A Gender Perspective on Solar Employment

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Just and inclusive energy transition offers an opportunity to transform the sector

The just transition towards a decarbonised energy system is creating an array of social and economic benefits for all, including growing employment estimated at 12.7 million in 2021.

Energy transition enables the achievement of key social, economic and environmental objectives expressed in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The triangle of sustainable energy, jobs and gender objectives finds expression in three of the 17 SDGs: SDG 7 SDG 5 and SDG 8.

Growing women’s employment is critical to the inclusive energy system

The solar photovoltaic (PV) sector, the largest employer within the renewable energy sector, accounts for some 4.3 million jobs in 2021 – one-third of all renewable energy jobs.

The share of women working in full-time positions in the solar PV industry is 40%. This is almost double the share in the wind industry (21% of 1.4 million jobs) and the oil and gas sector.

Adopting A Gender Perspective on Solar Employment to renewable energy is crucial

IRENA’s previous global survey revealed that women currently represent 32% of the fulltime employees across the entire renewables workforce – substantially higher than the 22% average in the global oil and gas industry.

Still, in renewables, women’s participation is much lower in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs than in administrative jobs.

Including women more fully in the renewable energy sector is critical to the success of making the energy system inclusive and sustainable.

Women must represent an integral part of the growing industry

Most women in solar PV hold administrative jobs (58%), followed by non-STEM technical positions. The share of women in STEM positions in solar PV, at 32%, is close to the global average of 35%.

In wind energy sector 35% of women work in administration while only 14% work in STEM positions, far behind a global average of 35%.

Gender inequality is most evident at decision-making levels

Across the economy, women’s presence in senior management positions is small, accounting for 31% globally. The absence of female role models is even more acute in energy-related fields.

According to IRENA’s wind survey, women hold barely 13% of managerial jobs and 8% of senior management positions in that industry.

Women are faring better in solar PV. IRENA’s survey data show that women account for just under one-third of the sector’s management positions (30%), but this drops to 17% for senior management.

Women face challenges in the solar PV workplace simply because of their gender

The challenges faced by women in solar PV, as in other sectors, are usually interconnected and often subtle.

Understanding what the barriers are is the first step to addressing them, in part through legislation and regulatory measures. Such measures cannot address all of the barriers, however, since some are rooted in everyday attitudes and behaviours deeply ingrained in cultural and social norms.

IRENA analyses show that men seem to perceive fewer gender-related barriers than do women.

Measures to eliminate barriers are critical

Women face multiple challenges in renewable energy employment. The most prominent barriers are perceptions of gender roles, lack of fair and transparent policies, cultural and social norms that shape behaviour and the lack if training opportunities.

Measures to eliminate barriers are critical. Addressing the complex issues women face will require:

  • raising gender awareness;
  • improving national policies and removing restrictive laws;
  • Establishing better workplace practices, policies, and regulations;
  • and forming networks and systems to support training and mentorship.

Achieving diversity is essential to making the energy system sustainable

When societies become inclusive, more equal and just, economies become more resilient and sustainable.

Yet, diversity extends beyond gender. Energy transition efforts must incorporate an economic empowerment agenda that builds on and values everyone’s vision, talents and skills, including minorities, indigenous communities, migrants and refugees, elders and youth, LGBTIQA+, people with disabilities, and other disadvantaged groups.

Addressing the interests of single segments of the population runs the risk of creating new inequities.

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