Rosie The Riveter On A Wind Turbine: Women And The Growing Green Economy

By Mari Hernandez and Rebecca Lefton

In March, the Bureau of Labor Services released its green jobs report, which reported a total of 3.4 million jobs associated with the production of green goods and services in 2011 – up from 3.1 million green jobs in 2010. Growing at a rate four times faster than all other jobs, the green sector offers new opportunities for good-paying jobs across the U.S. and raises the question: Are women benefitting from the transition to a green economy as much as men?

A new study suggests not, finding that women hold just three out of ten green jobs in the U.S. and are making less than men in the green sector. In the report “Quality Employment for Women in the Green Economy,” the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) provides estimates of the number of green jobs held by women within each state, industry and occupation using data gathered from surveys (BLS Green Goods and Services Survey and U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2008-2010), state reports and a 2011 report on green jobs (Brookings study). Several of the key findings from the report include:

  • Women are underrepresented in the green economy, holding just 29.5 percent of green jobs compared to 48 percent of the total U.S. workforce
  • Women’s estimated median earnings are higher in the green economy than in the overall economy ($38,486 compared to $35,574)
  • The gender wage gap is lower in the green economy than in the overall economy (18 percent compared to 22 percent, for 2008-2010)
  • The distribution of jobs in the green economy is more concentrated in industries that typically employ more men than women, including manufacturing, construction, transportation, warehousing and utilities
  • Women’s share of green jobs is expected to stay low since the occupations that are projected to see the most growth are traditionally held by men (heating and air conditioning technicians, carpenters and electricians)

With this first-of-its-kind analysis of the gender distribution of green jobs, the IWPR has uncovered both good and bad news. The good news: the green economy offers higher-paying jobs for women and a lower wage gap. The bad news is that this report also exposed the glaring underrepresentation of women in the green economy and a bleak outlook for women in the sector going forward.

As we’ve written in the past (see here and here), women are vital to the U.S. economy (currently making up about half of the U.S. workforce) and should have the opportunity to take advantage of a growing sector that offers better-than-average pay and benefits. And although women are not represented well in the green economy now, this does not have to be the case going forward. So how can we ensure that women are getting their fair share of green jobs?

First, we have to address an issue which goes beyond just the green economy — the underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. To tackle this issue, we must do more to encourage women to enter into these fields early on through educational programs that offer training, career counseling and mentoring. Increasing the number of women qualified for STEM occupations will produce a larger pool of applicants, grow the share of women in STEM positions (and in the green jobs sector), strengthen our workforce and ultimately create more role models for younger generations of women.

We must also take steps to ensure that employers in the green goods and services sector put in place non-discriminatory standards and best practices, especially in industries that are traditionally male-dominated. These best practices could include providing access to professional development training and business management skills classes as well as requiring a certain percentage of women on decision-making and advisory boards (Norway currently has legislation that requires 40 percent representation of either women or men in the boardrooms of state-owned and publicly-traded companies).

The rapidly growing green sector offers an opportunity for a more equitable and inclusive workforce that can help to narrow the gender wage gap and build a stronger economy. Let’s make sure that women can fully benefit from it.

Mari Hernandez is a Research Associate on the Energy Policy team and Rebecca Lefton is a Senior Policy Analyst focusing on international climate and energy policy at the Center for American Progress.

6 Responses to Rosie The Riveter On A Wind Turbine: Women And The Growing Green Economy

  1. fj says:

    It’s apt that Rosie the Riveter is an icon for the growing green economy reminiscent of World War II urgency valuing human capital as the most important resource for turning around climate change: equality, justice, poverty eradication, universal healthcare, universal advanced education . . .

  2. Joan Savage says:

    Green jobs look like a good alternative to sellout work for other industry, but call for entry level skills like electrician, technical climbing, heavy-equipment operator. These skills are not presently taught as electives in an academic curriculum, as far as I know.

    I’d love to see a ‘hybrid’ education develop that has a better mix of the science and the technical skills.

  3. fj says:

    Unfortunately, the really high-skilled jobs are not normally considered green: physicists, geophysicists, oceanographers, applied scientists, etc.

    There probably will be major shortages as the crisis accelerates and funding opportunities to supply a workforce with the requisite skills.

    Required skills will likely be across the board.

  4. fj says:

    We’re really being laggards in the worst way and our expectation levels are way too low.

    Reacting to the crisis we have the best reason to seize the opportunity to reinvent our country while adding terrific value to our human capital.

    Yet we behave like a petro state stymied by the specter that the fossil fuel industry and other special interests will slap our hands should we really seize the initiative.

    Major areas of this country can go net zero in five years and even more by the end of the decade with efficiencies, productivity, and innovations difficult match in the global market place.

  5. fj says:

    Even before I finished writing the comment above, the following new piece was posted on Climate Progress.

    Toward Perpetuity: Global Solar Is Skyrocketing, Will Soon Be Net Positive Energy Source

  6. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Here I still see many families subtly discouraging girls from science, maths and technology. They grow up thinking they don’t like it or can’t do it, ME