BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Creating an Inclusive Green Economy

Posted by egehl on September 16, 2010

The rebuilding process in New Orleans since the 2005 storms is considered ground zero for every major social, economic, educational and environmental challenge facing this country, and how to create innovative solutions.  One of those solutions has undoubtedly been the burgeoning of the green economy and subsequent green jobs that have helped reinvigorate the city’s workforce.

One of the ways the city has addressed its environmental and economic challenges is by creating green jobs through the investment of rebuilding affordable, environmentally friendly homes in the areas most devastated neighborhoods.   Before Hurricane Katrina Louisiana lacked a green jobs sector but the mass destruction of the city’s housing stock opened up a prime opportunity to recreate communities in a more sustainable, energy efficient way. 

A variety of cutting edge non-profits and programs have arisen over the past five years including Brad Pitt’s Make it Right Foundation, which plans to build 150 homes in the Lower Ninth Ward, a low income neighborhood that has been slow to recover in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. 

In addition Global Green is also working to educate New Orleans residents about renewable energy solutions and is building a sustainable village in the Lower Ninth Ward that will consist of 5 single-family homes, an 18-unit apartment building, and a community and climate action center.  By building environmentally conscious homes in low-income neighborhoods it incorporated people traditionally left out of the sustainable conversation, and opened up positive opportunities for them. 

Building these types of homes is just one way we can create jobs while helping the environment at the same time in an innovative and proactive way.  Examples of other activities include making buildings more energy efficient, expanding and improving mass transit, updating the national electric grid, and developing three types of renewable energy sources: wind, solar, and biomass fuels.

A strong green workforce is a viable way to stabilize our nation’s economy and help turn back the soaring unemployment rate.  All of this sounds promising — we clean up the environment, control global warming and create an entirely new sector of employment while we’re at it. 

However any plan for job creation must be inclusive to both men and women especially since women are entering the workforce at a rapid pace.  In fact, recent research states that women now make up half of the workforce and will soon surpass men as layoffs continue to impact men disproportionately.  Therefore all fields must incorporate women to have a robust workforce. 

Often women are disregarded or left out of opportunities to seek “nontraditional” work.  When women enter the workforce they can be stereotyped and automatically pushed toward certain areas of work such as education, social work or nursing.  It is a myth that all women want to engage in only these types of careers.  If given the right tools and education women can thrive in any field. 

Luckily green careers have started to be more inclusive of women. The environmental field used to be only focused on jobs in science and engineering, where women have been historically underrepresented.  But now the view has broadened and we’ve realized that many more careers are undoubtedly connected to the environment such as public health, marine wildlife or global environmental policy. 

Opportunities are popping up for women to go headfirst into environmental careers.  This means that women can pursue new trainings and education to build on their current skill set, or learn an entirely new field. 

However the focus cannot only be on “green collar” jobs that an elite few can fill.  There must also be an emphasis on employment opportunities that can meet the needs of those with a high school education.  However unfortunately segments of the green workforce, such as manufacturing or construction, have historically discriminated against women thus shutting them out of potential opportunities.  This needs to change so that women of any education or experience level can pursue all aspects of the green workforce. 

Women are excited about the potential of green jobs and want an equal opportunity to pursue this line of work.  However there must be assistance available to help women connect the dots between what opportunities exist out there, and how they can reach their goals toward securing a good, green job.  BPW Foundation’s pilot project, Moving from Red to Green: Working Women in the Green Economy, is doing just that. 

This initiative will explore the demand for green jobs for women and determine what programs and services can successfully prepare and link women with the jobs and the companies that will best suit their needs.  The result will be moving women from unemployment, or under-employment, to providing them with access to sustainable job options and the skills and support they need to succeed.  To learn more please visit the BPW Foundation website.

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