Is The Green Jobs Movement Leaving Women Behind?

women working in green jobsWhile women are more eco aware than men, they are are underrepresented  in green jobs.  This includes jobs created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  However, there are a growing number of programs that are designed to address these inequities.

by Claire Morgenstern, Content and Communications Manager, The Conservation Law Foundation

A report by the U.N. recently released  found that women eat more vegetables, use less fuel for travel, and are more likely to buy eco-friendly products than men. Yet in the biofuel and energy sectors, women comprise only 18.7 and 7.6 percent, respectively, of the total workforce in those industries. Moreover, the numbers for minority women were even lower—only 4 percent of green jobs are held by African-American or Latino women, according to a study by the Women of Color Policy Network.

What gives?

“What we’re seeing now is result of historic labor segmentation where women are underrepresented in fields considered green—bioengineering, construction et cetera—for a long time,” said C. Nicole Mason, Executive Director of the Women of Color Policy Network. “When we look at administrative efforts to create jobs and who those jobs go to, women are left out of those fields.”

In other words, most of the green jobs available—positions in the bio fuels, green building, energy, and transportation industries—require employees from fields that are male-dominated, from agriculture and forestry to electrical engineers and metal workers.

That includes those created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which has allotted $200 billion for programs related to the creation of green jobs, according to the Green Equity Toolkit, a report recently issued by the Applied Research Center. The Toolkit provides a blueprint for the steps communities should take to ensure gender and race equality in the creation of their local green-collar workforce.

So why can’t more women get into these fields? It’s not that simple. When those green jobs become available, it’s employees already working in those fields, who are mostly male, who will find out about those positions and apply for them, and who already have the training to fulfill the duties of the job.

Read our post: The Green Economy – An Opportunity for Women to Excel

As a result, women, particularly single women and their families, the group hardest hit by the recession, are not competitive applicants for these positions. In addition, women tend to have a different set of needs than men do to make an employment opportunity a viable option for them—for example, the availability of childcare of the accessibility of the job site via public transportation—even if green job training is available.

“On the local level, women don’t have institutional support to go through green job training,” said Yvonne Yen Liu, Senior Research Associate at the Applied Research Center and co-author of the Green Equity Toolkit. “What the toolkit does is to encourage communities to identify participation goals—the types of people they want to reach through creating green jobs.

For example, a lot of money is available to create green jobs as a ‘path out of poverty,’ but if you don’t offer something basic like childcare, women can’t participate. Single women-headed households have been the hardest hit by the recession. Women of color, women receiving food stamps or cash assistance—those types of participation goals help insure that more women are included.”

Both Liu and Mason advocated for long-term federal policy changes that would both decrease the legal levels of pollution in cities, creating the need for more green jobs, and create pathways for women to be included in the expansion of the green economy. However, in the meantime, independent organizations in communities around the country are pioneering green initiatives to create more opportunities for women to procure green jobs and/or green jobs training.

In Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Apollo Alliance and Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE) worked together to pass an ordinance to establish the Green Retrofit and Workforce Program last April, which includes the establishment of the Green Career Ladder Training Program to train 2,000 public and private-sector green-collar workers in green building construction and maintenance. In New York, community organization Sustainable South Bronx runs the BEST Academy to train Bronx residents for green-collar careers and put them to work on green infrastructure projects throughout the borough. Non-profit Green For All runs a program called Green Pathways out of Poverty, in which representatives work with communities throughout the country to develop programs to prepare the local available work force for green-collar careers; it also runs Retrofit America’s Cities, which helps communities develop energy retrofitting projects and train local community members to work on those projects.

All of these programs have been developed to help groups that have been left out of the mainstream green job market, particularly women, people of color, and low-income communities.

“Ideally, in ten years we’d have a thriving green economy that takes care of women and workers everywhere, that thinks of building based on community needs rather than desire to make profit, and that reduces impact on planet and creates communities that are thriving,” Liu said.


Recommended Green Career Resource:
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Author: claire-morgenstern (1 Articles)

Claire Morgenstern is the Content and Communications Manager at the Conservation Law Foundation in Boston, MA. The Conservation Law Foundation works to solve the most significant environmental problems that threaten New England. CLF's advocates use law, economics, and science to create innovative strategies to conserve natural resources, protect public health, and promote vital communities in our region. Founded in 1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization. Learn more at http://www.clf.org. Read Claire's blog.

  • Sarah

    I think this article puts the cart before the horse. If anyone’s getting a benefit from the tax money we’re all shelling out, good. NYT had an article a few weeks ago that claimed that 82% of the current job losses were men losing their jobs, so apparently there are more men looking for work than women.

    So why would the women who already work in energy, construction, and manufacturing make the shift from an established position to a new position in a startup based on soft money from the government? A lot of the ARRA-funded jobs that I’ve seen are based on governmental compliance and regulation. These are office jobs that get people a paycheck, but don’t seem to actually produce anything except some reports to justify that paycheck.

    I also think that while “green” is intended to make you think differently about the end product, describing it as “clean” won’t ever change the reality of the labor and physical principles applied to make that product. If, while fueling your heavy equipment at a recycling facility, you slop some on your boots, you still have a mess to deal with. It doesn’t make a big difference if it’s biodiesel or dino diesel. It doesn’t make a difference if your coveralls are pink or blue, or green or gray. –Sarah

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