Gender and ‘green-collar jobs’

// 5 January 2009

(I started writing this back in mid-December, but Katherine’s post at Feminist Law Professors motivated me to go revive it!)

It’s not just in the US that people are hoping more ‘green’ jobs will bolster the economy.

Of the 7,000 employed in the UK’s renewable energy sector alone, how many are women? How about the wider ‘green’ economy?

I don’t know, but I’d like to. My experience (as a reporter in this area) is that women tend to be found more on the lobby group/NGO side, and men on the business side.

Reasons why this might be the case? Maybe it’s because the people coming to work in these new industries often migrate from male-dominated fields, such as engineering, finance, construction.

In a National Review column, Linda Hirshman apparently said this:

President-elect Obama has stated that he wants to create 2.5 million green jobs in the energy sector to help rebuild America’s infrastructure — including retooling of public buildings to make them more environmentally friendly. But feminist author Linda Hirshman says those types of jobs — construction and engineering — are typically dominated by men, and she wants Obama to create jobs for women, too. Hirshman notes that women typically hold more positions in the area of social work, childcare, education, and libraries.

But this, to me, seems incredibly short-sighted. According to the United Nations, 6.3 million jobs should be created in solar power alone by 2030, with millions more in other areas of the green economy. So it’s not just about a temporary effort to create jobs in an economic downturn, it’s a permanent, global shift. And, yes, it does matter if a whole new major employment sector is created, and it just happens to become yet another field where women are marginalised.

The answer, then, can’t be to also fund jobs in “traditionally” female-dominated areas, in an effort to offset this – it’s to make a concerted effort to end this type of voluntary gender segregation in the workplace. It’s to make substantial changes so that green collar jobs aren’t jobs for the boys.

Photo by foreby, shared under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

andrew // Posted 5 January 2009 at 6:43 pm

Absolutely. Thank you for this post, to me it sums up what tearing down the patriarchy is all about. Now the hard part, doing it!

Naomi // Posted 6 January 2009 at 12:08 pm

Brilliant. So good to see in writing an example of what I think about ALL THE TIME. I’ve recently gotten into computers and started doing some I.T work and it’s a minefield. I haven’t come up against any blatant sexism but there’s so many subtle messages, body language, assumptions … and not just from men. The idea that men are stopping women from working in these ‘male’ sectors is too simplistic … whether or not Hirshman actually said what she’s quoted as saying, there are plenty of women who would. We have internalised the idea that we are less technologically minded than men. Luckily things are changing – SLOWLY. The women I occasionally see or talk to (usually one per company – by coincidence I’m sure!) are often in training or just starting out. This doesn’t say much for the past, but bodes well for the future.

Anne Onne // Posted 6 January 2009 at 4:07 pm

Very interesting topic. It’s particularly fascinating to note the many ways in which women have extra hassle in very subtle ways that aren’t easy to protect against. the problem is that since the ‘default’ is male in many ways, any method we make to start anything new that doesn’t try very hard to specifically counteract this will end up discriminating against women by nature of the status quo.

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