Six Weeks in the Sunlight

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September 26, 2018

My name is Marissa Leshnov, and over the past year, I’ve served GRID Bay Area as their SolarCorps Workforce and Volunteer Fellow. After volunteering with GRID for several months, I joined the Bay Area team so that I could build bridges to a more equitable solar industry, and build a coalition of people who recognize the importance of a clean energy transition that includes and benefits everyone. Recently, our team piloted a six-week solar training program for women over weeknights and weekends, and I am proud to share that I was able to lead that effort. 

Why women? For years, GRID’s Women in Solar Program has been working to create a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable solar industry by providing pathways to technical careers for women and people who identify as non-binary genders. It is critical to our mission that everyone has access not only to solar technology, but also to the well-paying careers within the solar industry.

Workforce diversity also has important implications for the sustainability of the solar industry itself. Only 27% of the solar workforce is made up of women, and while this percentage has been growing each year, it is certainly not keeping pace with industry growth overall. From 2012 to 2017, solar employment grew nine times faster than the overall US economy, and in California alone, demand for solar PV installers is projected to grow by 130% in the next ten years, more than tripling the expected growth of the next fastest-growing occupation. With solar demand increasing every year, GRID’s Women in Solar Program ensures that there is a broad and skilled workforce that can sustain the industry, while also making sure that everyone has access to the good jobs it offers.

The Summer 2018 Women In Solar Nights and Weekends cohort

Why, then, did we host a training specifically over weeknights and weekends? Typically, GRID solar installations and training programs take place during the workday, which poses barriers for women who may be working multiple jobs to make ends meet or who may have childcare needs during the day, just to name a few. By providing a training program outside of the 9-to-5 schedule, our network and resources could be accessible to women who we had never reached before.

I was thrilled to meet eight incredible women on the first day of the training. We had a packed schedule ahead: in six weeks, there would be five solar installations, three hands-on workshops at our practice roof training space, two professional development workshops, an online webinar and a private job fair. I remember looking around the room as everyone’s eyes were fixed to the schedule, and becoming worried that the schedule I had made was too ambitious. These were busy women, after all, who already wore many hats in their personal, professional, and academic lives.

“How is everyone feeling looking over this?” I asked hesitantly. 

To my surprise, someone lifted her head and smiled. “I’m excited!” she exclaimed, and everyone looked up nodding and grinning. With that, we got to work!

One of my favorite things about GRID’s Women in Solar Program is the community of volunteers and solar professionals that come together to support it. Their enthusiasm was inspiring and contagious for our participants! Nonetheless, our participants lead very busy lives, and as the training proceeded a few women did have to withdraw due to other priorities. Although I was initially disheartened to see the group shrink, I began to understand that success was not in the completion, but in the process. Success begins with the individual, and I know first hand how one opportunity can change a life. My year of service with GRID has certainly changed mine. 

As I transition out of my fellowship, I am proud of my contributions to outline pathways for women to enter the solar industry, and I am confident that GRID will continue to develop best practices around this innovative program. I would love to see this program replicated across the country, in all GRID offices. In the meantime, I’m staying connected and marking my calendar for the next Women in Solar weeklong training in November. Our work is far from over!

Two Women In Solar participants bending conduit.

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If you or someone you know is interested in joining GRID’s Women in Solar program in November 2018, please contact Daisy Meyer daisy@gridalternatives.org to request more information. GRID also hosts monthly workshops in Oakland as part of their Third Thursday series. Third Thursday workshops are free and open to the public.

A huge thank you to our generous donors, Chuck and Lisa Hornbrook, who provided the needed funding to make this evening and weekend Women in Solar training program possible!