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Women in Smart & Intelligent Buildings (WISIB) – a step closer to achieving Equity in our Industry?

Razina Ahmed- Business Development Leader for Irisys – North Americas & Global Accounts
Founder of WISIB “Women in Smart & Intelligent Buildings”

It has been more than 15 years that I have been in the Smart & Intelligent Buildings Industry. As a Millennial Woman and an Electrical Electronics Engineer, I am surprised that I am still working for it. I can proudly say that I can call myself a Thought Leader in this industry and an expert in helping our Smart Buildings Clients towards their digitalization and sustainability journey.

I can tell all that it did not come easy; I knew from the very beginning that I had to work ten times harder, learn faster, technically be much stronger, be more confident, and know ten times more than any of my male colleagues in the Built Space Environment– the known male-dominated technical industry and I work towards all the above every day. There were times during my career when I was so hard on myself that I was about to burn myself out, but with time I have learnt that I was expecting too much of myself. I realized that I am in this industry because I am passionate about the technology and, about the customers, about the cause, which is sustainability, clean energy, helping the community (50:50 Men to Women) to live and work in space comfort and yet ensure we can have the least harmful impact on the planet. But this is just not my story; the very few women I have met in our Smart & Intelligent Buildings Industry had a very similar journey as mine, and every year when I visit ASHRAE Expo, I find out that there are fewer and fewer of those women I can catch up with and talk about best practices, share our expertise, share use cases and so on. Why is that? Well, we all know the cause, which is talent retention, especially for women in this industry. Yes, every year, we will hear from the companies we work for in this industry that diversity is big; they are hiring many women recently, promoting them to leadership roles, are the numbers and % just in paper or PowerPoint presentations, or to get more recognition in the marketplace? But if we see the number of talented women leaving this industry and moving to other industries is very high, that is because, in the other industries, they have better opportunities to be leaders, better working environments, recognition, talent, and skills development opportunities etc.; so basically, Equity is playing a more significant role in talent retention than equality in our Smart and Intelligent Buildings Industry. This is an ordinary crisis in most parts of the world, I have worked for Smart Buildings Environment in Europe, Middles East and Africa and North America, and I can say it is not hugely different in any of those regions.

I would say pro-pandemic; the diversity scene in the prop-tech industry has changed slightly; I have been coming across a few women leaders who have co-founded such companies or are leaders in these organizations. But what about the typical Electrical, Mechanical, IT, Facilities Management, and Energy Management -Built Space (Smart and Intelligent Buildings Space)? The truth is in our industry, for women to succeed it is more likely that they will be in roles in HR, Customer Service, Marketing and so on, but to succeed and grow in Technical Sales Leadership, Products Leadership, Executive Management or Thought Leadership, the path is not very clear as we are not many women in this industry, or we find that other industries provide clearer opportunities to progress in our career.

At the Winter ASHRAE show in Atlanta from Feb 6th-8th, 2023 I had a great time catching up with the industry experts about technology, partnerships, and use cases; I learnt and shared a lot too. Still, I did realize that I needed to also contribute towards talent retention; as to my observation, many of the women who join this industry are passionate, ambitious and is competent, but yet not stay for long. Hence as soon as I landed home in Toronto, I started this group on LinkedIn- “Women in Smart & Intelligent Buildings- WISIB.” The objective is for the members of this group to share best practices, market trends, technology roadmap, network to promote technology partnerships, share training materials, talent development roadmap, help clients, etc. I also see this group be influential enough in the future that we can have ambassadors’ men or women from various Organizations and Companies playing in the Smart Buildings Industry, to represent and support running this group in the marketplace. The group was launched on February 22, 2023, and today we have 99 members, and I am hoping by International Women’s Day 2024- the number of active members will grow. We can leverage this group and our connections to contribute and change the understanding of Equity in our Smart and Intelligent Buildings Industry.

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