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Women Urged To “Lean In” to the Solar Workforce

More than 144 women gathered on Tuesday morning for networking and discussion at the Professional Women in Solar Breakfast. Speakers included Carol Neslund, VP of Sales, Enphase Energy; Zeina El Azzi, VP of Sales, SunEdison and?Caroline Venza, CEO, MissionCtrl Communications. Introductions were made by Dr. Isabelle Christensen, one of the founders of the Women in Solar Networking Group.

Christenson opened the breakfast by offering a special thanks to Julia Hamm, CEO of the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), founder of Solar Power International and a great supporter of women in solar. It speaks volumes that one of the leaders in the solar industry is a woman, Christensen pointed out.

Domination as a leadership style is becoming less and less popular, said Christensen in her opening remarks, and a new form of “shared leadership” is necessary to make a difference in the world.

But while this leadership style may be recognized as one of growing importance, much more growth is needed to level the playing field for women. Currently women hold only about 19 percent of top leadership positions in U.S. corporations and SunEdison’s El-Azzi said that this inequity wouldn’t fix itself.

The speakers, who had been asked to address some of the themes presented in Sheryl Sandburg’s, Lean In, began by explaining a few key issues that they say are holding back women in the industry. First was the issue of “likeability.” Studies are overwhelmingly conclusive that there is a direct correlation between women in leadership roles and their “likeability.” Interestingly, the reverse correlation holds true for men. Another reason that women are kept out of the leadership positions is gender competence biases.  SunEdison’s El-Azzi said that men are often promoted within companies based on potential, whereas women are promoted based on skills and competencies that they have already proven.  Finally, inflexible in work environments also drive women to leave corporate America.

Enphase’s Carol Neslund gave solid advice to women in the solar industry.  She reminded women to continue to look out for each other as they get promoted in corporations.  She recalled time in her career when she realized that she was one of only a handful of women in a leadership position in a major corporation. When you rise up in the ranks, she said, remember to help other women along the way.  “Don’t pull the ladder up behind you,” she said. “It’s lonely up there.”


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