The solar photovoltaic (PV) industry is the leading employer in the global renewable energy sector in terms of total number of employees and gender balance, finds a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The solar PV industry employed 4.3 million people full-time in 2021, making up one-third of all global energy jobs, says IRENA. The research also notes that while the share of women in wind and oil and gas was 21% and 22%, respectively, solar PV had a 40% female workforce in 2021, which was also higher than the 32% average proportion of women employed across all renewable sectors.

Within solar PV, women hold nearly half (47%) of manufacturing roles. The report found the greatest gender imbalance among solar PV installers, of which just 12% of roles were occupied by women in 2021.

Although the higher proportion of women in solar PV is in part driven by the fact that they make up 58% of the industry’s administrative positions, the report emphasises this is not the reason for its better performance than other sectors on gender equality. The authors write: “The [large] share of women in administration is due primarily to the patterns of employment in large firms (which have a major impact on the global average share of employment of women in administration).”

The authors observe that decentralised solar PV involves women in both the delivery of solutions and as beneficiaries. Women held 35% of non-technical positions in 2021, including marketing, sales, distribution, and product assembly and installation, which was mostly driven by off-grid solar PV deployments.

The report further evaluates the role of women in the solar PV industry based on a global survey of industry professionals conducted in 2021. It notes the most important barriers are perceptions of gender roles, lack of fair and transparent policies, as well as cultural and social norms.

To level the playing field for women in the industry, it is crucial to increase awareness of gender equality, improve national and workplace policies, and provide additional training, networking and mentorship opportunities, says IRENA.

“A just and inclusive energy transition is not only about energy access. It is about making sure everyone is included and benefits from the process,” said Francesco La Camera, director-general of IRENA, at the launch of the report.