Women in Geothermal (WING) – The latest power surge in the industry

Women in Geothermal (WING)
Alexander Richter 5 Feb 2016

The Women in Geothermal (WING) group as the latest power surge in the geothermal energy industry has making some big splash in the last few big geothermal events, so it is great to go get a little background on this group in this interview with Andy Blair of WING and GNS Science.

The Women in Geothermal (WING) group held its initial meeting in Las Vegas in 2013 in conjunction with that year’s GRC Annual Meeting. Founded as a forum to support, promote and advance women in the industry, the group is now pushing forward to establish itself asa fullyfledged geothermal association with big plans.

In today’s world, women in the geothermal industry still face major challenges; lack of leadership roles, unequal pay, and a lack of female leadership roles and mentors.

As a part of its mission WING hosts networking events, awards ceremonies, and organizes mentoring programs to develop a stronger female presence in the geothermal industry.

AndyBlair_WINGOne of the key drivers behind the WING group has been Andrea (Andy) Blair of GNS Science in New Zealand. Tirelessly, she has been able to rally a large group of women from all over the world with enthusiastic regional/national ambassadors, which now has held several events around the globe, including attracting over 350 men and women to their networking event held in conjunction with the World Geothermal Congress 2015 in Melbourne/ Australia.

Andy, could you give us a little bit more background on WING and what has been your main driver to get this off the ground?

WING was an initiative started in by Elise Brown and Bill Glassey from University of California, Davis. I had kicked off a similar concept in NZ about a year earlier, so when I heard about WING I decided to combine the two and think globally. It was just post the inaugural WING event that I was appointed the Global Chair for WING.

In my current role, Business Development Manager for GNS Science, I spend a lot of my time travelling around geothermal countries. In my travels I have met some phenomenal women whom I admire and that have inspired me. There are thousands of smart women working hard in our industry, but when I sit to meet with the CEO’s, high level managers, Government officials, etc they are rarely seen. This industry is all about realising potential, and I thought that because I was in a position to connect people and encourage them, then I have a moral obligation to do so. In all honesty I really enjoy meeting new WINGs; listening to their stories, learning about their goals and ambitions, and the passion they have for the industry. I get a real buzz out of it so its actually quite selfish and really satisfying.

Now we’re up and running and gaining momentum, I think the determination and effort from individuals and WING country teams is what continually motivates me to push harder, aim higher and keep charging. I’m also blown away by the sincerity and overwhelming support from industry. I honestly think that the vast majority of men in this community really do want to see women succeed, and maybe we haven’t been good at letting them know what we need to convert that potential to actual.

I’m truly proud to be at the forefront of such a pool of talent, and privileged to represent and serve the amazing members of WING.

What are the key goals in the short term that you want to achieve? What do you see as the long term goals?

WINGS_banners._toReference copyWe held a WING Ambassadors meeting during the World Geothermal Congress (WGC) in Melbourne in 2015, and we talked through our goals and aspirations. From these discussions we have developed our Roadmap to Iceland 2020. We wanted to make sure that the WING movement had some measurable goals. We wanted to aim high and push ourselves. We’ve also decided to have a meting at every WGC so we can see how far we’ve come and then make plans to push on.

Our goals, to be achieved by WGC 2020 in Iceland are:

  • 1500 members. That will make us the largest geothermal association in the world. Currently have 500 members.
  • Get a WING member on every national geothermal association board. We’re doing well here. We are now members of the IGA and I’m running for a board seat in the upcoming elections.
  • 50% male membership. Which, ironically, may be our hardest goal. I’m not sure if blokes think we might turn on them, or that we’re militant, but there is definitely a stigma associated with men supporting womens empowerment groups. To those males who are a little tentative I want to say we truly appreciate and need your support. Its usually the bravest that turn up, put their hand up, and wade in. On a positive note, I have seen a trend over time that more and more men are attending our events and our WINGmen numbers a growing so hopefully we can maintain this.

Mainly, we want to be visible and we want to inspire. We want other women to see us up front, in positions of influence, making decisions and leading. We want them to then have the courage to step into those roles too.

We think if we can achieve these things we will be well positioned for some really positive outcomes – not just for women, but the industry as a whole.

We want to achieve lofty goals and targets we need resource to get there. We dont have any funding, we are a volunteer organisation, and can only make things happen via sponsorship. Although the organisations have been very generous to date, we need to establish a sustainable funding proposition. So if anyone out there have some funding ideas we’d be glad to hear it!!

I remember hearing Rachel Shimshak, Executive Director, Renewable Northwest, speak at the opening of the GRC Meeting in Portland 2014. She said that early on she had joked with friends that one reason geothermal was a good industry for women was because at events there were never any lines in the bathroom. And that she hoped to one day to see lines in the womens toilets. I love that, simple anectdotal stuff to look for change. Because all those small things over time, like erosion, start changing the landscape.

Ultimately, our greatest goal is that one day we wont need to exist. We will celebrate our demise. After we’ve achieved our goals of course.

From an initial network, WING is now establishing itself as a full-fledged association. What is the purpose behind this and why are establishing a separate association from the existing national associations?

WING truly can provide a global perspective. We are connected not only horizontally across the globe but also vertically through the management and leadership hierachy in our countries. A lot of WING members are also members of their home country associations and we support members to continue to play key roles in those groups. One of our key goals is to have a WING member on every national association board, and encourage WING’s to become more engaged with their associations. We feel like we can be complementary and an engine for those groups.

We are primarily a forum to connect and communicate globally. Lots of women across the globe are the only one in their team, peer group. We’ve got members from country’s that don’t have geothermal associations so they connect to wider industry through us. We aim to wrap our arms around them and give them strength and support.

There seem to be some differences between industry associations and those focused more on research and education. Where would you see a WING association positioned?

WING_Infographic 8Jan16Yes we don’t seem to fit the existing mould! However, although we may be described as different, I think our goals are similar; We want to work with a talented group of people who inspire us, contribute to delivering exceptional geothermal projects, push and challenge ourselves in our thinking and efforts, and have some fun along the way. Like I said previously, we are truly globally connected, we can provide global perspectives, as we communicate, facilitate and engage. We’re plugged in.

WING members come from a wider group of professional disciplines. Not just your traditional science and engineering, but also legal, regulatory, business, financial, government, etc., as well as those involved in the different uses of geothermal energy eg. Tourism, Cultural, etc. We want to engage with all those that enable and drive geothermal projects.

We see ourselves as advocatesfor our industry – we want to grow the pool of talent. We want to create and promote a women friendly industry, which will make our industry more attractive to a larger pool of talent.

How would you describe the role of WING going forward?

Connect WING’s globally, find all those women slugging it out. Kicking butt in geothermal projects and provide a place to network and engage. Get into positions of influence and be visible. Ask for the keys to the castle and then if we don’t get them storm the castle.

In a discussion with ThinkGeoEnergy, you mentioned that you would like to see half of WING’s members to be male. How do you see the role of males in an association that focuses on the role of women in the geothermal industry.

We need the other 50% of the population. We need men to hold their hands out and help us across the void. Men still hold the majority of positions of power and we need their buy-in and support to make a change. Just talking to ourselves isnt going to get us anywhere. We need the men in our industry to consider the women in their lives and hope that someone will do the same for them.

Our WINGmen help us to have those conversations that are needed. We need them to support and encourage the women in their teams and help kick the barriers out of the way. They encourage other men to support us and they are as connected and supported as the female members of WING – we cherish these guys!

For women early in their careers or just starting out, what role can WING play for them?

We can connect women with others. We can provide advice, support and put them in touch with people that can help them get to where they want to go. What we want for women starting out on their careers, is that they have the ambition and courage to aim high, and the ability to get there.

Where can people learn more about WING, its mission, goals, activities, local contacts (e.g. through local/ regional ambassadors) and events?

Our WING website is currently being developed, so the best place to engage and join the WING conversation is on Facebook women in geothermal – WING or flick me an email and I will put you in touch with your country ambassador. Follow us on twitter #WING_geothermal

We’re going to be more visible. You will see us