Finding a Future for Women in Green Technology (Voices of Women and Gender Minorities)

Originally published in Fightback magazine’s special issue dedicated to paid writing by women and gender minorities.

Maria is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication. She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles.

Today, as throughout all of history, women are paid less than men for performing identical tasks in the workplace. In some instances, they are almost completely barred from entering into their chosen profession. The tech industry is one such example of a space in which where both jobs and prestige are disproportionately held by men. In this field, women continue to face hurdles both securing entry-level positions and gaining the recognition they deserve once they secure a more advanced role.

A number of high-profile cases have drawn attention to tech industry gender discrimination. The best known case may be that of Ellen Pao, who worked for venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in Silicon Valley. She filed a lawsuit against her former employer, stating that she was unjustly passed over for promotions, seually harassed, and ultimately fired. Although that lawsuit was eventually dismissed, it continues to draw attention to the more important issue at hand. In another case, former Facebook employee Chia Hong filed a lawsuit against the social media giant for race and gender-based harassment. Female tech workers have repeatedly noted that they are judged for their personality rather than their work performance, which should be a red flag in ANY industry.  

Though small in number, there are several companies echoing these women’s voices for greater equality in tech specifically. An American company, PowerToFly, was launched by a pair of mothers who recognized the need for home-based opportunities for women. The company provides women with networking opportunities and online support, challenging the cultural norms that dictate a working woman’s family life. A non-profit company known as the Ada Initiative also offers support for women around the world interested in open source coding and technology. Beyond it’s efforts at home in Canada, the Ada Initiative has run six AdaCamps in four countries. This feminist tech camp opens doors for hundreds of women each year that may have otherwise stayed permanently shut.

Supporting women’s involvement, investment, and leadership in tech careers is crucial, and this is particularly evident in the “green” tech sector. While there are several big names making corrective action – Lisa P. Jackson, for example, who works for Apple as vice president of Environmental Initiatives, is a former American EPA administrator with a strong track record in sustainability efforts – we are still sorely lacking a diverse representation of sex and race in cleantech decision making. Many people are unaware of the renewable energy options available to them; and while resources like this and this aim to inform, it’s in no one’s best interest to have only a fraction of the world’s voices represented in finding cleaner, “greener” solutions. Other inspirational women of note, such as Nawal Al-Hosany, the director of both the Zayed Future energy prize and sustainability at Masdar, and Sandrine Dixson Decleve, who directs the Prince of Wales’s EU Corporate Leaders Group to promote eco-friendly policies in Brussels, cannot stand alone in making a change.

The problem is not a new one. Historically, the entire tech field has been dominated by men, and it will take more than a several years and a few fresh faces to make up for decades of inaction and missed opportunities. At major research universities, men hold a staggering 86 percent of all computer science undergraduate degrees. And to add insult to injury, the percent of women holding degrees in computer science actually dropped from 37 percent to 18 percent between 1985 and 2010.

As the success of green technology is vital to the preservation of our resources and our planet, the current state of ongoing gender bias has to go. When half of the population is denied access to one of the most powerful industries, responsible for shaping the lives of all the world’s inhabitants, there is more than enough justification for alarm. Technology, when used at its best, can span boundaries of race, class, and gender. Bright minds, male and female, are needed to both recognize and harness its potential to push for better “green” ideas. Climate change does not discriminate – a diversification of both educational programs and the green tech workforce is what the Earth and all future generations deserve.

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