By Wes Doane
As event organizers, we’ve long recognized the importance of diversity—understanding how different perspectives, experiences, and skills enrich the event experience and encourages new conversation and problem-solving.
That’s why we jumped at the opportunity to speak with Kristen Graf, the Executive Director of Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE), a national nonprofit that promotes the education, professional development, and advancement of women to achieve a diversified workforce and support a robust renewable energy economy.
In this interview excerpt, Kristen explains why workforce diversity is critical for the advancement of the renewable energy industry—and how trade shows can provide more opportunity and inclusivity.
Q: What changes have you seen in the industry’s workforce since you joined WRISE?
This November will mark my 10th year at WRISE. I wish I could say I’ve seen this explosive growth of women in the industry’s workforce, but that hasn’t been the case. We’ve seen a small shift from 20-25% to more in the range of 25-30% of women in the workforce, but that’s not the dramatic change I’d like to see.
What I have witnessed, however, is a transformation in the conversation around the issue of representation in the workforce. And, having shifted as much as it has in the last 10 years, we’re at an exciting point. There is now widespread recognition of the importance of diversity, and that’s promising. We have a long way to go, but this shift provides hope for a path forward. I’m excited to see how that shift will continue to play out in terms of actual changes in the workforce.
Q: What is the “glass ceiling” for women in the renewable energy industry? Does this differ for women of color?
I worry about the idea of a “glass ceiling.” It allows us to focus too much on one job or person. One woman shattering a barrier is only part of the work we need to do. There’s data that companies with three or more women on their boards of directors significantly outperform companies with no women on their boards. How do we get enough women involved so a single woman doesn’t have to play a specific, tokenized role and feel a sense of isolation? I’m hopeful that we are moving past focusing on that one CEO role, and instead uplifting women into multiple CEO roles and recognizing we need to do this across all positions.
We also need to center the experiences of women of color who are trying to advance. There are a lot of amazing women of color around the industry, but we aren’t tracking the data very well. We track by race and by gender, but only a few studies have looked at the intersection and when they do, the statistics are pretty stark. If we can ensure that women of color have the tools they need to advance—and an organization and industry that is supportive of their advancement—we will be doing work and building tools that help everyone and the industry as a whole.
Q: What role do trade shows play in diversifying our workforce and propelling WRISE’s mission? What have you seen trade shows do well?
Trade shows are a reflection of the industry. They are a space where the industry comes together and showcases the best of business. Because of that, there’s an opportunity for trade shows to publicly make the case for why we need to increase diversity. Trade shows can set the precedence for what the industry should be aiming for and what those opportunities look like.
What’s been exciting recently is that more trade shows are making an effort to ensure that there’s a diverse mix of speakers in their programs. We’ve also seen shows include more opportunities to spotlight the people who are doing the everyday work of the industry—not just the C-suites—and making sure those folks are getting more recognition and time on the main stage. There’s an incredible wealth of talent in the industry already and the more we can raise their visibility, the more opportunity we have to spark action. If all you see are panels with executive-level white men, this may convey to women or people of color that “this is not an industry for me,” and that’s a serious issue.
How #isna2020 is Supporting Workforce Diversity
The value of diversity and inclusion—especially among leadership—hits home for us at Diversified Communications. Our president, Mary Larkin (who is also the first female president of UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry) is committed to increasing female representation in leadership positions.
But speaking with Kristen got us thinking about what we’re doing tactically at Intersolar North America (February 4-6, 2020 in San Diego, CA):
- Mission: We’re partnering with WRISE to maximize its visibility at #isna2020.
- Programming: We’re selecting a diverse range of expert presenters to lead our solar, energy storage, and e-mobility sessions.
- Logistics: Our new location, the San Diego Convention Center, offers:
- A private nursing mother’s lounge
- Gender-inclusive restrooms
- Aira service, providing guides for those who are blind or have low vision
We’re also continuing to educate ourselves on the barriers women in renewables face and how we can incorporate those learnings into our future events. We encourage you to read our full interview with Kristen—and to think about how you can make an impact.
Sponsored content by Intersolar North America