Kristen Graf is a self-professed math and science nerd who loves puzzles, and is currently the Executive Director of Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy or WRISE (formerly Women of Wind Energy or WoWE).
“I believe climate change is among one of the great puzzles and opportunities of our time,” she says. “And in order to solve and innovate for it, we need as many great minds, ideas, and perspectives as we can get to the table.”
For Graf, this includes women and minorities. In the wind and solar industries, only about 20 to 30% of workers in the U.S. are currently women. “Over the last few years, figures have hovered in the upper half of that range, but it’s frustrating. If you dig, you’ll learn than women of color represent only a small fraction of that total and are sorely lacking in wind tech and solar installer roles, as well as in executive roles and on boards.”
Considering WRISE (then called Women of the Wind) launched in 2005 — when three founders first decided to create an organization that supported women in wind power — and it’s now 2018, there’s still much equality work to be done. However, Graf and her team at WRISE have worked tirelessly for over a decade to bring gender and diversity awareness to the renewables sector.
“We’ve been working for years to showcase the data that makes the case for diverse teams, and it’s slowly paying off,” says Graf. “Now many leading companies want to be involved in this mission. In fact, quite a few are actively working on their own cultures and internal policies to figure out how to gain and advance diverse talent.”
Last summer, the organization officially broadened its scope (hence the name change to WRISE) to include wind as well as solar power, energy storage, energy efficiency, energy management, and power marketers focused on renewables, transmission, distributed generation, and smart grid technologies.
“The energy sector is growing and it’s important we grow with it,” explains Graf. “Despite some progress, the real work is just beginning and we have a lot of opportunities to make significant changes in the years ahead. Fortunately, WRISE has also built a tight-knit community of women that is working to support and advance each member personally and professionally.”
In 2013, Graf was recognized for her work with WRISE, and given the Award for Mid-Career Achievement in Mentoring and Education by the U.S. Department of Energy’s C3E Initiative. As a true science nerd, she earned a Bachelors Degree in Agricultural and Biological Engineering from Cornell University. At the time, she worked for the Cornell Cooperative Extension, assisting in efforts to expand the role of renewable energy in agriculture around New York State.
Graf was also an active member of the Executive Team of the Cornell University Chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.
“I’m inspired every day by the hard-working, determined people I get to meet all over the country who care deeply about accelerating the transition to renewables. Many are demanding a seat at the decision-making tables to talk clean energy, but are also now looking for diverse perspectives to join in the conversation.”
Graf says it’s a privilege to see changes, even small ones, and she’s proud to be part of the efforts for greater diversity in renewables. “If we continue to support the community and do it well, it will mean a more welcoming industry for everyone — including women.”
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