Happy Women’s History Month! To celebrate, this month EnergyLink is having conversations with modern women in sustainability. For our second installment of Conversations with Women in Sustainability, Natalie Gregus sat down with Ariana Whitaker, who is the Regional Sales Manager at Fronius. During their conversation, Natalie and Ariana covered topics like women’s leadership and representation in the sustainability sector. Click the link below to read the first installment of Conversations with Women in Sustainability with Christina Lampert.
What is Fronius?
Fronius manufactures clean energy technology such as solar inverters, photovoltaics, battery charging and welding power sources. Ariana’s focus lies with the former. Fronius operates with the goal of implementing advanced solutions and aiming for a better more sustainable future to power the US and world.
Verbatim transcript of interview below:
Natalie Gregus: Happy Women’s History month, and welcome to the second installment of EnergyLink’s Women in Sustainability Conversations with modern industry leaders. My name is Natalie Gregus. I’m the Communications and Public Relations Lead here at Energy link. Today I’m speaking with Ariana Whittaker, who is the Regional Sales Manager for Fronius. So hi, Arianna, thanks for being with us today.
Ariana Whitaker: Hi Natalie, thank you for having me, of course.
Natalie Gregus: Just to get started, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your professional background?
Ariana Whitaker: Sure I, I have a non standard story, probably I didn’t start out to try to be in sustainability or in renewable energy, I was actually going to school to be a teacher. And I kept, I started college a little late to I took a break. And I wasn’t really, really full steam ahead until I was in my mid 20s. And I was going to school to be a teacher. And I kept getting talked out of it by all the teachers I know.
I took a break and decided to take a year or two and figure out for sure what I wanted to do, and ended up getting a really entry level job at Fronius in the HR department, and kind of stumbled into solar and realized that I really enjoyed it, and that I had kind of a passion for it. And it just worked out really well. And now, eight years later, I went from travel coordinator and HR to the regional sales manager and the solar energy department.
Natalie Gregus: Yeah, that’s awesome. I kind of had a similar experience. I didn’t plan on being in the sustainability world, but I just kind of stumbled into it. And I really liked it. So it’s crazy how that happens. But I know from personal experiences, this industry is male dominated. But I was excited to see that Fronius as a female CEO, is that right?
Ariana Whitaker: Yeah, worldwide, we do. Elisabeth Strauss is our worldwide CEO. And actually, within Fronius, USA, we have a good number of like, our management level is almost 5050 in terms of female versus male management, which I really enjoy.
Natalie Gregus: Yeah, that’s really cool to see. So what is your experience been like, as a female in this industry? And what are your thoughts on female representation in this industry?
Ariana Whitaker: I guess I’ll start with my experience, it’s been overall really good. It is a little strange, because being in solar, and sometimes going to some of the events or hosting trainings or going into meetings, you know, it’s one of the only places in my life that I still will look around and realize I’m the only woman in a room semi regularly. Obviously, larger events, not the case, I feel like we see more women every year, and that’s exciting.
But, you know, really regularly, I’ll go to trainings, or networking evenings, or whatever. And if, if I’m not the only woman, I’m close to it. And that’s kind of the only place in my life, that this will happen.
So it’s always sort of a strange moment to look around and realize that I’m the only one. But in general, I’ve had a really good experience, I think the industry overall, is pretty welcoming to women, I think there’s a lot of space for them. And I would like every, like I said, every year we see more, and I like I like that I’m looking forward to seeing more and more as the time goes on.
Your experiences and your life kind of informs your passions and your worldview and your knowledge base. And I think a diversity of a diversity of experiences is important anywhere. And it’s definitely a little lacking in solar for women. And I think it’s important to get that extra voice in the room for, you know, a variety of reasons. But you know, I do think it is important. And I think there’s efforts being made, and I’m looking forward to seeing them succeed.
Natalie Gregus: Yes, definitely. And has there been anyone that you kind of looked up to within the industry or throughout your career?
Ariana Whitaker: I mean, yes, a handful of people. Probably one of the first that come to mind is another sales manager at Fronius. Sara Centreman. She started a year so she’s been in solar much longer. She’s got a much longer history in solar. And she started at Fronius, about a year or so before I did. So, when I was fresh to the solar division. She had been there, you know, a year or so but was still relatively new.
I’m always in awe of her. She’s so knowledgeable. She’s so welcoming. She’s just a rockstar all around. And every time I think I’ve discovered the last cool thing she can do, she comes up with some other cool thing that she can do.
I mean, honestly, there are a handful of women that I really look forward to seeing at trade shows and events. You know that I admire their, their technical knowledge or their, you know, kind of their willingness to stick through and see things through and just people that have a different a lot of women that have a different skill set than me, I find it I find it very admirable when I run into somebody that I just think, wish I could do that, you know.
Natalie Gregus: Yeah. It’s very encouraging to work with other women that have kind of like, been through what you’re doing and have done it before you and haven’t succeeded like that, that’s really cool to see in this industry.
Ariana Whitaker: eah, it is. And it’s nice when they can kind of give you the tips. And, you know, sort of give you a little bit of guidance. And when something does feel negative, or when something does happen, that maybe doesn’t feel super comfortable, you know, you’ll have someone to go to, and they can kind of walk you through what their experience was, and how to get past it, or how to avoid it in the future. It’s just always good to feel like there’s somebody in your corner.
Natalie Gregus: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And do you have any advice that you would offer to future female sustainability professionals?
Ariana Whitaker: I think my advice would probably be to, just to try it and to see it through. A lot of times, because it’s so male dominated, it can be a little intimidating, and you can feel a little bit like an imposter, like you shouldn’t be in the room. And I think it’s important to always remind yourself, you should be in the room, you know, that it’s like, not only okay for you to be in the room, but it’s important for you to be in the room.
And, you know, to not to not allow feeling like, you know, you’re not technical enough, or you don’t have enough of a background. Most of these women and people didn’t at the beginning, either. And so to you know, just to stick it out to give it a try and to stick it out.
Natalie Gregus: Yeah, I think that’s great advice. Do you want to talk a little bit more about your experience kind of getting into the sustainability field, like transitioning from wanting to be a teacher and then working for for audience?
Ariana Whitaker: Yeah. So I had wanted to be a teacher. And I kept getting talked out of it. So I was going back and forth, I kept changing my major between business and education. And, but I wasn’t feeling very much of a pull towards any towards the business degree wasn’t didn’t feel exciting to me, it just felt like the thing that I should do. And so finally, I had settled on, okay, I’m just going to take a break, I’m going to take a year or two.
And at this point, I’m already in my mid to late 20s, what’s another year or two, and I’m going to figure out what I’d like to do. So I did that, and I was looking for a full time job that might even sort of lead me into something I was interested in, like I, I was looking at a lot of nonprofits I was looking at, I was trying to find something that might give me a little bit of experience and help inform that choice later.
But funnily enough, that wasn’t really the kind of interview that, at least for me, with Fronius, when I came upon the job listing the way that it had been the way that had been, like pulled over to the job site that I was looking at, it hadn’t copied and pasted fully. And so it looked like it was a like an administrative assistant at a welding shop, because we also have the welding division.
Yeah. And so I, I just sort of threw it on the list as a way might as well, you know, it looked whatever it looked interesting. And then I got to the interviewer, and was blown away by the facility, and that they had solar and welding and battery charging. And it was very multicultural. We have people from all over the world that work there. And I was immediately like, just absolutely, like my heart stopped as I wish I’d prepared for this more. This was more of like an extra. But it was fine, pulled it together and went really well.
Went back for the next one. And took the job in the HR department, which also was really great because I got to see the our welding division, the way that they work and meet a lot of those people and also our Solar Energy Division, the way that they work and get to meet a lot of that team. And honestly, they’re both great.
I was really more pulled towards solar because I love the sustainability and the renewable renewable energy aspect. But our welding team is truly second to none. And they also do a lot of really good work. They have a women who weld program they have. So there was I had some interest, you know, kind of both ways, but my heart was more insular. And so when they were hiring in a inside sales support position, I went ahead and applied and took that job.
And then I don’t even know exactly how I came to manage our FSP Fronius solutions partner program. I think I just saw sort of started doing it, and then no one stopped me. Um, I mean, I definitely was given the administration portion of it, but I just sort of kept pushing. Until pretty soon I was essentially in charge of it.
So that was kind of my next role. They’re like, Hey, you’re doing this, so we’re just gonna let you do it. And then from there, I kind of just found it stumbled my way into sales, getting to know the installers and getting to work with them in their day to day business and see what they needed, and what was hard for them. And where they needed support was a really good way to make my way into sales and still support those same people. And those same needs, but just in a slightly different way.
Natalie Gregus: Yeah, that was really cool to hear about your journey. And is there anything else that you’d like to discuss today?
Ariana Whitaker: I don’t think so. Not off the top of my head, I think I mean, really, for me, it would just be to encourage other women in the industry to, to stay to stick it out to apply for the apply for the promotion, you know, apply for the next role. And not ever feel like you don’t belong here. There are a ton of organizations that you can join, like the rise, women in renewable industries, and solar energy is a really great group. So if you find those women, it makes it a lot easier to stay and I think it’s important that we do.
Natalie Gregus: Yeah, I’ll definitely have to check out some of those groups. But thank you so much for your time today. I really enjoyed speaking with you and everyone make sure to check out our weekly women in sustainability conversations.
Ariana Whitaker: Thanks so much for having me.
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