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Women in Renewables: Women in Solar Program

The Women in Solar program was set up by Beon to increase participation of women in the construction of renewable energy projects.

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Tell us about the Women in Solar Program

The women in solar program was set up by Beon Energy Solutions (Beon), with support from the labour hire company Chandler Macleod, to directly address the fact that participation rates of women in the construction side of renewable energy projects is very low – estimated to be approximately around two percent.

Beon has already seen a significant increase in female employees in the office environment, largely driven by increased renewable energy projects, but the same was not happening on the construction side.

Reasons for these low numbers include a long history of women not being given employment opportunities in construction, a lack of pathways for women into the industry and limited opportunities for advancement of women who do get a job, which leads to low retention.

Beon took the position that given the renewable energy industry is relatively new, there is a great opportunity to redress this imbalance and so set up the Women in Solar Program.

The Program seeks to increase the participation of women in the construction component of large-scale solar farms through:

Recruitment – active promotion of job opportunities on our solar projects and the facilitation of pre-employment skills and training programs, such as health and safety, to get the women job ready for construction roles.

Retention – ongoing mentoring, support and training for female workers on our projects to assist them to advance and continue to work in the industry.

Why was it important to Beon Energy Solutions to introduce this? What were you hoping to achieve?

In keeping with Beon’s goal of, ‘making a positive contribution in the communities and regions where we work,’ employing more women on renewable energy projects was considered not only the right thing to do, but good for the regional communities where we work.

But it was also considered good for business. Increased women’s participation expands the talent pool for renewable energy jobs, leading to increased productivity.

Was it successful? What feedback did you receive from the women in the first intake?

It has been successful. On Beon’s first couple of large-scale solar farms, the participation rates of women in the construction side of the projects was less than 5%. The women in solar program saw the numbers increase to 11% during the construction of Spark Infrastucture’s Bomen solar farm. And last year at Genex’ Jemalong Solar Farm that Beon built, the numbers of women onsite increased to 22%.

Beon’s productivity has increased with each new solar farm and this can be partly attributed to the increase in the numbers of women working on these projects.

Beon’s experience to date, shows that women in the workplace bring new perspectives, different skill sets, improve collaboration and contribute to a positive workplace culture.

Importantly, the benefits for the women have been great too.

Among the participants are Tracey Trainor, 39, a mother who had minimal work history but was eager to get back into the workforce.

“It has been really hard to get much of an opportunity after being out of work for so long, so Women in Solar has been amazing for me,” Tracey said.

For 65-year-old Aboriginal woman Lynette Toomey the Women in Solar program gave her a chance to get back into the workforce and try something new.

“I’ve been unemployed for the last five months and I’m so thankful that someone has looked past my age and given me a go,” Lynette said.

Some women were single mothers with limited work experience and so found it very hard to find an employee who would give them an opportunity to prove themselves. Now they have. And as a result, their self esteem has been enhanced and this combined with the increased income they have earned has had a positive impact not only on them, but their families.

As one of the participant’s in Beon’s first Women in Solar Program, Hayley Stear, said.

“It’s had a big impact on a lot of people, like one of my mates, Chloe, she is only 17 and it has built her confidence up a lot and it has a big impact on us, it has given us all the courage to step out, because a lot of us have been unemployed and single parents and it got us out working and back into society.”

Next steps from here? Will you be running the program again for different sites?

Beon are continuing to run this program across our different solar projects, always looking to build on and improve the program. Some of the women from the first program are now working on their third solar farm with Beon. And even if the construction of solar farms in their region begins to slow, they now have a proven track record of not only working on construction sites, but working well and so can go on and work on other construction sites or other work.

What advice would you give to other businesses looking to increase female representation and participation in their workplace?

Give it a go. As mentioned previously, it’s the right thing to do, good for regional projects and good for business.

As documented in a recent study by the Australian Clean Energy Council, ‘Clean Energy at Work,’ in 2019 there were 25,000 people employed in renewable energy projects and this number could increase to as many as 44,000 by 2025 – the majority of which will be in regional areas.

So increased participation of women in the renewable energy sector will be increasingly important as there will be a greater demand for quality workers.

This year’s IWD theme is ‘Choose to challenge’. How did this program challenge gender stereotypes in the workplace?

The gender stereotype that this program has challenged was the preconceived idea that women would not be able to handle the physical conditions and long work hours – 55 hours per week – required on a solar farm. These preconceived ideas were held not only by some men onsite, but the women themselves.

But it was in the doing, that the women proved to themselves and others, that they could do this work, just as well as, if not better than the men.

Obviously, there are some tasks that not all women are suited to, but that also applies to men, that is not all men are suited to all tasks either. As with everyone, the role of the supervisors and managers is to find those tasks that people are suited to. And the good thing about large scale solar farms, is that there are many different tasks.

As one of our site mangers, Denis Pana, said in relation to the women in solar program after the first pilot project, ‘Some of my best workers have come out of the women in solar program….and that’s honest . . . they all proved themselves to be awesome workers and I am more than happy for them to come on the next project.’

And finally, as Hayley Stear, one of the women who participated in the first program said in response to the question of what she would say to other women thinking of taking up a job on the construction side of renewable energy projects:

“Give it a go. It's physical work but they make it easy, like if you are struggling or you can’t do that particular job they will help you find a job you’re fitted for. They want you to work and they will help you find where you are fitted and where you are meant to be and I would encourage them to go for it. It’s been great.”

Beon have produced a short video on the project.