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Jul112013

Enough is enough: An open letter to SEIA, SEPA, Intersolar leadership and all solar industry leaders

July 2013

On the shoulders of previous generations, women have made remarkable strides in gender equality, but we all know the fight is far from over. Around the country, gender politics are coming to head.  In state and Federal legislatures and in the US military establishment, women are on the front lines battling for basic and fundamental human rights, equality and dignity.  Again this year, the global community has born witness to heinous crimes against women and girls in developing countries and in conflict zones. And in addition to these aggressive attacks, every day, every woman has to endure many difficult decisions not only regarding the kind of woman she is going to be, but the kind of person she is going to be and what values she is going to project to the world.

It seems like only a few years ago, our generation (and the mainstream media) had a very awkward time articulating gender issues, but feminism is not a clichéd concept from another era. Today in 2013, the gender context on issues of basic human rights, equality, respect and dignity are real and very much alive, including in the solar industry and in the broader context of the clean energy revolution.

For those of us who have attended Solar Power International and Intersolar, we (the solar industry) have definitely noticed (and mostly scoffed at) the ever increasing “booth babe” culture. I don’t think we need to draw a picture, but suffice it to say this culture encourages a certain image that portrays women as sex objects for marketing purposes (…we get it… sex sells…).  This has occurred for years now, but increasingly, scantily-clad women are becoming more scantily-clad and are being featured at SPI after parties and cocktail hours, impacting the entire conference culture.  It has become impossible to ignore and is frankly a huge distraction.Image 1 Solar Power International 2012

At SPI last year in Orlando, Florida this issue went too far. One of the largest solar manufacturing companies developed advertisements for a product line they called “nice rack”. Further, folks outside the industry took notice.  See the write-up below that is related to this episode:

“These ads not only diminish and trivialize women, but they discourage them from entering a field of work where they are already underrepresented. They also encourage men within the industry to continue to see women as outsiders – valuable only for their beauty and sexuality.

When an influential company like [omit company name] throws a “Nice Rack” party – the self-proclaimed “biggest solar party of the year,” which is taking place during one of the biggest industry weekends of the year (According to this site, last year’s Solar Power International Event was attended by 24,000 professionals and over 1,200 exhibitors) – they are implying some pretty shallow things about the professional people who will actually be attending said event.[i]” [ii]

Image 2 Solar Booth at Intersolar July 10, 2013

Aside from this example, the undertones of this culture are rampant and adding unnecessary negativity in our industry and it is only getting worse (see imagine from Intersolar July 2013).  What is ironic, is that the industry has real issues with gender diversity, we should be attracting more young girls to solar and this culture is a huge deterrent. At the same SPI conference last year, the representation of female speakers on conference panels was less than 9%.  

The solar industry has so many awesome women, but I am sure you will agree, that this awesome-ness does not reveal itself through our “nice racks”. In fact, most of us women in the solar industry haven’t gotten to where we are in life by being very “nice” at all --- one could argue that most of us are 100% bad ass.  

The women who are drawn to the solar industry are unapologetic environmentalists, brilliant engineers and scientists, precise construction workers and project managers, ruthless financial and corporate cats, tough-jawed policy advocates, and relentless educators AND simultaneously we are all working moms, wives, sisters and/or daughters who are trying to change this world for the better. You have to admit that even in our consumer-base, any woman or girl who is educating herself to purchase or support solar energy is a trail-blazer, a true visionary.  The industry should be nothing but proud of its women.

At solwomen.org we have humble roots, but we have been working to get greater organization, visibility and participation for women in the solar industry.  There have been fantastic efforts over the years from various groups to promote the role of women in the industry, but it is time for the industry to make this effort formal, both to stop the booth babe culture and to work hard create compelling careers for women in solar energy.  

We are asking our solar industry leaders to help get us back on track.  Here are a few options:

  • We ask that you formally support a culture of professionalism in the solar energy industry, within your own organizations and specifically at our industry events. 
  • We would like to see a concerted effort to support women in the solar industry, through programs that help elevate more women of influence in the industry. This includes supporting solar-related STEM education programs, women in solar workforce development, women-owned businesses and international development efforts supporting solar, humanitarian causes and women.
  • We would like you to consider formally supporting further development of organizations, like ours, who are promoting the involvement of women in advancing the solar industry[iii].

The women of the solar industry are fully prepared to further drive these efforts, but we need your support and leadership to set an expectation of professionalism for the industry.

----

Women in Solar Energy is an organization by and for the women of the solar energy industry. Our mission is to promote the involvement of women in advancing the solar energy industry.

We can be reached through any of the mediums below, or by contacting our organization leads, Kristen Nicole kristen@solwomen.org and Meghan Nutting meghan@solwomen.org, respectively.

For others in the solar industry, please consider following us, subscribing to our newsletter, retweeting and donating to support our cause. 

Follow us on Twitter (@solarwomen

Like us on Facebook

Follow us on LinkedIn

 


[i] http://www.missrepresentation.org/media/nbi/notbuyingit-solar-company-advertises-nice-rack-party/

[ii] http://gigaom.com/2013/07/11/robots-cat-suits-and-the-future-of-solar-tech-photos/

[iii] There is a list of great organizations here: http://www.solwomen.org/links2/

References (27)

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    Enough is enough: An open letter to SEIA, SEPA, Intersolar leadership and all solar industry leaders - Blog - solarwomen
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    Enough is enough: An open letter to SEIA, SEPA, Intersolar leadership and all solar industry leaders - Blog - solarwomen
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    Enough is enough: An open letter to SEIA, SEPA, Intersolar leadership and all solar industry leaders - Blog - solarwomen
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    Enough is enough: An open letter to SEIA, SEPA, Intersolar leadership and all solar industry leaders - Blog - solarwomen
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    Enough is enough: An open letter to SEIA, SEPA, Intersolar leadership and all solar industry leaders - Blog - solarwomen
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    Enough is enough: An open letter to SEIA, SEPA, Intersolar leadership and all solar industry leaders - Blog - solarwomen
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    Enough is enough: An open letter to SEIA, SEPA, Intersolar leadership and all solar industry leaders - Blog - solarwomen
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    Enough is enough: An open letter to SEIA, SEPA, Intersolar leadership and all solar industry leaders - Blog - solarwomen

Reader Comments (26)

Thank you for posting this! I'd like to see a statement from SEIA and SEPA in return.

July 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie Lappe

This is awesome! Now we can slowly make steps from overcoming sexual innuendo to gender discrimination. They are linked, but not the same.

July 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly Davis

Thank you for saying what has been on my mind.

July 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Whitney AIA

Although I am not attracted to these displays, your comments are misdirected. They should go to the women who choose to work as such. Tell them not to make money when they have an opportunity that they don't have a conflict with.

July 12, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermike

Couldn't agree more, and well said. Mike - sure, the women could also help the cause by choosing not to be employed in such gigs, but I think that overlooks the demands of making a living, you know? Lots of people compromise their ethics to make a buck, and a single mom putting food on the table with this kind of work is hardly a prime example. (OK, I don't know if any of them are, in fact, single moms, but just to make the point ....)

July 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRon

As a longtime solar professional, I have been attending conferences for many years. I have noticed a direct correlation between the increase in booth babe marketing and the decrease in respect for women in the industry. It highlights the necessity for more women to be in decision-making positions at solar companies. We can improve the aesthetics, utility, and marketability of the actual products, and disapprove sexist advertising campaigns that are a disgrace and distraction to our crucial technology.

July 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmelia Amon

Mike & Jon, I find your comments rather naive. Prostitutes are often "just trying to put food on the table" due to desperation & a lack of options. Does that mean we should deem pimps and commercial entities that contract with with them innocent bystanders and direct our protests to the individual women? That's absurd! I realise being a model at a convention is a far cry from prostitution, but the basic selling point is the same and the power structure behind it is identical. I'm a classic "dude" type in many ways and can't help but appreciate the slurred of a scantily clad beauty, but there is no way in hell that kind of thing is appropriate in a professional environment!

July 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAdam L

Mike and Jon, putting the onus of not creating a sexist environment on the people who exist in a sexist environment is pathetic. It's akin to telling the victim of a robbery that he shouldn't have had so much stuff to steal, and that next time he should try to avoid thieves. The blame for treating women like sex objects falls on the shoulders of the people (Recom for example) who hired women to be treated as sex objects. The responsibility for creating a safe and supportive environment is squarely on the shoulders of the organizers of the conference. Shame on all those who failed and thereby created an even more hostile working environment for women in construction. And shame on the both of you, honestly. Your failures of logic are breathtaking in their scope.

July 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi

Excellent post and I could not agree more.

At Run on Sun our chief electrician is an amazing woman - one of the most talented people I have ever encountered in this industry and the best partner one could ask for. You are right - she is awesome for what she does and who she is, not how she looks.

It is high time that this industry clean up its act. The Shoals and Recom nonsense may get them some ink, but it is not getting them business.
If you are interested in contacting the Head of Recom (the folks at IS this year who thought it made sense to put women in cages) you can find his contact information at the end of this post:

http://runonsun.com/~runons5/blogs/blog1.php/solevents/intersolar-2013-hot-not

Keep up the good work!
Jim Jenal, Founder & CEO, Run on Sun

July 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim Jenal

Typo in my above comment: meant to address Mike & Ron (not Jon). Also "sight" not "slurred".

July 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAdam L

On behalf of SEPA, SEIA and SETS (our jointly owned LLC that runs SPI and PVA), we thank you for taking up these very important issues. We strongly condemn the exploitation of any individual, group or organization based on gender, ethnicity, race, religious beliefs or sexual orientation.

Moving forward, we will reach out to the Women in Solar Energy leadership directly to talk about specific actions we can take to ensure that SPI and other SEIA and SEPA forums encourage professional and respectful behavior by all participants. We will also discuss opportunities specific to SPI 2013 to elevate visibility around the important role that women play in the solar industry.

Jim, thank you for naming names. It's important that we call out vendors that mistake silence for acceptance. Recom has done quite a bit of damage to their reputation.

Of course "booth babes" is just the most obvious offense. There are still obstacles to diversity in solar and all of us in the industry need to do more than accept diversity: we need to reach out and create it. That means better hiring practices, mentoring and training to make sure everyone hears about opportunities and feels comfortable pursuing them.

July 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPat Ward-Seitz

Couldn't agree more. When I come to these conferences, I'm there with quality control, risk mitigation, and return on investment on my mind. I want to engage with like-minded professionals, not wallow in the illusory (and pathetic) notion that the few hundred bucks I spent on my conference pass entitles me to treat other human beings like objects.

July 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBret Heilig

Adam L - I must have written my comment poorly if you thought I was on Mike's side of this argument, as the opposite is true.

My comment 'Couldn't agree more, and well said' was directed at the author of this post, not Mike

- Ron

July 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRon

Women and children are THE most sex-ploited humans on the planet. This requires tough and prolonged stances by lobbyists to governments to protect these most valuable and vulnerable citizens via the LEGISLATIVE process. The same LEGISLATIVE protections must be extended to safeguard women in ALL industry from being harassed, denigrated, belittled and stereotyped as sex objects. ANYTHING OTHER THAN AN ASEXUAL APPROACH to the advertising and promotion of industries where (INTELLIGENT) women's contributions have been utilized for the betterment of that industry deems therefore that approach UNLAWFUL.

July 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKristina B Andersen

A thought for the men who think this is business as usual and simply smart marketing. I say at the next convention someone has male dancers in g-strings and white collars in the center of the exibit floor and perhaps you will then understand just how inappropriate and , well stupid this sort of thing is.

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Holme

Thank you for this. I agreed whole-heartedly. I was there as an exhibitor, working in a booth and accused of being a "booth babe" on a couple of occasion even though I was wearing the same logo'd business shirts as my male colleagues and dressed totally professionally. I informed the mistaken parties, that I in fact worked for this company and knew the products. This is the third big solar trade show I've attended and was disgusted by both the Recom and Schoals booths. They were so blatant and sleazy, though Recom took it to a new low. I've decided not to attend the next one show in October because the sexism at Intersolar NA. It left such a bad taste in my mouth, such a shame.

July 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Walker

Thank you for all of your comments! We have had such a positive and encouraging response to our open letter, including formal responses from SEPA, SEIA and other solar industry leaders. We are hoping that in Chicago there will be a revived and constructive level of professionalism to do some solar deals.

Mike - We hope those women read this letter as well. Our approach is to create more and challenging jobs for women in the solar energy industry so no one has to take off their clothes. Aside from what these displays say about the company and their employees, this behavior quickly becomes a reflection of all of us in the solar industry (women and men). Its not a healthy direction for the industry to be going in.

July 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKristen Nicole

Thank you, ladies, for speaking up! I graduated from high school in 1969, and went to Woodstock the same summer. I thought we had come a long way, baby. Imagine my surprise when I wandered into the Intersolar conference in my home town of San Francisco last week. As an environmental consultant and organic gardener, I thought I should stop in and learn a bit more about the solar industry. Over my four-decade career I have attended a lot of conferences, but I was shocked at the blatant hookeresque atmosphere on exhibition in parts of this one. I would have expected Green Environmental values to go hand in hand with concerns for social equity, gender equality and similar issues, but it seemed the sales floor had been highjacked by a fraternity party from Las Vegas. Also delighted to see you removed the photo from your banner--the only women I have met so far in the solar industry have been wearing either professional attire or hardhats and harnesses. Keep up the good work.

July 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMara Feeney

Ron, my mistake. Sorry for assuming/misinterpreting. -adam

July 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAdam L

Thanks, Adam.

July 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRon

Thank you for posting this! I was outraged seeing the Recom booth at InterSolar!!! Speechless in fact....It is hard enough to be a woman in the industry and this sort of scantily display only confirms our "inferiority" and main purpose as ornaments for industry males to bring in business. It's sickening and I hope, one day the misogyny will stop.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAssia

BTW. This year art InterSolar, Shoals had a bar with more booth babes than actual employees of the company at one of the entrances, blasting and bumping club music...really?

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAssia

"Coverage" [heh] in Forbes! http://www.forbes.com/sites/uciliawang/2013/07/18/why-we-dont-need-solar-booth-babes/ Jul 18

August 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly Davis

And more - CES adopts a policy! http://www.forbes.com/sites/lauraheller/2013/08/01/ces-updates-policy-to-discourage-booth-babes/ Aug 1

"CES Show Management reserves the right to make determinations on appropriate exhibitor/presenter attire. If for any reason an exhibit and/or its contents are deemed objectionable by Show Management, the exhibitor may be asked to alter the attire of its employees, booth staff and/or models. If necessary, the exhibitor may be asked to remove the individual(s) in question at the exhibitor’s sole expense. Exhibitors with questions about compliance with these guidelines should consult with Show Management in advance of the show."

August 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly Davis

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