Solar urged to embrace diversity after fresh racism lawsuit

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Share on email
Email
Challenging the solar sector on low diversity levels is

US solar representatives have slammed discrimination of all forms in the wake of the latest racism controversy, with figures showing low diversity continues to plague the wider industry.

The actions described in the new class-action against PV player Momentum Solar are “contrary to the core values and beliefs” of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), said Abigail Ross, CEO of the trade body.

“The company named in this case will have to speak for itself, but let us be very clear: all forms of racism and discrimination are abhorrent and intolerable … We reject acts of hatred of any kind,” Ross told PV Tech when contacted in the past few hours.

Her words follow formal accusations on 6 May of workplace racism within Momentum Solar, a residential PV specialist servicing installations in New York, Texas, California and other states with a workforce of over 1,200.

In filings before US federal courts, six black former employees allege being subjected to frequent racial abuse from white staff at a New York warehouse. The 46-page class-action, brought by law firm Wigdor LLP, claims black workers were paid less, assigned “less desirable” jobs and in cases fired when complaining of discrimination to managers.

Momentum Solar had not responded to PV Tech’s questions by the time this article was published but in statements aired by the New York Times and others, the firm vowed to “vigorously defend” claims it said have “no basis in law or fact”. The six complainants were terminated for “legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons”, the company argued.

White male dominance among senior executives

The Momentum Solar controversy, following similar legal action against Vivint Solar last year, erupted just hours before the SEIA released figures underscoring the extent of solar’s diversity problem.

Together with The Solar Foundation (TSF), the association surveyed hundreds of employers and employees and estimated that women accounted for 26.3% of the industry’s 242,000-strong workforce last year, while Hispanic or Latino (16.9%) Asian (8.5%) and African American (7.6%) staff of all genders were less represented. At a respective 88% and 80%, the dominance of white and male employees was even more pronounced at the senior executive level.

Whilst 71% of all surveyed felt valued overall, the outlook soured when drilling down into working conditions. Polled women made 74 cents for every dollar earned by men; they were less likely to report satisfaction with their salary and role or a belief they had climbed up the career ladder.

Hiring practices could, the study suggested, partly be the culprit of low diversity levels. According to the document, solar’s reliance on professional and personal networks puts people of colour – less likely to benefit from such a prior connection – at a disadvantage. Non-white women feel, in particular, they are asked to evidence their competence to an extent not faced by other demographics.

A recipe to improve the track record

As the SEIA was keen to stress, the solar industry is hardly alone in facing diversity issues. However, the pressure to embrace what CEO Ross describes as a “cultural change” is likely to tighten as the fast-growing sector surges to become a mainstream employer in the US, Australia and others.

Again joining forces with TSF, the trade body put forward a blueprint this week for solar players keen to improve their track record. According to their guidance, inclusion can be fostered through a five-step process, starting by diversity goals based on what each firm can accomplish.

Once the bar has been set, the SEIA and TSF said, it can only be reached if it is embraced by the management and the broader workforce. Work must ensue to assess the firm’s diversity gap via surveys and interviews, and then close it through sounder, more creative hiring and retention practices.

See here for more background on the class-action against Momentum Solar and here for SEIA/TSF's diversity figures and guidance

Read Next

March 23, 2021
Lightsource bp has been selected to build, own and operate seven solar arrays in Pennsylvania that will provide nearly half of the state government’s electricity.
March 16, 2021
US solar smashes quarterly deployment record as 8GWdc installed in Q4 2020.
March 4, 2021
A round-up of the latest solar project news from around the world, including updates from Hanwha Q CELLS and Capital Dynamics.
March 1, 2021
Xcel Energy has announced plans to double its renewables and battery storage capacity in Colorado by 2030, as the utility progresses with efforts to reach 100% carbon-free electricity generation across its service area by 2050.
February 23, 2021
Dozens of chief executives in the renewable energy sector have demanded that US President Joe Biden repeal the tariff hike Donald Trump’s Administration placed on solar panel imports last year.
February 15, 2021
US utility Duke Energy should refile its 2020 integrated resource plan (IRP) to effectively allow for the diversity benefits of solar and storage to be captured, it has been argued by energy consulting firm E3.

Subscribe to Newsletter

Upcoming Events

Solar Media Events
April 13, 2021
Solar Media Events
April 20, 2021
Upcoming Webinars
April 28, 2021
4:00 - 4:30 PM CET