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Nov 23, 2020

Diversity and inclusion are key drivers of innovation and success in the workplace. So, in such an innovative field like renewable energy, how can the industry attract talent? Joanna Osawe, President & CEO of Women in Renewable Energy (WIRE) shares the mission behind her organization as well as what WIRE is doing to support women seeking education and employment in the renewable energy sector.



Dan Seguin  00:02

Hey, everyone, welcome back. This is the ThinkEnergy podcast. RESPECT, nine to five, I will survive. Besides being some of my fave tunes, there's a reason why I'm mentioning these female empowerment songs today. Why are people always surprised to find out that I'm a Gloria Gaynor and Aretha Franklin fan? the renewable energy sector is growing. And the jobs are, to say the least exciting and interesting from wind turbine and solar technicians to a wide cross section of other technical and professional engineers and geotechnical careers. Canada's renewable energy industry is accelerating. And there's a lot of quality careers emerging, particularly in STEM. That's the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. According to the Canadian Renewable Energy Association, there are currently more than 300,000 people employed in Canada's clean energy sector. And it's continuing to grow by 5% a year. So if projections are correct, there will be more than half a million Canadians employed in the clean energy sector by 2031 side that isn't moving as fast, however, is the number of women filling these key roles. Right now. The renewable energy industry employs about 32% of women, but most are in administrative positions. We know that the energy sector remains one of the least gender diverse industries, with women making up only 22% of the workers overall. We also know that gender diverse workplaces thrive, and are more innovative and financially successful. So in such an innovative field, like renewable energy, how can the industry attract talent? Well, some barriers that women faced as identified by electricity, Human Resources Canada include discrimination, a lack of mentorship, and a non inclusive workplace culture. In order to power the future, and the country's renewable energy projects, these systemic barriers need to be addressed. And it can't come fast enough. With half of the experienced engineering workforce retiring in the next decade, there's a skill shortage on the horizon, but also a huge opportunity for change. The goal of renewable energy essentially, is to make the future better for everyone. Isn't that what the industry should stand for today as well? So here is today's big question, what is being done to boost women's renewable energy careers, from education to employment, in order to allow their talent to be fully realized? to shed some light on this, joining us today is Joanna Osawe, the President and CEO of women in renewable energy or wire. Welcome, Joanna. Are you ready to get started? Maybe you could begin by telling our listeners a bit about you and what drew you to the renewable energy sector.

Joanna Osawe  04:22

So I started in the renewable sector, thanks to my mom and dad. My mom was a microbiologist and my father and mechanical engineer and through my childhood, they always promoted and really made sure that I was aware of STEM. And really what that meant. When I first started in the industry, as a matter of fact, I applied for a job that was a pharmaceutical job. And the recruiter actually, that met with me actually told me that I was there for a renewable position. And as a matter of fact, Daniel for two years prior to that I was looking to get into the sector. And this was really, you know, a huge eye opener for me. And that's when I began my career was with Gail force energy. And then it was bought out by AirTriCity and then bought out by Eon, which is the biggest private utility in the world based out of Dusseldorf, by then I had moved to Chicago. And, and, you know, really my career started when the renewable sector was very young and fresh back in the 1990s, you know, the generating coal plants are really the activity of the day, then we moved on into the year 2000s. And we saw that renewable sector, you know, started to really make an impact. Infrastructure, of course started to build up and mining took a dip. And really, you know, the activity of the day has been really to follow the market trends. And the renewable sector is something that I'm extremely passionate about.

Dan Seguin  05:51

Cool, very nice journey. There's a line on your website that I really like, it's "WIRE is inclusive of all renewable energy technologies". Can you tell us about that line, the objectives of your organization? And why the focus on renewable energy versus the energy industry as a whole?

Joanna Osawe  06:18

That's a great question. Thank you. So our mission is very simple. It's to advance the role and recognition of women in the energy sector. When I say when, because I started my career in the renewable sector. You know, WIRE is something that I'm very passionate about, especially the renewable side, however, we are all inclusive of all, every single type of energy. Anyone that is in the energy sector, there's a place for them to come and network with us to attend field trips, because most people don't know the difference is between a distribution line versus a transmission line. And the platform is really open to to anyone that has an interest and understanding more and getting educated. So our programming consists of networking, field trips, mentoring, speed, interviewing, student bursaries, we have a great awards program, we do blogs on different folks, we really work with indigenous community. So we're really impactful on a lot of different streams, and certainly, WIRE again, because I started my career in the renewables. And, and really, I wanted to focus on that, but we are inclusive of all different types of energies.

Dan Seguin  07:29

Okay, Joanna, can you give us some examples of how your organization is closing the gap, and advancing the role and recognition of women in the sector?

Joanna Osawe  07:42

Certainly, we offer a lot of mentorship, we also have networking events, I'll be bringing C suite speakers, where you know, they have the time to educate our participants, our stakeholders and what they do. And we have different  women that actually come in to us. Whether it's, you know, Michelle Brannigan from HRC, whether it's Jane Travers, from the Vice President of OPG, whether it's  Ayesha Sabouba from hydro one, I mean, we have such a plethora of amazing women in our sector. And we really highlight that, because, you know, the the energy sector is very complicated and complex sector. And it's really important to understand what an engineer does what a financier does what even an ornithologist, an archaeologist does. So it really molds everything together. Also on the gender gap, we definitely promote to support one another, and be able to be there. So we offer mentorship programs as well. And that's very important. We also work with students, because students are really the platform where they're able to elevate and really start looking into networking and understanding the energy sector. So we actually just started a student Harper student chapter at ontario Tech University. And this month, we're opening up at University of Windsor as well.

Dan Seguin  09:04

Is it equally about creating a culture of belonging in the workplace, and the work organizations need to do to create welcoming, inclusive spaces?

Joanna Osawe  09:19

So one is really about how we view it. It's that inclusivity it's about gender diversity and inclusion. And that means everyone here in Toronto, we have over 117 spoken languages. And we are so lucky here in Toronto, and in Canada, where we are a multicultural society. And I want to see this being inclusive of everyone. And when I mean everyone, men, women, LGBTQ to us, it's really about the diversity. I think that coming from different backgrounds and different cultures. The moment that we're seated at that executive board table, we actually are able to provide different solutions, because of our different backgrounds or different demographics, and I do believe that this is about inclusivity, that mostly about making sure that, that there's equality as well.

Dan Seguin  10:12

Okay, how do you think we can attract the younger generation of girls to consider career paths and education in STEM? Can you also maybe talk about how you engage young women to think about careers in renewable energy as an exciting option?

Joanna Osawe  10:32

So definitely, you know, for me, it started at home. And it was because of my parents, I think that STEM is something that even as a young child, they should be learning. We also have, like I just pointed out, you do have the student chapters now because it does give them a platform to be able to network with different people, and also be able to understand again, our industry, I think that definitely with when I was in university, we didn't have a WIRE or organization that actually helped me network. I think that the quicker that, you know, someone networks, the better off they are, because it is a very small industry, and everyone seems to know one another. I think that for children, again, there's different actually wire partners with a lot of different organizations. So there's one called skilled trades, or kick ass careers. And it's Jamie McMillan. And actually what she does, she goes to different elementary schools and high schools and actually talks about what skilled trades are, we partner with a lot of different organizations that also such as relay education that really educate children right into what they're doing. So I think it's very important to engage with partners for why or some parts, engage with different partners, that we can actually solidify our message together. And so people know that there are platforms that they can reach out.

Dan Seguin  12:03

Okay, maybe you can expand on some of the barriers to entry for women in renewable in the renewable energy sector. Joanna, what advice do you have for a woman starting her career in renewable energy.

Joanna Osawe  12:20

Um, I can only speak for myself. However, one of the things that when I was applying for jobs when I was my goodness, 23/24 i, there's jobs that I had no business applying for, and I've never boxed myself in, you know, requirements are there and qualifications, but I really bypass all those. And I truly wouldn't be where I am today, if it wasn't, you know, for the fact that I don't, I didn't check every single box. I think that apply for the jobs that, you know, you align with, apply for jobs that are not, you may not think they're attainable. And surprisingly, for me, it worked out. And but I also was never afraid of, of applying for jobs that were above me. And I think too often, we are segmented. And we need to check that box. So that's one advice as well. And also, you don't have to be an engineer to enter the renewable space. There's so many different opportunities, from data analysts to be an ornithologist to be an archaeologist to environmental assessments. I mean, you know, there's, there's just so many different ways that you can get engaged. So I'm not an engineer, and yet, you know, 15 plus years later, I'm sitting where I am.

Dan Seguin  13:43

So you don't want you don't want to be afraid to step out of the box.

Joanna Osawe  13:47

That's right.

Dan Seguin  13:48

Yes. Okay. Um, well, I know that mentorship plays an important role in your organization, as you stated, what are your thoughts on how established women in the energy sector can play the role of a mentor for an upcoming generation?

Joanna Osawe  14:08

Right now, I'm actually mentoring two different women, currently. One is with the Clean Energy Business Council out of Dubai, and we've partnered with them Women in clean energy, and it's a young lady that has just entered into the energy space. Another one that I mentoring is with Women for Climate which the City of Toronto has launched, and I'm mentoring this amazing young woman who's looking into sustainable textiles. And I really feel that it's important to mentor but even more importantly, to sponsor someone where you're actually taking them to that next level. I've been very fortunate in my career, that I had great male champions that believed in me and really sponsored me so to me mentorship and sponsorships are a little bit You know, I define them differently a little bit.

Dan Seguin  15:04

Okay. Can you talk a bit, a bit more about your programming? What makes WIRE unique? And in ways in what ways can you create that greater awareness in the industry, and about the exciting career opportunities that actually exist?

Joanna Osawe  15:25

Certainly, when I started, WIRE, this was back in 2012. And then we launched in 2013, we had started just in Toronto, we're now in every single province in Canada, as well as the territories, we have expanded in the Middle East. We are now in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Jordan, and UAE. And we actually get invited to these countries. And the reason that we're there is because Canadian embassies, I work with the Canadian embassies and consulates. And because our Prime Minister's vision is really aligned with WIRE's vision as well to make sure that we're advancing the role and recognition of women. So therefore, I like to talk about local, so be global, but act local, so some of the programming here in Canada may not necessarily coincide with Turkey, or in Jordan. So we have to be very mindful and sensitive to different demographics. When I presented or I gave my intervention of the G7, two years ago on gender diversity, the G7 countries also had, you know, have requested that we enter the market. So at this point, we are working with them as well. Some of our programming, like I said, In Canada, include some networking, which is extremely important, because I do believe, and I'm using Annette Verschuren, the president ceo, quote from from NRstor, "your network is your net worth". And I think that that's a very good, fantastic quote. And also, you know, with, with the networking, it's huge. The field trips are extremely important. We've had hundreds of them, we actually did last year with OPG at the SIR Adam back generating station, we've been to the IEA. So we've been to wind farms, solar farms, energy storage projects. So the list goes on and on. And this is open to all. So just because some of the programming is for women, you may think because of WIRE, however it is open to all. We like we have student bursaries. So students can attend conferences, because when I was a student, I can tell you, I did not have $2,000 to attend a conference. So we definitely provide that platform. We also, we also do speed mentoring, speed interviewing. So we work with different companies that are looking for talent pools that we can actually provide them so and it really diminishes the hours for human resources and they're able to shortlist really great candidates. The speed mentoring we do at different conferences we do with different companies as well, we're repair of course decision makers with students or emerging professionals. We work with indigenous communities, we do blogs, we do awards, I love our awards section because we really highlight women and champion them so we have Woman of the Year award which we presented Afro yearly woman have went which was with Can Ria, which is now Can Ria woman a solar can't see it, but now can we can see I've joined forces, they're called now Can Ria we do? Women have hydro with water power, Canada, and right now we are working with for the second year in a row with NRcan, C3C and IEA to provide organizational awards and, and also individual awards. So this was actually presented this year at the G 20. And in August, so we're consistently growing on programs and looking at different ways to make sure that we're outreaching. As mentioned earlier, we definitely have opened up student chapters. So we definitely want to make sure that students have are able to, you know, leave on with us and connect with us. And one thing that's very unique about WIRE is that we are extremely welcoming. And one thing that I even when I was younger and I did attend certain workshops or events, I would be very uncomfortable and uneasy. However I think once again, we are very open minded and we're always inclusive, and that is the way that you know, that's the feedback we get.

Dan Seguin  19:32

Okay, and by the way, I will be testing your speed interview skills shortly. Okay, so how has the pandemic changed your landscape? Maybe you can elaborate on some of the impacts and how your sector has adapted.

Joanna Osawe  19:55

Certainly, and I'll share this report with you we actually WIRE published a report it was called navigating COVID-19 and the future of energy. So we actually interviewed 35 plus CEOs and VPS, across Canada. And this was men, women and all that we interviewed anonymously. And, you know, it was very interesting to hear from the east coast to Central Canada to the west coast, the differences, and you know, the similarities as well. And for WIRE, but that meant is that we have to start virtually, and me not being extremely technical when it comes to technology. I have amazing volunteers, amazing support system that really came forward to assist make sure that we are still able to be outspoken, we're still able to reach out to to our stakeholders, our participants. And what's changes now that is become more on a global scale. So we're actually connecting to WIRE, Canada, two WIRE Turkey, to WIRE Azerbaijan. So I think it's really actually quite impactful. And I think that that's actually become more accessible in a lot of different ways. So that's what's changed for us.

Dan Seguin  21:10

Okay, maybe you can share the link with me, and I'll put it in our show notes. So listeners can actually look into it.

Joanna Osawe  21:17

Yes, perfect.

Dan Seguin  21:18

Okay, so looking to a post pandemic horizon, what are some of the hard business lessons your sector was exposed to, or opportunities that were found,

Joanna Osawe  21:32

I'm so used to attending events and being extremely social, and really networking and traveling. So that came to a full stop. That really impacted me personally. Because I'm so used to being around people and doing workshops, like I said, or being a panelist or a moderator. So that really stopped. You know, we were supposed to be in Chile presenting the the C3 awards this year, I mean, there's a lot of exciting opportunities or travel opportunities that we were wanting to expand as well with WIRE. So that really changed. Another thing that changes, obviously, now we're connecting through virtual platforms at all times. And I'm sure that there's a lot of zoom fatigue these days. And I think that's become a dip that's become very interesting to speak to people through your computer rather than personally, because being face to face has a different feel to it. So that's changed. However, I've adapted, you know, I think that as time passes you sort of mold into what's happened. And you know, you're, we have to be safe, and we have to be cautious. And, you know, I think that until it is safe, so we are going to protect the community at WIRE and everyone else.

Dan Seguin  22:58

So, Joanna, would you say that this pandemic is an opportunity for a green recovery for the planet? Are you encouraged by the federal government's recent $10 billion infrastructure investments to support renewable energy?

Joanna Osawe  23:17

Absolutely, I think the pandemic has definitely impacted climate change in a good way in a positive way. I mean, we can definitely see there was less cars driving I mean, there's, it's I think that is really has changed the landscape or for our environment, which is a positive thing. I'm sure you saw this as well, in Venice, there are dolphins found swimming, right. And we've seen such a great impact on air pollution as well. As far as this throne speech, I am so proud of our government for actually allocating the $10 billion because Canada is a leader in the renewable sector, and I'm very proud that our government is supporting and continuing to work with, you know, with our sector, I think that's a very important sector and we need to recognize that so I definitely applaud them for doing so.

Dan Seguin  24:11

Okay, Joanna, are you ready to close us off with some rapid fire questions?

Joanna Osawe  24:18


Dan Seguin  24:19

Okay. What is your favorite word?

Joanna Osawe  24:22

gratefulness / being grateful

Dan Seguin  24:25

Good, very good one. What is the one thing you can't live without?

Joanna Osawe  24:31


Dan Seguin  24:36

What habit or hobby Have you picked up during shelter in place?

Joanna Osawe  24:42

I'm a terrible cook so I've been trying to cook.

Dan Seguin  24:48

If you could have one superpower, what would it be

Joanna Osawe  24:52

To fly!

Dan Seguin  24:53

Okay, if you could turn back time and talk to your 18 year old self What would you tell her?

Joanna Osawe  25:02

Not to worry.

Dan Seguin  25:06

And lastly, what do you currently find most interesting in your sector?

Joanna Osawe  25:12

My colleagues that have become friends. And also, you know, the energy sector for me has always not been a job in our career. It's been a lifestyle. So I think that's the way I view it. That's what's really exciting to me.

Dan Seguin  25:24

Very nice. Well, Joanna, we've reached the end of another episode of The ThinkEnergy podcast last question for you. How can our listeners learn more about you? And women in renewable energy? How can they connect?

Joanna Osawe  25:40

Please email us at Visit our website at You can follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, of course, and subscribe to our newsletter. We have great events coming up on a monthly basis, sometimes two or three as well. So we welcome you and thank you.

Dan Seguin  26:02

Again, thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you had a lot of fun.

Joanna Osawe  26:06

I sure did. Thanks, Dan. This is really great.

Dan Seguin  26:11

Thank you for joining us today. I truly hope you enjoyed this episode of The ThinkEnergy podcast. For past episodes, make sure you visit our website Lastly, if you found value in this podcast, be sure to subscribe. Anyway, this podcast is a wrap. Cheers, everyone.