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5 Ways To Cultivate A More Diverse, Inclusive & Equitable Energy Workforce

“To make lasting changes to company culture, you need buy-in at all levels of leadership.”

This article is part of a series of op-eds by CEO signatories who are part of CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, the largest CEO-led business coalition focused on advancing diversity and inclusion in the U.S.


By Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO, Solar Energy Industries Association

When I assumed the role of CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association in January of 2017, I pledged to make diversifying the solar industry a top priority. No doubt, we still have our work cut out for us, but we have made important progress.

Last month, my organization issued a #DiversityChallenge, our call to address diversity and inclusion in the workplace, industry-wide and more. I challenged solar companies and other energy trade associations to join me in signing the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion pledge. Nearly 100 organizations, including almost 80 solar companies, accepted our challenge and united with me in committing to the CEO Action pledge and vowing to work toward creating more diverse workplaces.

At SEIA, we’ve had difficult conversations with our board members about bringing more diversity to our board ranks, and we have substantially improved diversity and inclusion. But we’re simply not where we need to be, and it’s time for the solar workforce — and the energy workforce more broadly — to better reflect the communities we serve.

The reasons for this urgency are apparent. Diverse teams have a competitive advantage: According to McKinsey, companies that are ethnically diverse are 33% more likely to outperform their industry peers and have higher financial returns. The 2018 Women in the Workplace report found that in companies that lack diversity, women are 20% less likely than straight white men to win endorsement for their ideas; people of color are 24% less likely; and LGBT folks are 21% less likely. And that lack of endorsement and validation has cascading effects on future advancement opportunities, an employee’s sense of inclusion in the workplace and, ultimately, on the organization’s success.

“Without commitment from senior leaders and the rank and file alike, lasting changes cannot be made.”

To achieve equity and inclusivity in the workplace, organizations must recognize that there are systemic forces that have contributed to a lack of diversity. A company’s culture reflects its leadership values, and is the heartbeat of any successful organization. Ideally, it drives inclusivity and can propel great organizations forward. But this isn’t always the case — the environment of a workplace can also hold its employees back.

Too often, ingrained practices leave talented people on the sidelines. Leaders must take steps within their own organizations that cement their commitment to more inclusive workplaces, both in the eyes of current and future employees.

To benchmark solar industry progress, we released a comprehensive diversity study with The Solar Foundation. The results weren’t pretty: More than half of men in the solar industry feel they have successfully moved up the career ladder, while only 37% of women feel they have and even fewer people of color feel they’re advancing.

To make lasting changes to company culture, you need buy-in at all levels of leadership, including the board of directors.

There are five clear ways to generate this kind of buy-in at every level, across an organization:

1. Make diversity and inclusion a core value: First and foremost, organizations need to make diversity and inclusion a core value that is reflected in mission statements and strategic plans. This includes incorporating diversity and inclusion into performance evaluations for managers and making diversity something that’s celebrated, not feared.

2. Include diversity and inclusion in decision-making: Diversity should be part of any major company decision. You should consider whether decisions are consistent with your diversity and inclusion values.

3. Spell out the business case: Understand and communicate why a diverse workforce is important to your organization’s overall success. Use data as a powerful, objective tool to secure support from skeptics.

4. Train leaders: Provide leadership training in diversity, inclusion, cultural competency and other diversity-related topics to help organization leaders build the skills needed to nurture an inviting work environment. Training sessions should include a discussion of the organization’s values, the value of a diverse workforce, the definition of diversity and inclusion and an open discussion of cultural differences, biases and stereotypes.

5. Challenge leaders to be role models: As role models, leaders should “live the values.” Leaders can endorse an organization’s diversity and inclusion goals and values. Employers can celebrate the leaders who are living these values to encourage others to strive toward this model.

Without commitment from senior leaders and the rank and file alike, lasting changes cannot be made. These five steps must happen in concert with a clear vision from senior leaders and a sustained effort to address systemic issues preventing progress. While senior leaders will most likely be the ones to kick-start these efforts, in order to be successful, employees will also need to take ownership of these values and goals. It’s on all of us to make changes, and I’m challenging other CEOs to join me in making diversity and inclusion a top priority.