Canada’s economic recovery could be a boon for women in the energy efficiency sector, if we play our cards right. To achieve this kind of outcome, the energy efficiency sector must develop strategies to increase women’s participation in response to COVID-19 – and there are various ways of doing this.
Perhaps, you too have noticed an increase in conversations around gender-based analysis and how COVID-19 is affecting women disproportionately more than men?
Economists are calling this the first “she-session,” given the high proportion of job losses in female-dominated service sectors. As a result, women are currently being affected more by employment loss as industry dynamics are amplified. Even the limited gains made in the past decades are at risk of being rolled back as a result of social, political and economic impacts that the pandemic is having on women and girls.
For those who work in energy efficiency, thinking about this dynamic of the COVID-19 crisis is integral, especially given that under one-fifth or 18% of the Canadian energy efficiency workforce is reported to be female, making the sector less diverse than the national average.
While there is no denying that the efficiency sector has some big improvements to make to close the gender gap, I choose to see this as a great opportunity for other women to enter an untapped sector. This article will focus on the opportunity that lies in energy efficiency for women – that is, to advance their participation in the clean energy transition– as well as what is needed for this to occur.
If we hope to achieve gender parity, we must make a conscious effort to attract women to the workforce and create the right enabling conditions for women to enter. As I will highlight in the following sections, it is important that we create opportunities for women, accommodate them by making energy efficiency workplaces inclusive, and expand the promotion of women in energy efficiency through role models so that others become encouraged to join.
Women in Trades
In a recent blog post, my colleague Brendan Haley mentioned how specific emphasis should be placed on engaging women in trades, in order to provide higher paying and more secure employment for those who have lost their jobs. Given that there aren’t enough skilled workers in Canada to begin with, attracting women to these positions will go a long way for Canada’s economy as a whole.
Trades offer well-paying jobs when compared to existing female-dominated low-paying jobs, such as retail, hospitality, care, or administration work. Increasing the number of women in trades would also help to combat the consequences many women face with part-time and temporary work, such as few or no benefits, few opportunities for advancement, and greater risk of poverty. Draws of trade professions include instant work and earning while you learn as an apprentice. In addition, the work-life balance is equally alluring to females as many job sites start early and finish by 3:00 p.m., which frees up late afternoons and evenings and gives employees more flexibility.
In an effort to encourage un- and under-employed women (and men) to get into the skilled trades, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has provided a generous subsidy for certain online courses from the Canadian Institute for Energy Training (CIET) and the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI). Gender-specific training that gets women on equal footing with men is also an opportunity that should be explored.
Abundant Career Choices
Additional opportunities exist for women in a variety of roles, spanning from community engagement, communications and marketing, to technology and program design. Our Human Energy highlights a few of these roles in both urban and rural areas across the country.
As we move into a more digital world due to COVID-19, perhaps we will see an increase in remote work positions such as virtual auditor, online educator, social media expert, or sales, all of which require skills where women already have an advantage. New opportunities in innovative marketing, data analysis, and citizen outreach techniques will be required to ramp up energy savings.
A Mission to Advance Gender Equality
We are not alone in our mission to advance gender equality in the clean energy sector at large. Inspired by Electricity HR’s Leadership Accord, this week the Equal by 30 initiative of the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM) celebrated their two-year anniversary. Over this time, they have been joined by over 145 signatories, ranging from private organizations to countries that have joined the global movement to move the dial on gender equality.
We are seeing women in leadership being spotlighted more. The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum hosted two sold out back-to-back, coast-to-coast conferences in 2019 on Supporting Women in Trades, EUCI’s women’s leadership in energy conference that was scheduled to be held in Toronto last April, and included a female-inspired blog post by ACEEE on breaking barriers: women in energy efficiency tell their stories. Women-only networking events hosted by WiRE presents a welcoming and casual opportunity for women to meet peers, share ideas and opportunities, and educate colleagues about projects and initiatives of interest to the group.
The Power of Role Models
A look at the ranks of Canada’s leading energy efficiency program administrators offers some encouragement in terms of gender parity. They include executives such as Colleen Kuruluk, CEO of Efficiency Manitoba, Monica Curtis, CEO of Energy Efficiency Alberta, and Johanne Gélinas, Présidente-directrice Générale of Transition Énergétique Québec (TEQ).
Certain trailblazers like Shawna Henderson, CEO of the online-learning company Blue House Energy, provide further inspiration. Henderson is on a mission to boost the construction industry’s familiarity with techniques and strategies needed to deliver better-performing buildings. A 30-year industry veteran who started her career as an energy advisor, she will be leading the upcoming Discover-EE session on “Becoming an Energy Advisor,” with the intent to inspire others to follow this rewarding career path.
As we continue to build our economic recovery, we must also seize the opportunity to create a more equitable and inclusive workplace. Creating the right enabling conditions for women to enter new jobs in energy efficiency will require policy supports such as childcare, paid sick leave and family leave.
With over 51,000 Canadian business establishments in energy efficiency, small businesses are the backbone of the energy efficiency workforce. This presents an ideal area for the investment in policies that support women entrepreneurs to ensure economic recovery that will help to accelerate women’s careers.
Join the Conversation
With more companies focusing on gender equality, I can’t help but be reminded of the “We Can Do It!” poster produced by J. Howard Miller in 1943 for Westinghouse Electric as an inspirational image to boost female worker morale during World War II that has since turned into an iconic self empowerment image for the women’s movement. Perhaps it’s time for it to make another come-back? The immediate response to COVID-19 and subsequent clean energy recovery requires a war-time mobilization. Let’s make sure this is an empowering one for women.
Natalie Irwin is a graduate student in Carleton’s Sustainable Energy Policy program and the Director of Stakeholder Engagement at Efficiency Canada.
Banner image by Matthew Henry, courtesy of Unsplash.