Women in power — it’s not just a play on words. With all the talk about ‘leaning in’ it’s time to recognize all the women that leaned in, reached back, pulled forward, marched and continued marching for themselves, their families, their industries and their peers. Women in high-profile positions are honored (though the fickle limelight that can shine or glare), and the scrutiny that comes with this honor can be uncomfortable. Brave women march through this fickle limelight because it is important to them to make a difference.
Energy is a basic necessity — for me, and this is personal, the potential of solar to profoundly change lives in the developing world as well as providing one of the necessary answers to the worldwide crisis that is climate change, this is enough to build a life on. Women in energy are making a difference in the very survival of everyone on this world. We are developing the technologies, running the companies, investing the money, deciding the business direction, working through the political system to affect legislation, which affects all of us. Look around you — people in solar, women in power — look at the woman developing the technology next to you, running the company, working every single day to contribute to the larger world.
I’m a woman in solar, and the women who came before me and who I am proud to work alongside now are my heroes, but like it or not, energy is bigger than solar. There are women toiling away to answer the global need for energy. Typically we think of energy demand in terms of the industrialized countries, but it is bigger than just this — the need for energy, simply to have a light bulb that allows you to read a book at night, this need is bigger than all of us.
In business women are still in the minority in terms of executive leadership. In the U.S., women are underrepresented politically. In 1998, my first year in solar, there were very few women in the industry. Since that time, representation in the solar ranks by women has risen along with the megawatts installed — but, comparatively speaking, we are not yet at gigawatt level in terms of representation.
Women in business have trod a long hard road, but, the road for women of all ages and circumstances has been hard. Consider that in 1872, Susan B. Anthony was prosecuted for illegally voting. In July 1878, Wyoming, where women had the right to vote, was admitted as a state and that same year a constitutional amendment, (which did not pass for over 40 years) was introduced stating, “The right of citizens to vote shall not be abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Women finally won the right to vote in 1920. Perseverance is key — it has been key for the solar industry for almost 40 years and it has been key for women for a lot longer.
We — as women — have struggled in obscurity, been underappreciated, underused, and under-supported. We forget that the opportunities we have now, though challenges remain, are available to us because so many others before us fought hard for their own right to thrive, to succeed — or just to try, fail and then try, try again. We are the future CEOs, scientists, engineers, writers, business developers, analysts, and system integrators — as women the trials, tribulations and hard won successes of those before us are part of our DNA. In the U.S., there was a time when women could not own property and marriage was often a land deal — imagine that, and while imagining it, think of what struggles like these can teach solar. We are teachers. We are amazing. We are power and it is time to reach back, pull forward and then lean in, pulling every amazing woman in power along with you.
Lead image: Lioness via Shutterstock