards a strong diversified renewable energy workforce.

WRISE has a list of 10 areas of recommended focus – three are highlighted here:

Targeted recruitment of women: Companies can engage in targeted efforts to increase the number of talented women applicants. Once an applicant pool represents a more inclusive group, organizations must also proactively create hiring processes that navigate gender and racial biases.

Some great first steps for recruiting a diverse pool of candidates:

• Make sure your job descriptions leverage language that appeals to both genders using tools like
Textio or toolkits for organizations from Bias Interrupters.

• Find new channels and networks to make sure job openings are seen by potential women applicants. WRISE has a bi-monthly jobs and events bulletin as well as a for posting job opportunities.

Pay and salary transparency: Women and particularly women of color are consistently paid less than their male peers, and the implications are far-reaching (compounding financial losses over a lifetime of work, distrust in the workplace, and more). Allowing for regular review, transparency and clear rubrics around salary decisions can enable people to better negotiate and leverage a fair price for the value they bring to the company. This can also aid companies in retaining talent. There are a variety of factors that influence salaries and quite a few tools available to start the salary conversation. PayScale offers a place to start for both employees and employers and is leveraged by Buffer, a company with a very public and transparent pay policy.

Equitable promotion and feedback: According to McKinsey research, women are almost three times more likely than men to say they have personally missed out on an assignment, promotion, or raise because of their gender. Two proactive practices to foster dialogue related to promotions include:

• Reviewing and tracking promotion trends to make sure the process is fair to both genders and encourages managers to keep their unconscious biases in check.

• Regularly solicit feedback from employees regarding their own career advancement, promotions and their interest in management and leadership positions.

Discussion on Diversity and Inclusion that took place at WINDPOWER Conference Luncheon

Cultivate the Clean Energy Workforce of the Future

Companies and organizations can strengthen their own teams while influencing the diversity of the industry overall. Look for moments of power and leverage – whether advocating for the women of your company, telling your success stories, sharing your challenges, or encouraging your peers and suppliers to make advancements as well and holding each other accountable. When we work together and share resources we can build the workforce we need to create the clean energy future we want.

WRISE supports future workforce through scholarship and fellowship opportunities to attend National Clean Energy Trade Shows (pictured our 2018 Class of Rudd Mayer Fellows and Wind at Our Backs Scholars at WINDPOWER Conference in Chicago)


Article by Kristen Graf, Executive Director, Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy ( As WRISE’s Executive Director, Kristen is thrilled to be able to merge her passions for renewable energy and the advancement of women within such an incredible organization. In 2013, Kristen was recognized for her work with WRISE (then WoWE) and given the Award for Mid-Career Achievement in Mentoring and Education by the US Department of Energy’s C3E Initiative.

Before making her way to WRISE, Kristen spent five years with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in Boston. As the Clean Energy Program Coordinator and Research Associate at UCS she worked on renewable energy policy at the state and national level with particular focus on wind and biomass energy in New England as well as working to hone some of her nonprofit management skills.

In 2011, Kristen was named a Senior Fellow in the Environmental Leadership Program’s Eastern Region. She received her Bachelors Degree in Agricultural and Biological Engineering from Cornell University. During her time there, Kristen worked for Cornell Cooperative Extension assisting in efforts to expand the role of renewable energy in agriculture around New York State.

In addition to her love of renewable energy, Kristen has spent many years working to develop women leaders. She has served as the Co-Moderator of the National Network of Presbyterian College Women and on the National Coordinating Team of Presbyterian Women. At Cornell, she was an active member of the Executive Team of the Cornell University Chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.

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