This is a manifesto, and it is personal.  Candidly, it is strategic vision for people in solar, not just women.  Solar is a young industry and we need to foment expertise of many people in order to overcome all the obstacles still in front of us – all of us are part of the future. That aside, women have a lot in common with the solar industry simply because of the struggles that women have gone through in some cases, just to survive. 

The message is simple:  find what you love, do what you love, take risks, be fearless, overcome the obstacles placed in front of you, and do not give up if the obstacles overcome you.

Women in business have trod a long hard road, but, the road for women of all ages and circumstances has been hard.  Consider that in 1872, Susan B. Anthony was prosecuted for illegally voting. In July 1878, Wyoming, where women had the right to vote, was admitted as a state and that same year a constitutional amendment, (which did not pass for over 40 years) was introduced stating, “the right of citizens to vote shall not be abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Women finally won the right to vote in 1920.  Perseverance is key – it has been key for the solar industry for almost 40 years and it has been key for women for a lot longer.

In business women are still in the minority in terms of executive leadership. In the U.S., women are underrepresented politically.   In 1998, my first year in solar, there were very few women in solar.  Since that time, representation in the solar ranks by women has risen along with the megawatts installed – but, comparatively speaking, we are not at gigawatt level in terms of representation yet.

We – as women – have a lot in common with the solar industry. We have struggled in obscurity, been underappreciated, underused, and under-supported. We forget that the opportunities we have now, though challenges remain, are available to us because so many others before us fought hard for their own right to thrive, to succeed – or just to try, fail and then try, try again. We are lucky to be part of an industry that was forged on struggle and where so many battles remain.  The solar industry is at the beginning – still young, still so much to prove.  We, as women, are part of solar’s future and the solar story will be ours too. We are the future CEOs, scientists, engineers, writers, business developers, analysts, and system integrators – as women the trials, tribulations and hard won successes of those before us are part of our DNA. In the U.S., there was a time when women could not own property and marriage was often a land deal –imagine that, and while imagining it, think of what struggles like these can teach solar.  We are teachers. 

Women have not always been supportive of each other in business – the obstacles have been daunting, and sometimes the helping hand offered by another woman is grudgingly given.  It is time to reach out freely – frankly, for our industry’s sake.  The solar industry has enjoyed amazing growth but a correction is coming and the talent that women have as survivors – it is in  our DNA – will be needed by the solar industry and soon.

The vision for women in solar is simple, we should be industry and company leaders and we should never forget the hard fight that all the women before us went through so that we could have opportunities – because the solar industry needs that visceral, gut memory.  We need to start companies and run companies.  We need to run companies that reflect the hard won successes we have achieved. Here are some suggestions for women who will run – or the people who will run – companies of the solar future:

1) Get experts to share expertise

2) Cut everything BUT people and do not over hire

3) Communicate openly, always about everything

4) Eliminate cliques — particularly upper management cliques

5) Eliminate titles — it is a work place not a kingdom

6) Pass out benefits and perks evenly — today’s junior staffer may be tomorrow’s industry leader

7) Foment and treasure passion and create an atmosphere where expertise and passion thrive

8) Be prepared — read, think and analyze — learn something every day

9) Be open to feedback and embrace bad news — use it

10) Make a friend of failure, it ain’t that bad, and it will point you in the right direction

11) Fear is part of it, face it, walk through it, and use it

12) Change simply for the sake of change is silly, real breakthroughs come through careful thorough analysis and hard work

13) A strong work ethic is crucial — exhausting though it may be

14) Have a clear vision and set appropriate goals and benchmarks to help you achieve it

15) Love what you are doing but find a market for it

16) And it is worth repeating … be passionate and a true believer in what you do