Why I am successful in the male dominated industry of solar

BusinessManagement

  • Author Rachel Anderson
  • Published January 29, 2022
  • Word count 1,687

Several times a month I receive inquiries on my LinkedIn page asking for recommendations on how I navigated a male dominated industry, such as solar. I have received a variety of questions from women who are trying to advance their careers in a male dominated industry, with this in mind I have compiled some of those questions and my answers into one article.

I would like to start off by saying that this is not a man bashing feminist article by any means. Throughout my career I have had several male mentors and have benefited from their knowledge. I would say the majority of the men that have discriminated against me due to my gender did so on an unconscious level. Does that make it right? Of course not but instead of tearing these men down we need to educate them. However at the same time there have been several instances of blatant discrimination and disrespect. I handled those particular individuals in exactly the same way, I educated them.

Before I go further, let me explain a little bit of my background. My career started several years ago in telecommunications. While I was pretty successful, I had no passion for the industry. While looking for new opportunities I saw a job posting for a solar project manager and I applied. Surprisingly I got the job with no experience. I quickly learned my responsibilities in the role and was pretty successful. However I soon realized that several people in my industry we’re not taking me seriously when I would gave input on needed changes or problems. I reasoned that this was because I just didn’t know enough. So I thought to myself if I try to learn and educate myself on every single aspect of this industry then I would be taken seriously. That started my journey and I began working my way up the corporate ladder. Today I am an executive in a very large solar company.

This leads to the number one question I am asked regularly. How did I do it? How did I go from knowing nothing about solar to being the vice president of a large solar company? My answer is simple, one word, knowledge. I one hundred percent believe that if I did not take the steps I am about to explain to you, there is no way I would be where I am today. In the beginning, I knew that I had what it takes to be in a leadership role, however when I pursued opportunities for growth, I was told I didn't have enough experience or enough knowledge or I hadn't been in the industry long enough.

I decided that I was not going to let that stop me. Every free moment I had away from work, I dove headfirst into understanding every single aspect of solar. I took online courses, I watched YouTube videos and I even spent my vacation days out in the field watching and learning the installation process. Eventually I worked in every capacity of my industry's operations side. I worked in design, installation, project management, site auditor and the service department. You name it, I spent some time learning it from the inside out.

I made myself the go-to person, you have a question go ask Rachel she’ll know the answer.

Ultimately that is how I broke into management. The company that I worked for let go of their operations manager and they had nobody that knew how to do the job except me. because made me acting operations manager until they found a replacement. But as they interviewed for the replacement they realized no one knew what I did and eventually gave me the job full time.

The second biggest question I get is how do I get myself taken seriously especially by colleagues that don’t respect me because of my gender?

The answer to that is, match the personality but always be respectful. Whether in my professional or personal life, I observe what type of personality an individual has and then match their energy. For instance if I’m talking to somebody who is more sensitive maybe more empathetic, I approach that person in the same fashion. On the other hand if somebody is direct and outspoken, I also match that but I do so in a respectful manner making sure to not be rude. People often observe your actions to see if you react in a disrespectful way, if they see that you speak up for yourself but do so respectfully, they are going to remember that. They’re going to remember that you didn’t back down but you also didn’t have to stoop to being rude. Even if that individual doesn’t take you seriously or respect you, people pay attention and they will start to talk about you positively among their peers and if you can gain the respect of your peers you can advance more freely into bigger roles within your company.

The third question I am asked the most is what is the key to your success?

The answer is simple, everybody else’s success. If your only concern is managing your own career and trying to advance regardless of anyone else, you might be successful but you also not be respected. You will be viewed as a dictator and someone who makes life miserable for others. I have worked for those types, everyone knows there is a difference between a boss and a leader, you have to decide which one you want to be a boss or leader. I want to be a leader. I want to help push and drive everyone around me to advance themselves in their careers or in life in anyway that they can if they have the drive to do so. At the end of the day if somebody who works for you falls flat on their face that can be a reflection of your leadership and your leadership style. Just like if they succeed that is also a reflection of your leadership style, so why wouldn’t you want every single person around you to succeed. When an employee is asked where do you see yourself in the future, they may say I want to be in your position. I do not take that as a threat, I take that as a challenge, a challenge to help them grow to get where I am because in the future I want to have grown. So why not help people get to where I am so that I can continue to grow.

The other thing that’s important is that we need to meet people where they are, not everybody wants to grow into a leadership role, not everybody wants to be a manager. Some people are content with being right where they’re at, they’re very good at their job and they enjoy their job. If they have no desire to grow past that job, why push them into something they don't want? Management is not for everyone, and that’s ok. Instead I need to regularly recognize their hard work make sure I increase their pay alongside inflation. I never tell anybody that there is a cap on their earning potential. It makes no sense to me why people will take leadership roles just because they need to make more money and they’ve been capped on what they can make in their previous role and then hate the job that they’re doing. They’re not going to be good for their employees because they’re unhappy. It’s OK to be comfortable and not want to grow and we need to acknowledge that as leaders.

The last question that I am often asked is if you could give one piece of advice to other women trying to find their way in this industry what would it be?

My answer is not to be afraid of confrontation but also do not seek it. Be passionate but not overly passionate because it will come off as drama. Whether we like it or not, whether the industry wants to recognize it or not, the reality is if we cry, we’re too sensitive, if we are passionate and outspoken we are looked at as crazy, if we’re mad and vocal we are a bi*#h so the key to a successful woman in this industry is to balance all of it. It’s OK to cry but I will never do it in front of any of my colleagues. I am known as firm but fair. I stand my ground and I am not afraid of confrontation but I don’t raise my voice. I don’t act like a child, I state the facts, I state my reasoning and I wait. I would say about 80% of the time I come out looking better than the other party because I don’t hit below the belt so to speak, as I said it’s a balancing act. It took me years to be able to master this stuff and I’m still working on it every day and I am far from perfect. I make mistakes often, I always say if you’re going to fail, fail fast so that you can learn from it. I have had moments of insecurities, self-doubt and I didn’t always follow this advice, but I have had amazing individuals both men and women lift me up, give me advice, remind me of my value and I am forever grateful to them.

I don’t share this information because I think I’m the greatest thing that has ever lived, far from it. I’m just a simple woman with a hard work ethic and drive to be successful in life. I’m no better or worse than anybody else but if my words of encouragement can help another woman stand her ground or grow her career then I’m 100% OK with sharing the information because as I said if you are successful and then I am successful.

Rachel attended Rio Salado College for business management while building her career in solar. She soon became recognized as Arizona's Most Influential Woman in Solar in 2018 and MVP of Operations in 2015 and 2021. Her love for solar helped her complete well over 10,000 renewable energy projects. Rachel holds a QSSI certification through Solar Power International. Rachel and worked her way up to Vice President of one of the nations fastest growing solar company in the nation.

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