Women’s Participation in the Green Economy: Finding Better Jobs and Environmental Solutions

By Maegan Kae Sunaz

March was the warmest month in recorded history, and the past six months have all set the warmest months on record.[1] If it wasn’t clear before, it’s definitely becoming apparent that climate change is real and it’s subtly creeping into our lives in insidious ways that can ultimately result in extreme heat waves, rising sea-levels, changes in precipitation that create floods or droughts, degraded air quality and more.[2] While part of recent changes is due to natural El Niño patterns, human-produced greenhouse gases poured into the atmosphere is the main contributor of climate change.[3]

Being a vulnerable group, women are more severely affected by climate change than men. The ICUN (World Conservation Union) released a report that predicts that the physical, economic, social and cultural impacts of global warming will jeopardize women far more than men, because of women’s social roles, trend of discrimination and poverty.[4]

There’s a lot at stake for women, and so it’s crucial to pay attention to how the next most powerful person in the world—the next president of the United States—is going to handle this issue. Although some Republicans would like to ignore what’s been scientifically asserted as a real phenomenon[5], the Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders include in their platform how they want to tackle the problem of climate change.

Clinton seeks to launch a $60 billion Clean Energy Challenge to partner with states, cities, and rural communities and give them tools that go beyond the minimum federal standards in cutting carbon pollution. She wants to make American manufacturing the cleanest in the world. She did not specify how many jobs she wants to create, but she does plan on creating jobs in the clean energy sector.[6]

Sanders is looking to support American workers who are moving into clean energy jobs by introducing the Clean Energy Workers Just Transition Act, which provides a comprehensive package of benefits for workers that include extended unemployment benefits, education opportunities, health career and job training. The bill also allows for the creation of a workers union. He also wants to stop subsidizing fossil fuel companies, and create 10 million good-paying jobs to make a Clean Energy Workforce.[7]

Both candidates say they want to expand green jobs, which currently needs more women. The Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that there are about 3.1 million people currently working in green jobs, and although women are half of the workforce, women make up roughly 30 percent of green employees.[8]

What accounts for this disparity is part of a broader problem where women are absent in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, which are major components of green jobs.[9]

However, there’s great incentive for women to participate in the green economy. Not only are green jobs sustainable and good for the environment, but women worker’s median earnings are higher in the green economy than in the overall economy.[10] In 33 states, women in green jobs earn at least $1,000 more per year for full-time year round work than women working in a different sector.[11] Moreover, the gender wage gap for women in the green economy is smaller at 18 percent, compared to 22 percent in the economy as a whole.[12]

Minorities also have staying power in environmental jobs. A University of Michigan study shows that salaries of minority workers are almost completely unrelated to race, with virtually identical salaries. Experiences of salary discrimination can still exist, since minorities were likely to have lower starting salaries.

There are support systems that encourage women to acquire green occupations. The U.S. Department of Labor created “Why Green is Your Color Web-Based Training,”[13] as well as “Why Green Is Your Color: A Woman’s Guide to a Sustainable Career,” a guide for women to find and acquire green jobs by giving resources for women entrepreneurs interested in the green economy.[14]

Climate change is a pressing issue that we need to tackle together, and overall more work is needed to promote the potential benefits of green jobs to women and close the gender gap in employment within this sector. Continue reading “Women’s Participation in the Green Economy: Finding Better Jobs and Environmental Solutions”