#WomenInSolar…Meet Danae JohnsonContributor: Swinerton Blogger | July 06, 2016
With job growth rates at twelve times greater than the rest of the economy, the U.S. solar industry now provides more jobs than both oil and natural gas combined. While nearly 209,000 Americans are employed by about 8,000 solar businesses in the United States—like the energy industry as a whole— women continue to be underrepresented within the renewable energy space.
Companies with more equal gender representation tend to outperform companies with too few women on the team, yet the percentage of women working in the solar industry is estimated to be as low as 20%. To mitigate the risks associated with a lack of diversity in the workplace, a number of groups have emerged to support pioneering women in the solar industry and to encourage young women to pursue STEM careers in renewable energy.
A primary reason cited for the low number of women entering and ultimately staying in solar careers is a lack of role models within the companies in which they work. As members of the solar industry, Swinerton Renewable Energy (SRE) has the ability to address this absence by creating an open conversation that shares the experiences, lessons, and successes of women working in solar.
With that goal in mind, SRE would like to introduce one of the newest members of our SOLV® Operations & Maintenance (O&M) team, Danae Johnson. Working as the Operational Performance Manager, she bridges the gap between project management and technology throughout the solar plant commissioning process. With a background in Information Management, her ability to “speak both languages” allows her to connect teams with varying skill sets to fulfill client requests and efficiently commission projects.
Before joining SRE, Danae worked at EDF Renewable Energy, a French company specializing primarily in large-scale wind projects. Excited by the rapid developments in PV technology and the potential for growth in the solar industry, she made the decision to shift from wind to solar energy.
Paraphrased below are Danae’s answers to questions pertaining to women in the solar energy space. Have your own question for a woman in solar? Leave it in the comments below!
Q: Companies with more women on the team tend to perform better than businesses with too few women. Why do you think that is?
Having held jobs in multiple segments of the renewable energy industry, Danae recognizes the importance of bringing more women into the workplace. In her role, she finds women tend to possess organizational skills that allow for greater follow up and accountability, both of which are essential as a project manager overseeing others.
Q: One reason given for the lack of women entering and/or staying in STEM careers is a lack of role models. Who has been a role model or mentor in shaping your professional career?
Not surprisingly, many challenges stem from the traditionally male-dominated hierarchies set within organizations. A lack of female role models not only affects the number of women entering careers in renewable energy, but also women evaluating their potential for growth within their current career path in solar.
Danae suggests that culture may play a partial role in the gender imbalance within STEM careers, citing previous opportunities to work with several high-ranking women from the French side of EDF Renewable Energy. In general, she feels that European companies tend to be more progressive when it comes to diversity, with a greater number of women holding leadership roles from companies’ inception.
Q: Do you find that there are also advantages to being a woman in a male-dominated field?
While her career in renewable energy comes with challenges, she also admits that working in a male-dominated environment sometimes has its advantages. “People tend to stop and listen,” said Danae when asked about the feedback she receives from her coworkers. She finds that the men on her team are quick to recognize her intelligence and qualifications, and appreciate the change in a “typical” male group structure. Though more efforts are needed to address the imbalance within STEM careers as a whole, she feels that the solar industry is heading in the right direction overall.
Q: What methods or solutions do you see being effective at getting more women in STEM/renewable energy careers?
Danae places first priority on peer-to-peer mentorship to provide support and encouragement to women who show an interest or aptitude for science, technology, engineering, and math. This mentorship can begin from an early age, through college and into the workplace. She also sees an opportunity to promote the positive impacts renewable energy has on the world, in that it provides a feel-good aspect to the role.
Q: What is your favorite or most rewarding part about working in renewable energy or, more specifically, about working with SOLV?
Renewable energy and solar, especially, is a cutting-edge industry with a lot of opportunity to see and experience rapid advancements, technological and otherwise. While Danae enjoys the environmental impact of the work she does, she also finds it satisfying to see more and more companies realize that renewable energy is profitable from a business sense too.