Women are helping lead the renewable energy transition in Ontario

Lisa Oelke
May 26, 2016
By Lisa Oelke
WiRE field trip. Courtesy WiRE.
WiRE field trip. Courtesy WiRE.
May 26, 2016 - Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE) is a not-for-profit volunteer group brought together by co-founders and co-chairs Rebecca Black and Joanna Osawe in 2013 to educate and enable women to become more active in renewable energy development in Ontario. WiRE forges partnerships with a spectrum of renewable energy industry associations, professional women from across the energy sector and academic providers.

WiRE programming includes educational field trips (open to men and women), monthly networking meetings, an awards recognition program, student mentoring and bursaries, communications and engagement initiatives. The group is inclusive, and educates on all renewable energy technologies as well as emerging technologies.

Completely volunteer-run, WiRE credits its success to a number of outstanding volunteers, partners, sponsors and industry supporters. The group is organized by the WiRE Advisory Committee, which is a group of amazing women from all different spectrums of the renewable energy industry with a common objective: to ensure inclusion in the renewable energy field.

The monthly WiRE newsletter is distributed to 950+ men and women, and interest in WiRE initiatives has seen rapid growth. WiRE field trips are extremely popular and well-attended. Both men and women are invited to sign up to build their knowledge about energy utilities, technologies and research. In fact, about 25% of participants in 2015 were men working in the sector.

In 2015, WiRE hosted sold-out trips to the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), Whites Lane MicroGrid (Woodstock Hydro) and 2MW Minto Flywheel System (NRStor). Plans for 2016 include experienced technical presentations, facilities tours, Q&As with trip hosts, followed by a networking lunch.

The WiRE monthly Toronto networking meet-ups engaged a record turnout of over 250 women in 2015. Those in attendance heard from esteemed speakers on topics of interest to the energy sector, and made new connections in an environment that garners consistently positive feedback for its low-pressure, intimate format.

WiRE has actively participated in tradeshow events hosted by the Association of Power Producers of Ontario (APPrO), Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), Canadian Solar Industry Association (CanSIA) and Ontario FIT Forum, with interactive booths and speaking engagements. Visitors to the WiRE booth at these events are expressing a sincere interest in diversifying their workforces and accessing the best talent regardless of gender. They are looking to WiRE to introduce them to today’s up-and-comers, and connect them to established professionals in the energy sector.

This past year WiRE’s recognition program expanded to three annual Woman of Distinction Awards in 2015 for Solar Energy, Wind Energy and Woman of the Year in the Renewable Energy sector. Awards are presented at industry partner conferences and events, providing ample recognition to award winners and an effective platform for spreading the word about the importance of diversity in the workforce.

Another noteworthy 2015 WiRE initiative was a speed mentoring event held at the Canadian Power Conference & Networking Centre in association with APPrO and sponsored by NRStor. Students in a relevant field of study to the energy sector had a chance to draw from the experience of accomplished professionals through three 15-min 2-on-1 mentoring sessions. The experiment drew wide praise from both students and mentors, and two of the student participants were subsequently offered employment by the companies represented by mentors... a great success for a new initiative that will be replicated in 2016.

The most satisfying measure of WiRE’s growth and success is the rapidly maturing conversations and relationships being built between WiRE and its renewable energy industry colleagues. Additionally, mentoring and networking events have led to job opportunities for young women professionals looking to enter the renewable energy field.

WiRE would not be possible were it not for the dedication of its co-chairs, Advisory members and countless volunteers. Support from industry association partnerships—and the opportunities they provide for WiRE to engage students and professionals—has nourished its growth. WiRE is especially grateful to the support of CanWEA, CanSIA, Ontario Waterpower Association (OWA) and APPrO—the leading renewable energy associations in Ontario.

Continuing to grow in 2016, WiRE has mapped out many exciting field trips, networking events and new initiatives. Visit the WiRE website for more information and to get involved.

— Submitted by Lisa Oelke.

Workforce diversity makes you more competitive
While at Solar Canada 2014, EBMag caught up with several WiRE members to learn more about this group and how it seeks to advance the inclusion and promotion of women in a field that’s bursting with opportunities. Hear from Jennifer Manning, Debbie Ellis, Rebecca Black and Joanna Szarek Osawe at tinyurl.com/go4vsas.

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