The International Geothermal Association’s new president, Andy Blair, took on her role at their AGM on 7th June 2020. Andy is co-director of NZ geothermal consultancy firm, Upflow, and having a New Zealander so prominent in the global geothermal community is a fantastic opportunity for all of us. The NZGA caught up with Andy at Upflow’s Rotorua office to discuss her thoughts on her new role.
Congratulations on your new role as IGA President! What aspects / projects are you particularly looking forward to being involved with?
There are two things that I’m particularly looking forward to. The first is creating a solid governance framework for the board, so that our operational team is able to work on some exciting projects. The breadth of experience, age and diversity within this board puts us in a strong governance position.
The organisation has existed for over 30 years, and the new board is over 60% female. It has never been anywhere near that number, that’s real change and really impressive to see. It’s also not just gender that’s diverse, there’s a variety of ages, and a breadth of experience across different areas within the sector. I’m excited because I can see we’re going to have some robust, thoughtful conversations because of the different lenses that we’re looking through.
I’m also excited about the opportunities to have conversations with influential people and groups outside of our industry. We need to seek out and engage those that have influence on policies, investment and thought leadership, knowing that if they turn their attention to geothermal then we could see some real momentum, which will in turn support a strong future for our industry. Agencies like the United Nations and the World Bank have influence in the global space, so having conversations with them gives us the opportunity to grow our projects.
Wind and solar are currently doing a really good job of speaking into those spaces, but with geothermal being a niche market, we aren’t often included in those conversations. The IGA need to lift up into these global conversations, around climate change and decarbonisation.
New Zealand has got a fantastic representation on the IGA board- how do you see New Zealand’s role in the global geothermal industry going forwards?
New Zealand has always had a strong role in global geothermal projects. There aren’t many projects in the world that haven’t had a New Zealander be part of it in some way. But we’re very humble, and shy away from being visible, so you don’t often know that we’re involved! We are global leaders in the geothermal energy space (and that’s industrial direct use as well as electricity generation), and we are trusted advisers because we speak plainly and truthfully. We are global leaders in the industry, and will continue to have a strong future and key role to play within the geothermal world.
Being one of the few female presidents of the IGA is a huge achievement, and also reflects your work with WING. How much of a change have you seen within the industry with regards to women’s representation since you’ve been involved in geothermal?
Massive change! When we started WING, when you looked around the industry, you rarely saw women in leadership roles. I would travel to geothermal markets around the world, and sit at board tables where there might be twenty men and one woman. I’d see smart, capable women, who often did a lot of the leg work, who never got any speaking time or credit. So when we started WING, those women were really disconnected from each other. Now we are up to about 1800 connected members, and we regularly see individuals reaching out to one another, and can really connect and talk through ideas together. It’s that feeling of knowing that you’re not alone, that others see your value, and there’s a place where you belong.
WING has brought visibility to women in the workforce, and also given them confidence; when one woman steps forward, it challenges other women to do the same. This way we have started making our way into leadership positions. We talk a lot about “perfection is paralysis”, meaning that we don’t have to be perfect to be leaders, we just need to hold these leadership positions to open up opportunities for a whole lot more women following behind.
Now we are starting to see lots of boards around the world with much more female representation. The IGA having over 60% female representation is just phenomenal, and I see a definite change in the global culture. We’re creating a space where it’s not ok to be keeping women out of decision-making roles, and there’s a general intolerance for that kind of behaviour.
Through our WINGman initiatives, we also see some real cultural change within organisations. Last year I saw two men invite one of their senior managers into a meeting and say “We need to do more for women, these are the things we want to do, these are the recruitment policies we want”. I just sat there watching these two young men fighting for their female colleagues, and I thought “Wow, the world has changed.” That moment was a game-changer for me and quite emotional.
Do you therefore feel a lot of pressure as one of these prominent female role models?
I don’t feel pressure because being vulnerable and having flaws is not bad. Nobody’s perfect, and as I say, you don’t have to be perfect to be a leader. We’re all learning and we’re all growing. Some of the really high-ranking women that I’ve dealt with in this industry, heads of billion dollar organisations, they all feel the same insecurities. The conversations we have are the same as I have with first year graduates going into roles. It’s nothing to do with your experience or your abilities, it’s to do with your self-perception. I can’t say if I’m a role model or not; I’m just pushing really hard so that the women behind me have an easier path to follow.
With Covid-19 shutting down travel options, the global geothermal community has had to cancel face-to-face meetings with colleagues and associates from other countries, and stop all overseas travel. As an international association, how do you see the IGA managing with these restrictions, and keeping connections active?
We travel a lot for work, and often save up conversations to have with people, but now we have to do it straight away, because we don’t know when we’ll be meeting again face-to-face. And with technology, there is really no excuse not to stay connected. Physically we can’t be in the same room, but we can still have conversations, we can still influence, and we can still engage with people.
When we start talking about virtual, suddenly the reach of our events gets exponentially greater. Now we’re forced to try new things and do it differently, we might find that they work a lot better.
The IGA are running their #StayConnected events, which is a twelve month campaign, and it’s something we would never have done if we hadn’t been forced into this position. So in some ways we’re going to be more connected, which is strange!
The NZGA keeps in close contact with the IGA, and will bring you regular updates from the new Board.