Joanna Osawe sponsors industry diversity

The co-founder of WiRE wears many hats

by Zoë Dupley
Joanna Osawe for DMC Power and Co-founder of WiRE, Canada.

Joanna Osawe, the co-founder, executive director and chair president of WiRE, strives for proper recognition and representation of diversity among people in the energy industry. — Photo courtesy Joanna Osawe

Found working in the field, commanding the boardroom or operating from her co-founder chair, Joanna Osawe, a founder of Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE), has been in the energy sector for 15-plus years. Her first 10 years were comprised of building and managing wind-energy projects in Canada and the U.S. She has worked for DMC Power for the last five years, taking hold of their Global Business Development Manager-Major Projects position. 

WiRE, launched in 2013, is now a national and international organization in its sixth year. The non-profit’s main mission is advancing the role and recognition of women in the energy sector. Osawe is not only the co-founder, but also chair president and executive director.

The woman behind WiRE

Osawe has a background in languages, giving her an edge and entry into the energy industry.

“The sector has matured, but back in the day there was no certification required. I didn't have to be an engineer. Languages, specifically French, were something that was required, especially when we were building wind farms in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.”

Osawe credits her success to the men and women who have sponsored her during her early career.

“I've had a lot of great sponsors,” Osawe said. “Sponsors are those who take you above and beyond a regular mentorship. I've had a lot of sponsors who really believed in me and what I do, so I've had a lot of help from men and women alike to get me to be where I am today.”

What’s surprising about Osawe is that she wears construction boots as well as heels. Despite her high-ranking position, she often dons her Arc Flash suit and Personal Protection Equipment to get her hands dirty. Permitting, council meetings, open houses and more often take her out of the office, especially when she was in the wind sector.

“WiRE allows me to provide assistance and be a resource and sponsor to others,” said Osawe. “I believe in giving back. When I first started my career, people gave a lot of their valuable time to me, and I feel that it is necessary to give back to our community now."

WiRE’s inner workings

WiRE operates from Newfoundland to Vancouver. It has gone international, launching in Turkey with the Canadian Embassy. This year the company is launching in Georgia, Azerbajain, Morocco and Jordan.

The organization presents awards to women deserving recognition in wind, solar and hydro as well as the Woman of the Year award. WiRE is currently working with National Resources Canada for the 2019 C3E Energy Awards, which will be presented at the Clean Energy Ministerial taking place in Vancouver in May. It also provides bursaries to students who couldn’t otherwise afford to attend their energy conferences.

Mentoring and field trips are ways in which WiRE educates others about their impact on the grid and the energy sector’s reliability, redundancies, performance and complexities. These programs aid students and emerging professionals looking to seek employment in the industry. Since the beginning of the mentoring program, WiRE has been able to marry over 70 people to various jobs in the industry.

“WiRE is very much aligned with EHRC (Electricity Human Resources Canada – Leadership Accord for Gender Diversity) and #Equalby30 campaign, an initiative led by Natural Resources Canada, which pushes for equal opportunity, equal pay and equal leadership for women in the energy industry by 2030,” said Osawe. 

Osawe spoke at the G7 Summit last year, where she provided information on what WiRE does and how it can assist the countries at the G7 tables.

“Many companies are stepping up, specifically power producers, saying, ‘yes, we want women to have the same opportunities that men have.’ ” said Osawe. “From an executive standpoint, I think that there is a lot of work to be done to ensure the dynamic of conversation is being upheld. I believe that everyone should have a seat at the table.

“You need to be able to formulate different ideas and solutions, and even different cultures bring different, inspiring and clearer objectives,” said Osawe. “Looking at the 13 million people we have in Ontario, there are over 117 spoken languages. There is a lot of diversity and culture that we are blessed to have. I believe that diversity and inclusion are one, not segmented."

What's next for WiRE?

WiRE is currently working with the Canadian Embassies on a worldwide scale but want to expand their reach even farther.

“(The Embassies) are really willing to talk and meet with us because of the outlook and support our current Prime Minister provides,” said Osawe. “We are internationally focused, so I often joke about world domination in a lot of ways.”

For more information about WiRE and its efforts towards industry diversity, visit its website.

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