While I was in New Orleans for the Green Matters Conference, I met the most extraordinary woman. Simone Bruni, better known in the Crescent City as the “Demo Diva,” took her personal tragedy from Hurricane Katrina and turned it into a woman-owned and run demolition business, complete with hot pink front loader and giant dumpster.
I have written and spoken extensively on the lack of women in green. There are many reasons for it, I suppose. Green, particularly Green Building, is really a version of construction, and women represent only 3-6% of the building trades as a whole. But the lesson from the Demo Diva is that there is nothing really stopping women from becoming involved, even in the male dominated fields like demolition and construction! On the softer side, there is certainly no reason that women cannot be green building lawyers, sustainable investment advisors or involved in the marketing and selling of green products. Given that the economy is in a fragile recovery, green and sustainable businesses are leading the areas of growth. There are many programs specifically designed to help women acquire these skills. (A listing is available here.) Green Business Women is a nice site with resources for women looking to turn their business green.
But the hard truth is that this is a time with little demand and few jobs. What should women who have a passion or interest in sustainability do?
The first thing is to upgrade their skills—while the pressure is off, pursue training and education. If you were always tinkering or have a head for math, now is a great time to become an engineer. Villanova even has an online Master’s in Sustainable Engineering and Control Engineering.
The second is to have chutzpah. No job? Start a new company, like the Demo Diva did. There are programs which are designed to help women entrepreneurs, though I would argue that there are far too few of them. The Small Business Association has a Women-Owned Business section.
As a country, we should look at what we can do to support women in green. One Horatio Alger story, even one as inspiring at the Demo Diva, is not enough. Small business loans for women starting green businesses would be a good start. These loans could come either from the government, of course. Or they could come from more established green businesses and businesses interested in becoming more green with a clear idea of the types of goods and services they need.
WalMart has done this to some extent through the WalMart Foundation. WalMart awarded a grant of $400,000 to the Business and Professional Women’s (BPW) Foundation to launch the “Moving from Red to Green: Working Women in the Green Economy” initiative. The initiative, aimed at connecting women to the green economy by providing green job training established a pilot program by awarding $60,000 grants to four organizations to expand their capacity to train women for green jobs. But $400,000 is a small sum, and training women for green jobs is not the only way to invest in women’s green future. WalMart, or a company like it, could create a revolving loan fund, in which entrepreneurial grants are given to women-owned green businesses, and the interest from the loans goes back into the fund to loan to new women-owned green businesses.
Women comprise 51% of the population and make most of the family purchasing decisions. According to a study by Aaron M. McCright from Michigan State University, women are more concerned than men with global warming. Women in green business thus presents a potentially a fertile opportunity (forgive the pun) for employment, economic sucess and saving the planet. I hope that writing about these issues starts a conversation among women who are already involved in green and sustainability. We should be supporting each other to succeed in green and in business.