When it comes to women breaking into traditionally male-dominated industries, persistence is key. It's no secret that women in virtually every industry have historically experienced workplace and career challenges.
Lucky for us, in the fields of Enterprise Asset Management and Enterprise Maintenance, there is a growing community of female professionals who remain undaunted. They’re forging ahead in what has traditionally been a male-dominated sector to share knowledge, network, and inspire more women to enter the field of heavy industry.
This is the story of one such group: WIRAM (Women in Reliability and Asset Management).
Inspired by a desire to create a network to educate and empower women, Maura Abad, a Global Relationship Leader at ReliabilityWeb.com, decided to bring together professionals in the industry. In 2015, she and Kelly O'Hanlon co-founded Women in Reliability and Asset Management (WIRAM), with the support of Reliabilityweb.com and the Association of Asset Management Professionals (AMP).
In just a few short years, WIRAM has become an interactive and engaging group with a primary goal of sharing knowledge, thought leadership, and best practices. And with members from around the globe who regularly meet up at industry events, there’s a lot of knowledge to share.
As Elizabeth Minyard, a long-time WIRAM member, and a new Design Build Owner Advisor for Brown and Caldwell, explains, “the organization helps get women’s ideas in[to] the mainstream of the industry.”
The group puts on monthly webinars (in English and Spanish), hosts networking breakfasts, and publishes a range of media resources. For Elizabeth, having a group such as WIRAM makes all the difference: “WIRAM is a nice platform for women to engage and communicate … in a predominantly male sector.” She says:
WIRAM offers a place for women in asset management and reliability/maintenance practices to have a voice and a forum for exchanging ideas.
And that’s the beauty of WIRAM: it is collaborative. Members not only get to learn but also have the opportunity to teach. WIRAM’s monthly webinars provide a platform for members to present their subject specialty or unique knowledge. Like many members, Elizabeth has presented her own webinar. Hers was on the topic of Organizational Development.
So far, the presentation topics have ranged from the industry-specific, like Operator-Driven Reliability, to those focused on enhancing leadership skills, such as Leadership Challenges: Developing a Digital Culture Across the Enterprise. That’s the whole point of the group, Maura says: to share best practices that can be implemented at one’s organization to help achieve operational excellence.
Of course, with all of this knowledge sharing comes fantastic networking opportunities. Dr. Carla Boehl, the Manager of Asset Strategy and Planning at Arc Infrastructure in Perth, Australia joined the group to gain “asset management knowledge and the opportunity to connect with other women.”
She describes her career in Asset Management as positive and not in spite of the ever-evolving responsibilities and challenges she has faced along the way. As a Manager [of] Asset Strategy, Carla supervises a large team; it's worth noting, however, that women in management are still in the minority. Groups like this, however, will help to change that.
In her three years of WIRAM membership, she has attended several informational webinars and presented her own, entitled, Improving Mining Equipment Productivity Through Asset Management, Automation and Innovation. Carla attributes WIRAM with giving her “exposure to other professionals” and “raising [her] profile.”
It’s these kind of networking opportunities that can help women grow their careers in Asset Management in part by meeting the right people.
For the group’s co-founder, Maura, the path to Reliability and Asset Management was not without its twists and turns. Educated in Ecuador, Maura began her journey in languages. She has a Masters in Neuro Linguistic Programming, is currently fluent in four languages and is studying five other languages, working towards her long-term goal of being able to speak 13.
She transferred her affinity for languages to the language of Reliability and Asset Management and is currently a Global Relationship Manager and Leader for Reliabilityweb.com, based out of Fort Myers, Florida.
Throughout her career, Maura has emphasized her role as a networker, citing client and public relations, as well as attending international events and teaching “the diverse domains of Reliability Engineering, Asset Condition Management, Work Execution Management, Leadership and Asset Management” as her primary responsibilities.
Her work with Reliabilityweb.com has taken her all over the globe, connecting her with women in all areas of the industry, in all areas of the world, from Amsterdam to Scotland to Melbourne. She shares it all on the WIRAM Facebook page.
As the producer of the WIRAM podcast series, Maura interviews inspiring leaders on their thoughts about the evolution of the industry and the role women are playing in it.
Interviewees like Joyce Orsini, co-creator and former Director of The Deming Scholars MBA program at Fordham University, offer their experience and give advice to women working in, and just entering, the field.
In conversation with Maura, Joyce describes the current climate in Reliability and Asset Management, the growing space for women in the field and her personal experience of her career development. Joyce paints a positive picture of women in RAM, and in science in general. She tells Maura that the “field of Reliability and Asset Management is wide open” for women and the presence of women in science is “becoming a larger and larger percentage.”
Contrary to what one might think, WIRAM is not just for women. In fact, as Maura tells Machinery and Equipment MRO magazine, when WIRAM “started including men in live calls [webinars]” that’s when the group “started exceeding expectations.” She goes on to explain that “First, we have more women who are messengers. Then, men are messengers as well.”
WIRAM has increased its presence and profile at industry conferences, too. Elizabeth has seen the organization “grow dramatically.” She attended the International Maintenance Conference (IMC) when WIRAM made its debut with a small table in Bonita Springs, Florida, in December of 2015.
Elizabeth estimates that the following year, at the same conference, female member attendees had “more than doubled.” She also found that not only were there “more women speaking in WIRAM group,” there were also “more female presenters in the general population” of presentations.
The organization has grown in terms of presence at industry events, as well. WIRAM has gone from small face-to-face meetings at the outset to hosting the WIRAM “Making a Difference” Challenge Dinner, sponsored by Bentley Systems at The Reliability Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, in April of 2017.
With increasing emphasis on STEM for girls in schools and the ongoing push to address low incidence of women in management and in heavy industry, WIRAM is a vital resource in engaging and supporting female professionals. The headlines may be shouting, but through associations like WIRAM, a chorus of women’s voices can be heard above the clamor.