Since 2018, a program that brings together women in North Carolina’s clean energy industry has grown steadily from a handful of members a few years ago to more than 500 today. But for Jordan Jones, who has been leading the Women in Clean Energy (WICE) initiative for North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA), an event this past February marked a turning point.
More than 130 women attended the “Galentine’s Day” party, a reference to Leslie Knope’s annual confab on the TV comedy Parks and Recreation. Jones listened to them talk about how important the program was and how excited they were to be a part of it.
“It wasn’t until then that I realized the reach WICE was having,” said Jones, who is NCSEA’s Manager of Communications, Engagement, and Equity. “It’s really exciting.”
The WICE program started in 2016 with a donation from Maria Kingery, co-founder of the solar installation company Southern Energy Management and a longtime supporter of NCSEA. North Carolina is ranked second in the nation for cumulative solar capacity installed, and is home to more than 43,200 clean energy jobs—a number that has been on the rise. Across the nation, women make up a small but important percentage of this group—23 to 32 percent versus 47 percent of the overall workforce—across a gamut of roles: engineers, field technicians, lawyers, accountants, advocates, and others. The idea was to create space for them to network, support each other, and grow their careers.
Kingery’s donation established the program, but it needed attention—and also needed to gain traction and members—when Jones joined NCSEA in late 2017. “I took on the project and really made it my own,” she said.
She started by hosting networking events across the state, gathering information on the audience and their needs. Then WICE began a mentorship program, pairing 38 women with each other at career levels that ranged from students to those with 25 to 30 years in the field. Another 50 women have signed up beyond the initial group. Participants agreed to set goals for a year of mentorship and meet once per quarter, in person if possible.
“It’s cool that NCSEA is [helping to] bring us together to network, make connections, and forge a stronger role for women in the movement, so that the next generation of women that come along can find even more diverse paths within clean energy industries,” said Hannah Wiegard, a marketing associate at Ipsun Solar, during one of WICE’s networking events.
Recently, the program partnered with Energy Media to produce a series of video profiles to highlight the various roles of women in the industry (watch the first of the series, here and here).
Citing the idea that you can’t be what you can’t see, Jones said, “It’s important to let the women working in North Carolina’s clean energy industry tell their own stories. From there, it’s our job to amplify their voices.”
WICE is only one part of Jones’ role at NCSEA, which also includes managing the group’s programmatic and organizational communications. Sometimes that makes for a juggling act. But she has plans to grow the program even further, adding leadership training tailored to women in the clean energy industry. And she says the entire NCSEA team has been nothing but supportive of WICE, adding that they all have learned about the terms “manel” and “wanel”—all-male or all-white discussion panels—and enthusiastically adopted the terms. She wants to use the current momentum to bring even more diverse women’s voices to the industry, and feels WICE offers one venue to do just that.
“Of the organizations I’ve worked for,” she said, “NCSEA is by far the most willing to take risks to be more equitable and diverse. WICE wouldn’t be what it is without the support of the full NCSEA team—and I’m so grateful.”
“North Carolina has many talented women who already are making their mark on the clean energy industry, and it is a growing field for women looking for new career opportunities and growth potential,” said Jennifer Bumgarner, Energy Foundation’s Senior Regional Director for the Southeast. “As a WICE participant, it’s great to see a platform to support and connect women in clean energy, regardless of where we may be in our careers. We’re proud of the work NCSEA is doing to expand WICE and to raise the visibility of these opportunities for women in our state.”