Joanna Osawe: Driving Gender Equality in the Energy Sector

EIN WiRE logo 400

Nov 28, 2019

By Owen Hurst

Recently, Electrical Industry Canada has developed a relationship with Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE), a non-for-profit group developing resources and networking potential for women and all working or planning to work within the renewable energy sector. Aside from being the WiRE President & CEO, Joanna Osawe is the Global Business Development Manager of Major Projects for DMC Power Inc.

EIN sat down with Osawe to learn more about WiRE and the substantial benefits it provides. Joanna is very personable and open regarding her career and her ambition, as well as the opportunities she is developing for women nationally and globally. As such, the discussion was very jovial and enlightening, providing an in depth look into her expertise and valuable insight into the energy industry.

Tell us a little about yourself?

Joanna couldn’t help but laugh when asked about her personal life and hobbies outside of her industry involvement, “my career is my lifestyle and my lifestyle is my career,” she said smiling. And that’s exactly how she wants it. Admittedly, a career driven lifestyle may not be for everyone, but for Joanna it’s where her passion truly lies. She explained that she owes a lot to her husband for being supportive of her ambition and pushing her to pursue WiRE. Providing her with the necessary support one requires when embarking on new venture with the magnitude and scope of WiRE.

Her parents were also great influences on her drive and passion to succeed. Her father an engineer, and her mother a microbiologist, and her parents instilled in her the values of hard work from a young age. Showing her success comes from having a passion for what you do, and the ability to persevere when faced with adversity. It is that work ethic that has contributed to Joanna’s success in becoming a formidable figure within the industry, and a steadfast advocate for women.Jo Istanbul Four Seasons A

Today, she admits that a large part of her social life is driven by her love of knowledge and her career. Over the past 15+-years working in the sector she has continued to evolve her understanding of the electrical industry and all its intricacies. Which has only expanded with her founding and continued development of WiRE. For Joanna work is fun and enjoyable. Her regular travel to industry events allows her to meet and network with various industry professionals, providing her with invaluable industry knowledge and contacts, and ultimately a level of fulfilment from a social and business perspective.

To put it simply, Joanna says, “I truly feel at home when working.”

Tell us about WiRE?

Joanna’s passion was clearly evident as she discussed what drives her and the entire WiRE team.

Founded in 2013, WiRE has witnessed steady growth. They now have chapters in St. John’s, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Mississauga, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Vancouver, Kamloops and Northwest Territories. WiRE is now international and has chapters in Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Jordan. WiRE will be opening Chapters in 2020 in the UAE, Chile and the G7 countries. Their initial mandate is advancing women within the energy sector, but that is only part of WiRE’s goal. The focus is not simply on women but creating a gender equal industry, as well as developing a strong collaborative network of key industry players across Canada and abroad.

Joanna firmly believes – and is supported in this by EIN – that collaboration and networking are an essential component to creating an inclusive and progressive industry. Thus, a key mandate for WiRE is to develop relationships and to introduce networking events for those working in the industry and those interested in pursuing a career in the energy sector.

One of the ways WiRE advances awareness is through numerous field trips to important energy sites. These trips provide valuable perspective on the essential nature of our electrical infrastructure. Field trips are open to everyone and double as a networking event, allowing important connections to be made, and consequently advancing cooperation and collaboration.

WiRE also conducts speed mentoring events with key decision makers within the industry, which includes HR representatives, executives, CEO’s, VP’s looking to meet and potentially hire students and emerging professionals. The goal is to allow participants the opportunity to gain insight from high-ranking industry professionals, while providing an opportunity to develop industry contacts and pursue potential employment opportunities.

Beyond speed mentoring, they also provide opportunities for students to attend industry conferences. As we all know, attending conferences can be quite expensive, particularly for students who often have a limited income and are without the support of a company travel budget. WiRE has recognized this and works with its partners to provide bursaries that allow students to participate in industry conferences.

In discussing students, Joanna notes how essential it is to bring them into the fold early. By giving young people the opportunity to develop industry contacts and get a true sense of how the industry operates, WiRE is able to give them a leg-up on their burgeoning careers. It also provides the industry with a valuable resource. A consistent challenge EIN comes across when discussing the various industry segments with professionals like Joanna, is finding young, talented individuals that are willing to be brought through the ranks. A major factor is providing students with the requisite insight to make an informed decision and know their patience can lead to a fulfilling career.  

Joanna identifies their existing partnerships as a key reason these opportunities have gained traction. She explains that further collaboration in this manor will increase the benefit of activities like speed mentoring and conference attendance. Joanna is a strong believer that collaboration is the key to driving the industry forward and actively works with multiple organizations, including: EHRC (Electricity Human Resources Canada), Waterpower Canada, Electricity Transformation Canada, APPrO (Association of Power Producers of Ontario), EDA (Electricity Distributors Association), Relay Education, Women of Powerline Technician, CEATI Women in Power Group, 20/20 Catalysts Program, Pollution Probe, Plug’n’Drive, OEN (Ontario Energy Network), Solar Energy Society of Alberta, AAB (Aboriginal Apprenticeship Board), First Nation Power Authority, Ontario Tech University, OSPE (Ontario Society Of Professional Engineers), Decentralised Energy Canada; they are currently solidifying partnerships with Skills Ontario and Marine Renewables, on the International side they are partnered with EDAMA and CORFO.

The growth and partnerships WiRE have developed are not limited to Canada. WiRE is engaged internationally, working with similar associations including other Women in Renewable Energy organizations as well as targeting countries that want to implement similar programs. Again, this is accomplished through strong network connections.

What message would you give to young women considering a career in energy sector?

Here we touched on a somewhat sensitive topic, but a vital one for the progression of the renewable energy sector.

Although we can certainly identify that there is a growing number of women within the industry, Joanna explained the gender gap is still quite significant. Joanna herself experienced this early in her career. Like most University students preparing to enter the workforce, Joanna was keen to begin her career. With the influence of her parents, in particular her highly ambitious mother, she felt poised take on the industry.

However, after 6 months on the job she became quite attuned to the state of gender equality within the industry. It was clear work still needed to be done to address the issue. While attending her first industry event, she recalls that out of over 300 attendees there were only five women. She admits it was disheartening. Even now there is a lot of work to do to close the gender gap, she explained, adding that she would like to see us further along than we are.

However, as someone in tune with the industry she does see a forward progression, and one that is constantly picking up speed. A progression spurred by important programs like the EHRC’s (Electricity Human Resources Canada) Leadership Accord for Gender Diversity, which has the full support of WiRE.

Her efforts, and the efforts of individuals like her in the past five years have translated into the most advancement for diversity ever witnessed in the industry. It can’t be stressed enough that those working within the energy sector are truly passionate about what they do. All of which is helping to drive the whole industry in a positive direction.

And so, Joanna took on the obstacles before not only herself, but before woman in the industry and the industry itself, ultimately striving toward creating positive change in the industry. Has she succeeded? Without a doubt!!! Is there still work to do? Of course, which is why Joanna continues to advocate for women and the forward progression of the industry, leaning in with a world-class work ethic… everyday.

Owen Hurst is Managing Editor, Kerrwil Automation & Control Platform

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