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Green Economy Moving Forward: Efforts Needed to Incorporate Women

by Tonia Bui and Anlan Zhang

An upcoming IWPR study, titled Green Jobs: Creating Access to Quality Employment for Women in the Green Economy, shows that women can earn higher wages by pursuing non-traditional jobs in the growing green economy. Despite the chance for higher earnings, female workers remain underrepresented in the green sector.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has conducted two surveys to establish the number of people working in green jobs. Its 2010 "Green Goods and Services" survey only counted jobs "that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources" that are sold to other organizations or individuals (or provided for free by public sector or not-for-profit organizations), finding 3.1 million people work in such jobs. The 2011 BLS "Green Technologies and Practices" survey focused on "jobs in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources," finding 855,000 workers are involved in such activities. Neither survey collected information about the gender of green workers.

IWPR´s study includes detailed state-by-state estimates of the gender distribution of green jobs and finds that, while women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, women workers are roughly 30 percent of green employment (2008–2010). The report also indicates that gender imbalance in green sectors varies considerably between states: In Washington, D.C., green jobs are almost as likely to be held by women as they are by men, but in North Dakota, women are estimated to hold fewer than one in four green jobs.

IWPR found that women workers’ median earnings are higher in the green economy than in the overall economy. Among 33 states, female workers gained a "green premium" of at least $1,000 per year (among women with full-time year-round earnings in 2008–2010). Additionally, the gender wage gap in green jobs was smaller than in the economy overall in all but eight states. In the green sector, women made 82 cents instead of 77 cents to the dollar earned by men in the overall economy.

The green sector includes a higher proportion of workers with less than a four-year college degree earning family-sustaining incomes, compared with the overall economy. Arguably, green jobs can serve as a viable career option for women workers with lower educational backgrounds by offering above-average wages and more secure career pathways.

Although women make up nearly three of ten workers in the green economy, their representation is much smaller within the occupations most likely to grow in numbers due to the greatest demand. Energy conservation investmentsin weatherization and building retrofits, for example, will significantly boost demand for occupations such as heating and air conditioning technicians, electricians, and carpenters. Currently, women are fewer than five percent of the workers within these occupations. Clearly, greater efforts are needed to recruit women to these jobs in order for more of the new jobs in these areas to go to women.

IWPR’s findings suggest that more work is needed to promote the potential benefits of green jobs to women and to close the gender gap in employment in the sector. In fact, among 40 state-level reports on the green economy, the gender gap in green jobs is largely unacknowledged and unaddressed, with only two reports explicitly addressing gender inequality. The good news is that there are well-established practices to attract and support women in non-traditional jobs. If explicit attention is given to the gender imbalance in key green industries, green investment could benefit women significantly and help them move into nontraditional jobs. 


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