Workplace diversity certainly isn’t a new topic. But it is an important one. And one we take to heart at Sunrun.
Inclusivity has been a core motivator since Sunrun co-founders Lynn Jurich and Ed Fenster pioneered the “solar as a service” model in 2007 to make solar’s benefits available to more people in more places. And it remains a priority for us today. But as seems to be the case pretty much universally, serious obstacles exist in the pursuit of undoing status quo practices that have prevented more diverse and inclusive workplaces.
The good news is that progress is being made across the board. And by “board,” we mean in the boardroom. According to Harvard Business Review, “nearly 95% of directors agree that diversity brings unique perspectives to the boardroom, while 84% believe it enhances board performance.”1 It’s a little surprising those numbers aren’t even closer to 100% given that the benefits of diversity are both intuitive and data-supported.2 But it’s a good sign that the vast majority of leadership at the world’s leading companies see the value of diversity.
The bad news is that the actual numbers for diversity on those boards are lagging behind by quite a ways, with women holding only 24% of S&P board seats.3 The same is true of CEOs: “only 6% of S&P 500 CEOs are women and just 10% are ethnic or racial minorities.”4 So while there’s broad support for workplace diversity in the abstract, which is a notable improvement from generations past, there is still work to do to see that diversity plays out in practice.
Diversity In The Solar Industry
Research indicates similar trends within the solar industry: many are talking about improving diversity but the actual makeup of leadership within the solar workforce still represents a pretty homogeneous group. As of 2019, 88% of senior executives in the solar industry were white and 80% were men.5
Some positive actions driving toward change include Green Tech Media’s6 creation of the Renewables Forward Initiative7 to improve diversity with the express goal, “to identify concrete ways to work together to create the change we all recognize is needed, commit to this change and drive a larger industry wide partnership between CEOs and organizations.” Non-profit organizations like Women in Solar Energy (WISE) are also furthering this cause—their mission is to “advance justice, equality, diversity, & inclusion in all aspects of the solar energy industry.”8
The SolutionsProject, an independent group dedicated to helping solve the climate crisis, specifically focused on this issue as part of a 2019 report analyzing over 2,300 news and opinion articles about renewable energy. In their words, “we were curious as to what extent articles would quote women as spokespeople, reference issues of equity, or talk about communities of color.” Here were some of their findings:
- Clean energy news articles quoting women doubled: women were quoted in 42% of clean energy articles in 2019, up from 21% the year before.
- Communities of color were not well represented: despite being disproportionately impacted by climate change and fossil fuels, communities of color were referenced in only 2% of articles.
- Equity and justice were not top of mind: only 6% of the articles referenced issues related to equity and justice.9
Diversity is a nuanced issue with a lot of variables contributing to the less-than-desirable data. But the solar industry is making some strides and doing good work to build up diversity in our ranks. And at Sunrun, we aim to lead (not just follow) this surge because we believe in making a positive impact and aren’t satisfied with lip service when it comes to harnessing the value of diversity for a mission that we believe will literally change the world.
Diversity at Sunrun
Diversity of thought and experience is critical to the innovation and development of new ideas and, as a human-centered company, we felt the best way to improve our success in this regard was by adding leadership focused on this endeavor. In 2020, we hired a new Head of Diversity, a new Head of Talent Management, and introduced a series of employee and manager programming to support the belief that everyone has a responsibility to make Sunrun and our communities more inclusive.
Achieving a more diverse workplace begins with understanding our current demographics. In the fourth quarter of 2020, Sunrun launched a Personal Information Self-ID campaign to encourage employees to voluntarily share their unique identities by updating their gender and race/ethnicity. We also added new fields for gender identity, sexual orientation, and pronouns. This effort helped us better understand our employee population.
As of December 31, 2020, women comprised 44% of Sunrun’s Board of Directors and 50% of our executive management team. Our organizational leadership included approximately 21% women, and approximately 23% of all Sunrun employees are women.
We took efforts in 2020 to create internal content aimed at further cultivating an inclusive work environment. New programming included a monthly “Candid Conversation” series and podcast episodes.
- Candid Conversations are a monthly livestream for all employees to encourage and guide discussions about difficult topics in a psychologically safe environment. Some of the topics in 2020 included ‘Microaggressions,’ ‘Being Black in Corporate America,’ ‘Environmental Justice,’ and ‘Disability at Work.’
- Podcasts were started to help bring content to our frontline employees in a format that is easier for them to engage. Some of the topics in 2020 included ‘Pronouns, Gender Identity & Gender Expression’ and ‘Code Switching’. In addition, all of the monthly livestream Candid Conversations are converted to podcast format for employees who couldn’t attend.
Employee Resource Groups
This year, Sunrun formed six Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that have grown to a membership of approximately 850 employees as of December 31, 2020. The groups include Sunrun’s Asian+, Black+, Latinx+, Pride, Veterans and Women’s ERGs. These ERGs promote connection among our employees and assists in the development and facilitation of programming that supports personal and professional development while also supporting the company’s objectives. Some examples include an internal career showcase to encourage career growth, organizing Candid Conversations, and supporting religious and cultural holidays.