• Women 2.0 HowTo Conference San Francisco, September 30 - October 1, 2014

What It Will Take To Recruit And Retain Women In Wind Energy And Renewables?

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Free RSVP for “women of wind energy” event on September 20 at Excelsior College.

By Dr. Jane LeClair (Dean, School of Business and Technology, Excelsior College)

Since ancient man first constructed a sail boat to navigate the open water, society has harnessed the power of wind to achieve its own ends. Over the centuries, windmills were used to grind flour and pump water, and in 1887 James Blyth constructed a wind turbine that he used to power the lights in his home and received a patent for his invention in 1891.

Today, wind power is increasingly becoming a viable source for our energy needs. The costs related to wind power are in decline, and if costs continue on their downward trajectory it will only become increasingly viable. It is estimated we could produce nearly 20% of our energy needs through wind.

However, as so many millenniums ago, participation in the industry’s labor force remains predominately the domain of males. There is also a paucity of women in the technology fields as well as in the educational pipeline. For numerous reasons, women have simply not chosen to enter the STEM fields.

It is time to reverse this trend.

It starts by encouraging young girls to join the areas of science and math, highlight successful women in the sciences for young women to emulate, and work to avoid negative stereotypes of those in math and sciences. Training guidance counselors to be gender neutral is also of upmost importance.

Growing up, how many of you was asked “how do you expect to be a (insert technology-related career field) and still raise a family?” I know I encountered this line of questioning several times, and I don’t believe many men were/are ever asked this question. Training guidance counselors to be cognizant of their internal biases towards certain career tracks could push more women to the technology fields at an early age.

Nevertheless, for those dedicated to the recruitment and retention of women in the technology fields, the renewable wind energy technology industry holds great promise. Whether we achieve labor force diversification is dependent on the willingness of advocates, industry, and institutions of higher education to work together to promote the education, professional development and retention of the next generation of female wind technologists.

And the opportunity for us to act is there. If women can establish themselves in this blooming new technology early on, they can avoid having to break into a male-dominated arena. Instead, they will be part of the growth of the wind industry… an equal part… on a level playing field… from the foundation of the industry upwards.

The U.S. is one of the world’s wind leaders because of the work of private companies such as GE, who beyond the introduction of their renewable wind technologies help advance the cause of labor diversification. GE and their Women of Wind Energy group is one such example. The organization is dedicated to empowering women in the field through educational fellowships, mentorship programs – both online and in-person, and annual leadership forums.

On September 20 at 7pm EST, I will be hosting three members of GE’s Women of Wind Energy group to discuss these issues and more as part of Excelsior College’s “Women in Technology” webinar series. If you would like to register for this free event, it would be a great chance to learn more about the opportunities available within the wind industry and directly engage with members of the group.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Dr. Jane LeClair is the Dean of the school of Business and Technology at Excelsior College in Albany, New York and continues to collaborate with the nuclear industry. She worked in the nuclear industry for Constellation Energy for 20 years. She served as Chair of the Education and Training Division and the American Society of Engineering Education. Jane blogs on business, higher education and the issue of women in technology.