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 a head. In state and federal legislatures, and in the U.S. military, 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. 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 (SPI) 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 related write-up below:
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 SPI event was attended by 24,000 professionals and more than 1,200 exhibitors)—they are implying some pretty shallow things about the professional people who will actually be attending said event.
—Imran Siddiquee, “#NotBuyingIt: Solar Company Advertises ‘Nice Rack’ Party,” missrepresentation.org
Aside from this example, the undertones of this culture are rampant and adding unnecessary negativity in our industry—and it is only getting worse. What’s ironic is that the industry has real issues with gender diversity—it 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 fewer than 9%.
The solar industry has many awesome women, but this awesomeness 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% badass. 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. Simultaneously, we are all working moms, wives, sisters and/or daughters who are trying to change this world for the better. Any woman or girl who is educating herself to purchase or support solar energy is a trailblazer, 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 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:
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.
Kristen Nicole • Women in Solar Energy