It all started in 2013 when the Baltimore chapter of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) gathered together a group of women. The effort was led by member Jennifer Leach and it sparked the formation of Women in ASHRAE (WiA). Today, WiA is a committee recognized at the Society level of ASHRAE.
Formed in 2014, the National Capital Chapter’s Women In ASHRAE Committee, now WiA, was started by Israa Ajam and Laura Pica Morder. Ajam and Morder wanted to create a platform where women could connect outside of work, mentor others, find role models, provide leadership opportunities for women, and learn about the challenges and rewards of being a woman in the building industry.
The National Capital Chapter saw an increase in membership during 2016 of 43 members, 22 (51%) of those new members being women. Similar success followed in 2017. Recognizing this success, the National Capital Chapter and Baltimore Chapter presented a motion at the annual ASHRAE CRC meeting in August 2016 asking ASHRAE to develop and maintain WiA as a formal committee, rather than an affinity group. This motion passed at the regional and national levels allowing WiA to become a national diversity initiative for all ASHRAE Membership committees. As simply stated in what is now the WiA slogan, Ajam and Morder ignited the change needed to help other women, “Connect, Mentor, Grow.”
The mission of WiA is to promote the retention of women in the built environment by encouraging opportunities for professional development and leadership. The group reaches women in various occupations, including engineering, construction, project management, property development and ownership, equipment sales and manufacturing, and architecture.
In-person opportunities with the group center on casual events reminiscent of happy hour held once per quarter, on average. Guests are encouraged to bring business cards, network with attendees, and form relationships in order to foster a sense of community. ASHRAE membership is not required to attend these events. The increasing presence of women at these events has provided the group with the proof it needs for continued support from ASHRAE at the Society level and to earn the attention of potential partners. Local companies have supported and sponsored WiA events.
Events have included: Speed Networking, where participants engaged in a 30-minute networking session that built mentoring relationships, expanded local networks, and featured house brews; and a Panel Discussion; focused on cultivating leadership and retaining women in the engineering and construction workforce.
The most recent event was held in November 2019 at Punch Bowl Social in Arlington, VA. Nearly 40 people women and men attended this event featuring food, games, and networking.
Bailey Estes is the current chair of WiA. To learn more about WiA, visit https://nccashrae.org/women_in_ashrae or email WiA@nccashrae.org.