Women make up nearly half (48%) of the labor force worldwide, but looking at the energy industry, this might not be evident. Energy remains one of the most gender-imbalanced sectors, and renewables—as advanced as they are—aren’t immune. According to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), women account for only 32% of the clean energy workforce. With a staff currently comprising 34% women, Apex is intentionally striving to achieve a better balance. Compared to the overall energy sector’s 22%, both Apex and renewables in general are making progress, but there remains much room for improvement.
IRENA’s study, Renewable Energy: A Gender Perspective, finds that the barriers to female representation in the industry include cultural and social norms, such as gendered divisions of labor; a lack of gender-sensitive policies (maternity leave being the most prominent); and a dearth of mentorship opportunities. It’s in this last arena that certain nonprofits are looking to make a difference.
One of these organizations, Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE), was founded to foster a positive and supportive community for females in the industry. Through networking opportunities, workshops, and mentorship programs, WRISE seeks to promote the education, professional development, and advancement of women in the renewable energy space.
The organization, founded as Women of Wind Energy, rebranded in 2017 in an effort to serve women working and facing similar challenges in solar, biofuels, and other renewable technologies. As companies continue to diversify their renewable energy portfolios, WRISE can offer more opportunities to more women and, ultimately, cultivate better professional support.
A Catalyst for Positive Change at Apex
Erin Baker, senior development manager at Apex, has personally experienced the workplace improvements that have been made as more women join the ranks—and has contributed to them herself, encouraged in part by the support she gained through WRISE.
“WRISE is a group of female leaders I can look to, learn from, and work alongside to overcome challenges,” Baker says. “It’s a crucial outlet and platform from which women can advocate for greater diversity, more progressive policies, and themselves.”
Baker has been an active member of WRISE since first joining the industry. In 2015, the organization named her its Rising Star of the year. In 2017, she was elected president of WRISE’s Chicago chapter, one of the largest. Under Baker’s leadership, the branch diversified educational offerings for its membership and experienced its most successful fundraising period to date.
At Apex, Baker has actualized some of the positive benefits women bring to their workplaces, taking a lead role in helping shape the extension of Apex’s paid parental leave. When she and her husband started a family, the company’s progressive family leave policy and other new-parent benefits proved instrumental as Baker navigated professional and personal life with an infant.
“As a champion of both renewable energy and intersectional feminism, I found my fit at WRISE. I founded the Charlottesville chapter in 2018 with the support of Apex and other local clean energy companies. Utilizing Charlottesville’s impressive renewable energy network, our branch works to attract women to the industry by offering a local mentorship program, lunch-and-learn opportunities, and networking events. I believe it is vital to amplify and support women, especially in an industry that is truly on a mission to change the world. Climate change is undoubtedly one of the most imposing threats to our health, safety, and security—with more severe and disproportionate impacts expected for marginalized communities across the globe. Being part of an industry driving such fundamental change also means being part of the change we wish to see for women in our society. The growth trajectory for renewable energy holds much promise for female opportunity in the coming years. And what better way to fill these jobs than with the competent, thoughtful, and intelligent women of our own community?”
With the support of organizations like WRISE, Apex and other clean energy companies can help drive a culture of mentorship, service, inclusivity, diversity, professionalism, and integrity.
By 2050, IRENA projects that there will be around 29 million jobs worldwide—four times the number of today’s positions—directly related to renewable energy. Through employees such as Baker, and with the support of organizations like WRISE, Apex and other clean energy companies can help drive this culture of mentorship, service, inclusivity, diversity, professionalism, and integrity—allowing all renewable energy workers across the company and country to thrive.