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Green jobs and green skills

Monday 18 – Wednesday 20 March 2024 I WP3302

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In 2021, women held 29% of green jobs[1] globally. While the number of green jobs is expected to rise sharply by 2030, women’s participation in green jobs is predicted to decrease to 25%. Many of the new jobs created in the transition to a green economy, such as construction jobs in the renewable energy sector, are short-term and often in different geographical locations to the non-green jobs which are lost, even within countries.

Gendered occupational segregation amplifies the risk that women will lose the most from the climate transition. Male-dominated sectors, such as electricity, construction and manufacturing, are likely to see the biggest increases in jobs over the next 10 years. Climate transitions will increase labour market disparities and gendered inequalities in the long term if they continue on this current trajectory.

Without rapid action, women may be locked out of high growth, and high productivity green sectors. There is evidence that when women enter male-dominated sectors, pay declines in that sector. Proactive investment is needed to ensure women can access jobs in high-value green sectors and are not replaced by male workers when sectors become higher value.

Women are less likely to have the skills required for the new jobs which become available in the climate transition. Women are also less likely to participate in upskilling opportunities, particularly during their most productive years, when they are likely to have the highest care responsibilities and therefore be time-poor. Women also often need to have higher skill levels to compete for the same roles as male counterparts due to gender biases and stereotypes.

Green jobs need to be decent jobs, as well as jobs that fit women’s own goals and gender norms, to be ‘quality’ green jobs. In some cases, women might prefer self-employment and/or informal work, for example if it fits better around their care responsibilities. Risks of sexual harassment in the workplace, which are heightened risks in male-dominated sectors, can factor into women not taking certain jobs. Skills development policies alone will be insufficient for women and girls to benefit from green economy opportunities. Policies must also address the structural barriers that women face

We need to look beyond primary beneficiaries of new green jobs, and instead take an ecosystem approach. In contexts of high levels of unemployment, people cannot select whether to take a green job or a non-green job. Even where green jobs are held by men, there can be wider benefits to women. For example, men might install solar panels, but women will often disproportionately benefit from those solar panels. For example, access to lighting will improve safety at night, allowing greater mobility. There are also economic opportunities in the supply chain, such as working with the raw materials needed to manufacture a solar panel.

Promising policies and approaches include:

  • Supporting women’s access to information within male-dominated sectors. Studies in Uganda and Ethiopia found that female entrepreneurs tend to confine themselves to traditionally female sectors due to a lack of networks and a lack of information, including unawareness about unequal pay for doing equal work. Women’s access to information might be supported by the establishment and operations of women’s networks within male dominated sectors; and public employment agencies which increase the transparency of labour market data and rollout initiatives to support women’s job searches.
  • Upskilling and skills certification projects aimed at women, which could be co-created with women and women’s rights organisations to understand the barriers to their participation, and supported by both the public and private sector.
  • Initiatives to overcome the barriers to women’s formal employment, such as childcare initiatives, safer transport initiatives, flexible hours and remote working.
  • Incentivisation of the private sector, such as through quotas and preferential procurement. For example,investors can stipulate targets for women’s participation at different levels of seniority. Incentives must be both ambitious and contextualised, at appropriate levels for the sector and country. Targets can also be set for groups such as people with disabilities and survivors of domestic violence.
  • Complement private sector incentivisation with regulation. Regulation can be used to set a baseline on acceptable behaviour by private sector companies, whilst also acting as an effective lever to start a more ambitious conversation with private sector companies on empowering women in their supply chain.
  • Using evidence to build the business case. Investors and the private sector are more likely to promote gender responsive green sectors if they can see the business benefit, for example in women’s higher productivity in the labour market. Showing what is working, whether that’s investing in the care sector or ensuring the timing of green skills training, will encourage investment.
  • The use of gender tagging and indicators by finance institutions, such as those used by the Green Environment Facility will ensure that gender is measured and progress is tracked over time.

Unpaid Care and Domestic Work

Women are often already doing low carbon work, whether or not this is captured by definitions of green jobs. Female-dominated sectors in the formal and informal economy, such as care work, healthcare, domestic work, and the services sector, are ‘low carbon’ sectors, and beneficial for both economies and societies. Women smallholder farmers practicing organic farming and using indigenous practices are also carrying out ‘green work’.

Globally, women spend 2.8 hours more per day on unpaid care and domestic work than men, although this is far higher in some countries. Care and domestic work, including childcare, care for people with disabilities and the elderly, is essential for individual health and wellbeing, and healthy productive societies. The formal care work sector is characterised by low pay and a high proportion of female workers. Care work is also often unpaid, with care delivered within households, and women and girls have an overwhelming responsibility for this work. There is a care crisis in the Global North, driven by an ageing population. Migrant women are filling the gaps in provision, with implications for care systems in Low and Middle-Income Countries.

The care economy, or ‘purple economy’, is a strategic economic sector, which creates jobs and tax payments. There are higher fiscal and employment multipliers from investment in the care sector than in physical infrastructure. For example, in OECD countries, investment in care has been found to generate more total employment, including indirect and induced employment, than investment in construction, especially for women, and almost as much employment for men. Despite this, there is insufficient investment in care and social services around the world limiting the productivity and earnings potential of those working in this sector.

Climate change increases the need for care work whilst also disrupting existing care arrangements. Climate change increases health issues associated with pollution and heat stress, increasing the need for care. Climate shocks can also make formal care arrangements, such as health infrastructure, inaccessible due to damage to infrastructure. In addition, care is rarely embedded within disaster risk management plans. Women are often relied upon to take up the increased responsibility of care work within households during shocks, acting in place of the state.

The climate transition creates an opportunity to rebuild the care system. Structural changes associated with the climate transition will include shifting norms, which could include men taking on more unpaid care and domestic work responsibilities and a shift in the responsibility of care work from individuals to the government and private sector.

Recognising care work as green work can unlock more climate finance for women’s formal economic activity. Climate finance can be directed at women working in green care sector jobs. Investment in the formal care sector also reduces the amount of time women need to spend on unpaid care and domestic work, freeing up their time to engage in other activities, for example engaging in upskilling for green jobs.Investing in the care economy as part of the green economy can present a triple win, benefiting global prosperity, gender equality and greener growth. Valuing, recognising and making care a defining component of socio-economic systems, policies and services can support the move to an economic model which addresses both social inequalities and the climate crisis.

[1] “Green jobs” are defined by ILO as economically viable employment that reduces environmental impacts to sustainable levels. This include employment that helps to promote and restore ecosystems and biodiversity, reduce consumption of energy, materials and resources and de-carbonise the economy, and minimise or avoid the generation of waste and pollution.


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