Green Work is Women's Work

Nov 3, 2010Amy Norquist

green-jobs-150After the crash, the downturn was dubbed a "mancession." As the meme continues to circulate, we asked leading thinkers to help us sort fact from fiction. Are men suffering more than women in a weak economy? Is Washington doing enough to address female unemployment? How do we ensure a jobs agenda that's fair and equitable? In the eighth part of our ongoing series, "The Myth of the Mancession? Women & the Jobs Crisis", Amy Norquist calls on the green sector to include women from the beginning.

The federal stimulus package earmarks billions of dollars in green technology, primarily renewable energy, for projects that will take place over the next several years. The effectiveness of the funding is still debatable, as it remains the slowest draw down of any category in the stimulus. The White House estimates that close to 200,000 new jobs were created as a result of the funding, but the Department of Energy puts that number at closer to 80,000.

Are women being left out of this sector? I think there is little doubt that women are not being hired in large numbers through this particular focus on the energy sector. But in fact, even though green jobs tend to fall into categories of non-traditional options for women such as engineering, science, and construction, there is far greater opportunity for the inclusion of women in significant numbers than in the past. That's because green jobs are much broader than the energy sector. They are defined as those that provide goods and services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources, or jobs in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.

So how is it that non-traditional jobs in the green sector can somehow be more accessible to women than jobs past? There are more women CEOs in green business -- largely entrepreneurs -- than in traditional construction, and they tend to value authenticity and transparency, which disables the old boys network. Green businesses have the element of being mission-driven and focusing on the triple bottom line: social, economic, environmental. This is appealing to women, and it provides an alternative structure within the construction industry in particular.

Furthermore, new technologies and new industries often don't require particular previous  job skills. (A Berkeley study focused on green employers, for example, found that 86 percent of the green business owners interviewed and hired workers who had no previous direct experience.) This also removes barriers for women entering traditionally male-dominated fields.

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And there are programs out there that focus on training women for green jobs. There is a non-profit called NEW in New York City, which trains women in non-traditional fields but also offers a program called "ReNEW" for green jobs. (Two-thirds of minimum wage jobs in NYC belong to women.) The program does a good job of educating students about what jobs are even available and gives them exposure to these new technologies, industries, and employers.

As the owner of a women-owned green roofing business, called Greensulate, I can say that my company has benefited in significant ways from the stimulus act and from growing awareness of the value of green jobs and the green industry among supporters. The direct benefit to Greensulate came through training funds (using funding from the stimulus act) from NYC Small Business Solutions. This funding enabled us to train and hire 10 people this year.

And the private sector is picking up the slack -- unlike in other male-dominated construction industries -- when it comes to supporting women. Greensulate was recently selected into a program, Growth Opportunity Loan and Services Program (GOLS), sponsored by The Clinton Foundation, Booz & Co., Goldman Sachs, NYU Stern, and SEEDCO Financial. The program provides loan funding for growth (which we were unable to get through our bank) and significant management consulting and mentoring.

I can say that as a green construction industry, green roofing brings women into the fold of some of the few green and white collar jobs available. For my first few years, I was the only woman up on the roof. Now I'm joined by other "greensualtors" -- one of whom is a graduate of the NEW ReNEW program. We are now 35% female, in a non-traditional field for women.

The key to beginning and continuing the trend of hiring women for green collar positions is being continually vigilant in educating women about the opportunities available. And it begins with the value of inclusion. Even in programs whose focus is training women and placing them in currently non-traditional arenas, one still sees quotes like, "It is satisfying doing men's work". Green jobs are not "men's work." They are good work, and there is a chance to integrate parity from the beginning. Emerging industries have the responsibility -- because they are emerging industries -- to break the mold.

Amy Norquist is the President and CEO of the green roofing company Greensulate.

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