How Women’s History is Shaping the Solar Industry

By:Alyssa Thomas

March 9, 2023

Women in Solar

I grew up in an energy family. Both of my grandfathers worked for the local gas company, and my dad was a licensed electrician who worked in operations at a utility company. Like most kids, I wanted to spend as much time with my dad as possible. Given his busy work schedule, our weekends typically consisted of him and I taking little trips to check on meters, substations, poles and wires that needed repairs, followed by our favorite Italian pastries. 

These experiences helped me understand the importance of investing in energy infrastructure. Quite bluntly, this work kept the lights on. But this also showed me something else. There were no women in the field or even in the overarching operations department. 

When I left for college, my dad asked if I wanted to join the energy sector, and I gave him a clear “No, thank you.” We form narratives about the way the world works based on stories we are told and our own experiences. These narratives are powerful and help form cultural norms. I did not see women in the energy sector; therefore, I could not see myself there. Without ever telling me directly, people had shown me through a lack of representation that these roles, and this sector, were not for women. A narrative that didn’t just imprint itself on me, but our society at large. A brief historical overview will show you just that.

Before the industrial revolution, women weren’t solely engaging in domestic work; women were producing goods, food and clothing for their households. But things began to shift and slowly, women began to expand into different employment opportunities. During the world wars with many men serving in the military, America’s industries needed labor. The famous “Rosie the Riveter” is a fictional character that was created by the government to increase the number of women in trades during wartime, and it worked. More than 300,000 women joined the aircraft industry because of this effort. When men returned from the war, many women lost their jobs in the industrial sectors. Throughout the years, the demographic served in secretarial roles and even expanded into jobs that are still seen as predominantly female-led to this day, like teaching or nursing. While women over the decades made great strides in gaining participation in all sectors, the numbers have remained low in manufacturing, construction, energy and transportation, relative to other sectors like hospitality, education and healthcare. 

The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act is bringing on a clean energy revolution, one that will create thousands of new job opportunities. At SunPower, we have an opportunity to shape this narrative of who belongs in solar energy. I like to say, we’re not just changing the way our world is powered, but who is powering it. 

In 2021, 47% of the U.S. workforce were women, while only 30% of the solar industry workforce consisted of women. Only 2% are electricians. Through SunPower’s 25x25 Initiative, we have established a target to have women make up 40% of our workforce by 2025. 

While we still have a lot more work to do, not just at SunPower, but collectively as an industry. Here are some of the ways we’re ensuring that women will help change the way our world is powered:

  • SunPower recently funded installation and operations training programs with SEI and Grid Alternatives for women only.

  • We partnered with Ada Developers Academy, a non-profit, cost-free coding school for women, gender expansive adults, BIPOC, and low-income people. Through this budding relationship, we welcomed 8 interns to help us kick off 2023. 

  • SunPower created a women-led employee resource group called EmpowHER. The group supports and advocates for a gender-balanced workplace where women can develop fulfilling careers and feel safe and empowered in their daily work.

  • SunPower is working to create safer workplaces for women by prioritizing initiatives that foster belonging and inclusion, including allyship training for managers, DE&I practices embedded in training for frontline supervisors and all new hire orientations, and focus groups with women in field and operations roles to learn how we can better serve their needs.

As we reflect during Women’s History Month and salute all that have carved a path toward a better, cleaner future, we can’t help but imagine what this means for the future of the solar industry. If you’re ready to make history yourself, we have open positions ready for the next world changer. Browse our catalog and apply to anything you think you’d be a great fit for. See you on the field!