IIAR, RETA Work to Increase Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Industry

Industrial refrigeration has long been a male-dominated industry with women being few and far between, whether it be at the end user, contractor, or manufacturer level, but that is changing.

“There have been concerted efforts over the past several years focused on bringing women into the industry, and as an industry undergoing this shift, it’s important to highlight the accomplishments of women,” said Melissa Cassell, finance director, General Refrigeration Company.

Cassell worked closely with Yesenia Rector, meetings and international program director for IIAR, and Claudia Sanchez, executive director of ACAIRE Colombia, to put together the session “Diversity and Inclusion in Natural Refrigeration: A Women in Natural Refrigeration Workshop” at IIAR’s annual conference. The session was a joint effort between IIAR and the Refrigerating Engineers & Technicians Association (RETA) to highlight the progress the industry has made as well as the challenges that remain.
“When the planning discussion started, it was primarily focused on women in the industry, but we did also want to touch on the broader stroke of diversity,” Cassell said. Ultimately, the panel, which Cassell moderated, included five speakers. Panelists included: Colleen Keyworth director of sales and marketing for Online-Access, an HVAC web marketing company; Lee Pyle, business unit director for the SCS Tracer division of SCS Engineers and a vice president of SCS Engineers; Tania Herrera Serna, a key account manager for Güntner and member of the Women in Natural Refrigeration Steering Committee; Ken Williams, a semi-retired consultant for Chemical Transfer; and Monika Witt, managing director of TH.

They discussed how to address challenges and opportunities in the workplace, and shared their experiences with women in the industry. They also discussed ways to increase diversity in the industry and how to continue breaking down barriers.

“Bringing different ideas to the table often helps companies to look outside the box to find innovative and forward-thinking solutions to an everchanging landscape of issues that business face in today’s world.”

– Melissa Cassell, finance director, General Refrigeration Company

“It’s important to the success of any company to incorporate different backgrounds and perspectives into its business operations,” Cassell said. “Bringing different ideas to the table often helps companies to look outside the box to find innovative and forward thinking solutions to an ever-changing landscape of issues that business face in today’s world.”

Following the panel, Sanchez presented findings from the Women in Cooling Worldwide Survey. According to the survey, just 6 percent of the members of national refrigeration associations, organizations, and institutions are women. Women reported several challenges, including a lack of career advancement opportunities, no other female colleagues in their organization, and limited training opportunities to develop their skills. However, survey respondents said they are eager to support other women. More than half—53 percent—said they were directly involved in activities such as training, workshops, mentoring, or recruitment.

RETA’s Women in Natural Refrigeration (WiNR) focuses on providing networking opportunities to support the education and empowerment of women in the industry. The group grew out of an informal get-together several years ago and has grown exponentially. “What started in 2016 as a group of women at a RETA conference in Vegas, who just got together to go to dinner because there weren’t many attending, has grown to a national movement/forum for a more inclusive and supportive industry across all boundaries,” said Lois Stirewalt of RETA.

At the beginning of IIAR’s annual meeting, WiNR held a reception, giving women in the industry the chance to network and meet new people. “The idea behind having the networking event at the beginning of the conference is to give women the opportunity to meet new people and to have a ‘friendly face’ throughout the conference,” Cassell said.

Cassell said those interested in getting involved with WiNR or volunteering for the WiNR Steering Committee can email info@reta-ti.org for more information. To learn more about WiNR, visit the group’s website at https://www.reta-ti.org/winr or LinkedIn page at https://www.linkedin.com/company/women-in-natural-refrigeration/.