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Supporting and Empowering Women in Energy

Rayna Oryniak on the Purpose of Calgary Women in Energy


Calgary Women in Energy (CWiE) was formed in 2002 by six founders as a way to support and empower women in the energy sector. At a time when there weren’t many female groups in the male dominated energy industry, the group provided a means to share ideas, talk about the industry and help each other. It was a circle to rely upon.

Twenty years later, the non-profit organization is stronger than ever with its membership numbers having grown year over year, now topping 200. As Calgary’s energy industry has evolved during this time, expanding and contracting through the cycles, CWiE has remained steadfast for its members, a continuous source of support for them.

A range of events focused on CWiE’s three core pillars – philanthropy, education and networking – provide members with opportunities to learn, meet others and give back to the community.

“The beauty of CWiE is that it’s a real mix of women in different stages of their careers,” says Rayna Oryniak, president of the organization. “We have women who are just starting out and others who have been in the industry for 40 years. It’s really awesome to have all these women at different stages and levels all come together to support each other, learn from each other and give back to this industry and the community.”

As a philanthropic organization, CWiE donates all of the money it raises to the charity its members choose. Its Annual Golf Tournament is the major fundraising event of the year, and this year raised $101,774, the most money in CWiE’s history. “We compile a list of charities that align with our goals and values and our members vote on those,” Oryniak explains. “Since we started 20 years ago, we have raised over a million dollars for charity.”

For the last two years, the organization has supported the Women’s Centre of Calgary. “They have a lot of programs that focus on supporting women and girls in vulnerable positions within their family life,” Oryniak says. “They do a lot of great work.” In the past, CWiE has supported the Children’s College Society and the Louise Dean Centre, among others.

The $100 per year membership fee that CWiE charges also goes to support the chosen charity. “We do charge for some of our other events, but for the most part they are free and easy to access,” Oryniak says.

One such popular event is the monthly Mix n’ Mingler held directly after a technical session. The Mix n’ Mingler is open to any professional in the industry, regardless of gender. “It is our dedicated networking event,” Oryniak explains. “We’ve just partnered with the Petroleum Club so now we host both the Mix n’ Mingler and the technical session there. It’s a really good opportunity for members who are new or perhaps uncomfortable in a networking environment to practice their networking, particularly to people outside their line of work.”

“Everyone is there for the same reason,” she continues, “to network and expand their connections. To talk about the industry in general or about their roles in their company. Members really enjoy the environment we’ve created to network in, without feeling intimidated.”

The technical sessions, which precede the Mix n’ Mingler, provide the opportunity for members to learn about one aspect of the industry for an hour. “The topics vary, but we do try to keep them aligned with what’s going on in today’s events and energy,” Oryniak says. “In the past we’ve had the CEO of Broadview Energy, who spoke about starting up and energy company, and we’ve had Amber Kirby from Capital Power Corporation, to speak about carbon credits and offsets.”

“Our speakers come from such different backgrounds, from engineering to business development to supply chain to CEOs,” she continues. “It’s really interesting to hear from these individuals who play these different parts in the industry, but it’s all connected at the end of the day. A lot of our members connect with the speakers and build relationships further.”

Every quarter CWiE also hosts a members’ breakfast, which include different speakers who aren’t necessarily from the industry. “This last breakfast we had a lady from Board Ready Women talk about women on boards, the statistics, how to get on a for profit board and earn an income,” Oryniak says. “We’ve had a wealth management professional speak about finances. The focus at the breakfasts is a little more on personal or professional development.”

The other key event held once a year in February is the Allies in Energy Executive Forum. The event features panels of leaders from the industry who discuss their experiences. Last year’s event featured Susannah Pierce, president and country chair of Shell Canada, among others. “We’re in the planning stages for Allies in Energy next year,” Oryniak explains. “Since starting the event in 2020, we’ve sold it out every year.”

“We’ve had Indigenous leaders, both male and female, present,” she continues. “We’ve evolved Allies from being just women in the industry to include Indigenous leaders, men and women, and we really focus on those personal experiences. The message for Allies is ‘building trust in community in a challenged environment’.”

In addition to its own events, CWiE participates in many conferences, including the Global Energy Show, the International Pipeline Expo, the Shutdowns Turnarounds Superconference and Carbon Capture Canada (in Edmonton). “We usually have a booth and invite members to attend and volunteer at it,” Oryniak says.

Throughout the COVID pandemic, CWiE remained active. “We really needed to keep that sense of community alive since we felt like a lot of our members were disconnected,” Oryniak recalls. “We kept up with our technical sessions and the networking events via Zoom, and we’d just talk about what was going on, how people were coping. We kept that sense of community among our members.”

Today, just over one-third of Canada’s energy workers are women. There exists still, Oryniak points out, real barriers that all women face, regardless of industry. “Namely childcare, flexible working schedules, personal connections and ‘the old boys club’ mentality is still very persistent,” she laments. “A common theme is feeling like women are never qualified enough and lack the confidence and/or support and mentorship/sponsorship to advance.”

CWiE aims to rectify some of these issues, in particular with its mentorship program. “Often our mentors learn just as much from their mentees as vice versa,” Oryniak marvels.

Women desiring to join CWiE must be employed with 80 per cent of their work in the energy industry. “But we’ve had lots of women who were laid off or looking for work in energy, who really wanted to join,” Oryniak notes. “So we’ve created a career postings page and group. We can still support women in the industry and stay true to our directive as written in our bylaws.”

Eighty per cent of new members come by word of mouth, while the other 20 per cent is from CWiE’s growing social media presence. “We’ve been trying to elevate our brand and messaging and provide value to our members through those three pillars,” Oryniak explains. “And I feel like that’s really resonated with women in the industry and our male allies.”

She notes there’s so much opportunity in the industry with many new technologies coming into play, in particular to support an energy transition: “I personally think that women are going to play a huge part in this new energy landscape, and be leaders in this transition. We all believe in this energy community and we’re trying to make it better, more inclusive and equitable,” she opines. “I feel like there’s a momentum and a shift happening in that direction. There are a lot more opportunities for women to get involved, share their voice, experience and expertise.”

“CWiE has come a long way from six founders to now,” Oryniak reflects. “I’m just really excited to see where the group’s going to go. We’ll continue to provide value for our members, and support and empower one another. That’s what I love about it.”

To learn more about CWiE go to www.calgarywomeninenergy.com.