Delegates to the second Women in Water conference organised by British Water have embraced the trade association’s campaign to support women in the industry. The event took place at MWH Treatment’s Manchester headquarters on 16 October and speakers shared their career stories along with offering expert advice from direct experience.
British Water chief executive Lila Thompson said, “One of the important things about Women in Water is that it’s not just an event, it’s now a campaign, and we’re building our resources and incorporating other organisations’ actions and events. We’ve already had some excellent feedback from delegates that will help determine our next steps as we build on this important initiative.”
In the spirit of collaboration, Angie Needle, founder of the Women’s Utility Network, delivered a keynote on empowerment. Setting out the current gender imbalance in stark terms she said only 20% of the half-million people working in the utilities are women; only 23% of those in leadership positions in the water industry are women and only 1% of those in skilled trades.
“I’m absolutely in it for equality,” Needle said. “We need more women because there’s masses of research that says that more women adds to better diversity, which adds to better productivity, which adds to better growth and creates a better company.”
Sharing her own career experience, Needle advised those moving up the ladder to “Go for things you don’t think you can do – the whole point is you’re learning.”
MWH Treatment human resources director Hilary Tew had practical advice for companies wishing to recruit and retain female employees, “We asked whether our benefits are inclusive. We now offer an extra five days holidays you can buy. It’s not just about women, men can share the benefits. If we can help with their family life, it’s a win-win.”
She also had advice for women managing negative comments and sexist “microaggressions” in the workplace: “Be calm, face the reality and address the matter directly with the person giving those comments,” she said. “If it doesn’t get any better, you have to report it.”
Feedback from delegates during and after the event was overwhelmingly positive.
Tanya Sephton, commercial director, South East Water said, “This was a good opportunity to come along and bring some of the team with me so they can develop too. In terms of the challenges that women face, confidence is a big thing. It’s important to understand that the feelings women have about their confidence, everybody shares.”
Hayley Wakeford, a network project engineer at Portsmouth Water and the Institute of Water’s Rising Star for the south-east region said, “I’m one of a few female engineers at Portsmouth Water and I wanted to get involved with other women in the industry. Women in Water provides a network and a platform for women to connect with each other, but I’d also like to see outreach into schools and putting the water industry on the map to attract other women.”
Posting on LinkedIn, Victoria Banks, UK sales manager, ATi UK said, “I left today’s Women In Water event feeling encouraged and motivated after listening to and interacting with many inspirational speakers. Being a mum with a full-time job, continuing further education - life’s a juggle for sure! Today has definitely given me that confidence and reassurance to pursue my career in the water industry.”
Also posting on LinkedIn, Lucy Hargreaves, senior production manager, Jacobs said, “Buzzing after a great day. One of the many takeaways - be brave.”