Blogs, Off-Grid, Solar

Women in Solar Breakfast Continues To Inspire

For the second year in a row at Solar Power International, professional women in the solar industry gathered to network, eat and listen to presentations at the Women in Solar Breakfast.

The group, which was informally put together about three years ago by philanthropist and solar industry executive Isabelle Christensen, has now met formally twice. The women come together with three goals in mind:

  • to encourage more women to join the still-male-dominated solar industry;
  • to provide resources and networking opportunities for women to help them advance their careers within the solar industry;
  • to find ways that women can give back by working to increase the amount of solar power in the developing world.

Presenting this year were Julia Hamm, President and CEO of the Solar Electric Power Association, Wendy Arienzo, CEO of Array Power; Jenean Smith who runs the volunteer-based Power to the People (as a volunteer herself) and Edmée Kelsey who is CFO of Main Street Power.

Most of the women started with their firms when they were small struggling organizations and built them up through their own tenacity and staying power. Hamm spoke of the origins of SEPA when there was no one but her to run the whole organization, which at the time had no payroll, no staff and no office space.  SEPA now employs more than 25 people.

After brief presentations about their companies, the women spoke openly about leading companies in a male-dominated industry, obtaining financing from male-dominated VCs, striking the balance between work and life, and what women bring to the table as leaders. Arienzo believes that women often work from a “higher moral ground.” She said, “we try to do the right thing. I think that comes from raising a family as well, where you look beyond what is right for you as an individual and try to do the right thing for your family, for your children, for your organization.”

Smith pointed out that instilling an interest and a love of math and science in young girls will go a long way toward attracting young women to make a career of solar energy.  She also said that the “voluntourism” that Power To the People provides, in which volunteers travel to Nicaragua to install off-grid solar solutions in communities in need of power, is another good way to get a hands-on education in solar power.

Kelsey said that her company, Main Street Power, also makes sure that there is an educational component to any install that the organization puts on schools.

The Professional Women in Solar group plans to have meetings in Europe and Asia in 2012. For more information, there is a LinkedIn group called Professional Women in Solar. The group is actively seeking new members.

To hear some reactions to the breakfast, watch the Solar on the Street Video below.