Enough Is Enough: An Open Letter to SEIA, SEPA, Intersolar and All Solar Industry Leaders

On the shoulders of previous generations, women have made remarkable strides in gender equality, but we all know the fight is far from over. Around the country, gender politics are coming to head.  In state and Federal legislatures and in the U.S. military establishment, women are on the front lines battling for basic and fundamental human rights, equality and dignity.  Again this year, the global community has born witness to heinous crimes against women and girls in developing countries and in conflict zones. And in addition to these aggressive attacks, every day, every woman has to endure many difficult decisions not only regarding the kind of woman she is going to be, but the kind of person she is going to be and what values she is going to project to the world.

It seems like only a few years ago, our generation (and the mainstream media) had a very awkward time articulating gender issues, but feminism is not a clichéd concept from another era. Today in 2013, the gender context on issues of basic human rights, equality, respect and dignity are real and very much alive, including in the solar industry and in the broader context of the clean energy revolution.

For those of us who have attended Solar Power International and Intersolar, we (the solar industry) have definitely noticed (and mostly scoffed at) the ever increasing “booth babe” culture. I don’t think we need to draw a picture, but suffice it to say this culture encourages a certain image that portrays women as sex objects for marketing purposes (we get it…sex sells).  This has occurred for years now, but increasingly, scantily-clad women are becoming more scantily-clad and are being featured at SPI after parties and cocktail hours, impacting the entire conference culture.  It has become impossible to ignore and is frankly a huge distraction.

At SPI last year in Orlando, Florida this issue went too far. One of the largest solar manufacturing companies developed advertisements for a product line they called “nice rack”. Further, folks outside the industry took notice.  See the write-up below that is related to this episode:

“These ads not only diminish and trivialize women, but they discourage them from entering a field of work where they are already underrepresented. They also encourage men within the industry to continue to see women as outsiders – valuable only for their beauty and sexuality.

When an influential company like [omit company name] throws a “Nice Rack” party – the self-proclaimed “biggest solar party of the year,” which is taking place during one of the biggest industry weekends of the year (According to this site, last year’s Solar Power International Event was attended by 24,000 professionals and over 1,200 exhibitors) — they are implying some pretty shallow things about the professional people who will actually be attending said event.” 

Image 2 Solar Booth at Intersolar July 10, 2013

Aside from this example, the undertones of this culture are rampant and adding unnecessary negativity in our industry and it is only getting worse (see imagine from Intersolar July 2013).  What is ironic, is that the industry has real issues with gender diversity, we should be attracting more young girls to solar and this culture is a huge deterrent. At the same SPI conference last year, the representation of female speakers on conference panels was less than 9 percent.  

The solar industry has so many awesome women, but I am sure you will agree, that this awesome-ness does not reveal itself through our “nice racks”. In fact, most of us women in the solar industry haven’t gotten to where we are in life by being very “nice” at all — one could argue that most of us are 100 percent bad ass.  

The women who are drawn to the solar industry are unapologetic environmentalists, brilliant engineers and scientists, precise construction workers and project managers, ruthless financial and corporate cats, tough-jawed policy advocates, and relentless educators AND simultaneously we are all working moms, wives, sisters and/or daughters who are trying to change this world for the better. You have to admit that even in our consumer-base, any woman or girl who is educating herself to purchase or support solar energy is a trail-blazer, a true visionary.  The industry should be nothing but proud of its women.

At solwomen.org we have humble roots, but we have been working to get greater organization, visibility and participation for women in the solar industry.  There have been fantastic efforts over the years from various groups to promote the role of women in the industry, but it is time for the industry to make this effort formal, both to stop the booth babe culture and to work hard create compelling careers for women in solar energy.  

We are asking our solar industry leaders to help get us back on track.  Here are a few options:

  • We ask that you formally support a culture of professionalism in the solar energy industry, within your own organizations and specifically at our industry events. 
  • We would like to see a concerted effort to support women in the solar industry, through programs that help elevate more women of influence in the industry. This includes supporting solar-related STEM education programs, women in solar workforce development, women-owned businesses and international development efforts supporting solar, humanitarian causes and women.
  • We would like you to consider formally supporting further development of organizations, like ours, who are promoting the involvement of women in advancing the solar industry.

The women of the solar industry are fully prepared to further drive these efforts, but we need your support and leadership to set an expectation of professionalism for the industry.

Find the original article here, where Julia Hamm of SEPA responded in the comments:

“On behalf of SEPA, SEIA and SETS (our jointly owned LLC that runs SPI and PVA), we thank you for taking up these very important issues. We strongly condemn the exploitation of any individual, group or organization based on gender, ethnicity, race, religious beliefs or sexual orientation.

Moving forward, we will reach out to the Women in Solar Energy leadership directly to talk about specific actions we can take to ensure that SPI and other SEIA and SEPA forums encourage professional and respectful behavior by all participants. We will also discuss opportunities specific to SPI 2013 to elevate visibility around the important role that women play in the solar industry.”

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Ms. Kristen M Nicole is a solar energy and power systems industry professional with Gridco Systems, a Boston-based startup developing dynamic power distribution solutions. Ms. Nicole has worked with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Sentech (now SRA International) and the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Program (Solar America and SunShot Initiatives) promoting R&D in systems integration, PV codes and standards, high penetration solar grid integration in distribution systems, solar resource characterization (including forecasting and variability) and aggregated PV in transmission system planning and operations. Prior to this focus, Ms. Nicole was working with utilities and regulatory bodies on behalf of the Institute for Public-Private Partnerships, Inc., responsible for client management, business development and strategic marketing initiatives in public-private partnerships, industrial regulation and utility management in the energy, water, telecommunications and transportation sectors. She also has previous experiences with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the U.S. Department of Energy EIA, and the U.S. Peace Corps in Bangladesh. Ms. Nicole holds an MBA in Accounting and Strategic Management from George Washington University. She holds a BA in International Relations, focused in International Economics and Business in East Asia-China from Boston University. Ms. Nicole is a member of the IEEE, sits on the board of Drop of Solar and holds a leadership position in Women in Solar (solwomen.org) to promote the involvement of women in the solar industry. She holds a seat on the American Meteorological Society (AMS) Renewable Energy Committee and is involved with numerous industry working groups. She is also an alumni representative for the International School of Beijing (ISB) in Beijing, China. Specialties: solar energy, photovoltaics (PV), renewables integration, power systems and variable generation grid integration, distributed renewables, solar resource forecasting and variability, grid reliability and utility management, interoperability, energy and environmental economics, renewable energy policy, China, international relations and development, strategic management consulting, infrastructure project management, East and South Asian affairs, public-private partnerships (PPPs)

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