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Where are the women in Canadian green tech?

The environmental sector is often thought of as progressive and forward-thinking, but when it comes to gender diversity in low-carbon economies, is it truly equal?

At the Ontario Climate Symposium hosted on Friday May 12, York University environmental studies professor Christina Hoicka facilitated a panel that discussed gender diversity and how women experts are leading the way on energy research. Part of Hoicka’s research focuses on discovering which women academics are influencing the field of energy research, and whether or not enough is being done to encourage women to be a part of the renewable energy (RE) industry.

Women make up less than 20 per cent of the renewable energy sector workforce. Jobs are opening up in this sector thanks to the the growing popularity in green technologies, which means it’s the perfect opportunity to close the gender gap in STEM fields.

Canada Research Chair in global women’s issues at Western University, Dr. Bipasha Baruah, was one of the panelists and explained that because there are so few women leaders in clean technology, she feels she actually gets more attention in her role. “Sometimes I feel hyper-visible. Part of that is that you can check so many boxes with me. Even if you are acknowledged, you can still be tokenized,” Baruah says.

Women are clearly under-represented in the green sector in Canada, representing only 20 per cent of jobs, but 50 per cent of university graduates. Most women within the industry are found in sales, administrative roles, and technology positions. For women that are in STEM jobs, the wage gap is smaller, with women earning 14 per cent less than men compared to 21 per cent in other fields. But, they are still massively underrepresented. According to Baruah, women are often discouraged from entering engineering and technology fields because of the misperceptions of the ‘dirty work’ involved and that they typically feel inadequate in the technological aspects of certain occupations.

Baruah’s research did emphasize that Canadian women are increasingly becoming leading entrepreneurs. She interviewed Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE) CEO Rebecca Black, who pointed out that of the membership base of 1000 women in the province of Ontario, at least 20 per cent were entrepreneurs in RE. Women are often more community-based leaders and renewables thrive off a grassroots cooperative business model.

Julie MacArthur, Professor at University of Auckland, reinforced this idea through her study of the evolving socio-technical community-based approach in the renewables sector. In the wake of moving away from large fossil fuel corporations, several renewable community-based organizations have popped up that focus on alternative energy sources. Many of these grassroots organizations are spearheaded by women, who are essential to this movement of cooperation and community-based growth. MacArthur explains that ‘energy democracy’ is growing and there is a changing socio-political focus that is happening right now, as the environment grows as a central concern in the Canadian economy. Obviously, women have a key role to play in this change.

Including women in the move from a brown to green economy will only make RE more diverse and versatile. Being able to provide even more data about women in clean technology helps society to understand where we stand in regards to gender diversity and how we can better accommodate women looking to enter these fields. It is important to provide a discursive research space and more panels to educate women invested in an environmental career, and Women’s Post hopes to learn more as amazing women researchers grow and learn in green technology.