Figure 1. Data from 2020 USEER Report

There are many benefits to a diverse workforce. Diversity can drive competition, improve culture, foster innovation and economic growth, and increase resilience. Importantly, a more diverse workforce will be better able to serve diverse customers and communities. So just how diverse is the energy efficiency workforce? SEDAC recently reviewed literature on the diversity of the energy efficiency workforce and found that there is definitely room for improvement.

Gender.  The 2020 USEER study by NASEO and EFI reports that women make up 25% of the energy efficiency sector, compared to the national workforce average of 47%. Women are severely underrepresented in certain energy efficiency professions; for instance, they make up only 1% of HVAC refrigeration mechanics and installers, according to the 2019 USEER report. Women in energy efficiency careers report that it is intimidating to be the only woman in a training program or organization. “I got used to being different, underrepresented, and, well, lonely,” one woman reported in an ACEEE post. Women report that it takes courage to speak up in a male-dominated training program or workplace, and that women are often held to a higher standard than their male colleagues. Women also reported sexual misconduct and dismissive, discriminatory behavior in the energy efficiency workplace.

A lack of awareness and support are significant barriers for increasing the number of women in the energy efficiency workforce. It can be challenging to recruit women to energy efficiency professions when there are few female role models and mentors. It is also difficult for young girls to imagine themselves in energy efficiency professions when they do not see women represented in promotional materials and media depictions of these professions.

Race and ethnicity. The 2020 USEER Report notes that African American workers make up a smaller share of the energy efficiency workforce (8%) than of the overall national workforce (12%), while Hispanic or Latino workers make up 15% of the energy efficiency workforce, compared to 16% nationwide. The lack of diversity of the energy efficiency sector is likely to negatively affect diverse communities' acceptance of energy efficiency programs and services.

Preliminary findings suggest that Hispanic and Latino energy efficiency workers have been harder hit by the recent economic downturn than other racial and ethnic groups (BW Research Partnership, 2020), and are facing higher rates of unemployment. This is consistent with the trend in the overall economy where “racial and ethnic minorities, women, young workers, and those with less educational attainment are currently suffering higher unemployment rates.”

Actions to diversify the energy efficiency workforce

There are many actions that companies and employers can take to diversify the workforce. Below are some best practices that energy efficiency training programs, employers, and utilities can utilize to build a more diverse workforce and reach underserved communities.

  • Promote diverse hires internally through inclusive policies. Commit to hiring people that are representative of the people you serve.
  • Require diversity training to create environments that are safe, open, respectful, and empowering.
  • Increase outreach to underserved populations and communities for training programs and to raise awareness of energy efficiency jobs.
  • Make training programs more feasible by offering scholarships, tuition waivers, and support services to overcome barriers to participation.
  • Provide mentorship opportunities to nurture minority employees and guide them along their career path.
  • Form diverse stakeholder groups and partner with community based organizations and community action agencies.
  • Connect training to good jobs that offer a living wage.

SEDAC is reaching out to diverse stakeholders to explore ways to grow and diversify the energy efficiency workforce at this critical time. Contact us if you'd like to join the conversation! 217-214-7954 or info@sedac.org.