“I see women championing digital tools in water utilities because they see their benefits”
This year the UN’s theme for International Women’s Day focuses on digital innovation and technology for gender equality. We are using this occasion to ask women professionals in the water industry about their experiences and their views on women’s participation in digital innovation and the opportunities it might bring to achieve gender parity.
This time we had the opportunity to hear from Sabina Todd, Regional General Manager and Vice President of APAC at Envirosuite. She is in charge of the company’s strategy for the Region to solve complex challenges for clients in various industries, including water, through data intelligence technologies.
The UN’s theme for this year’s International Women’s Day focuses on innovation and technology for gender equality. To what extent are women participating in digital innovation in the water industry?
I really like this year’s UN Theme for IWD, being “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality” because it connects two central components of my belief. I believe that technology is a powerful tool to drive innovation to progress and advance the human race. We need to do this in a way that brings all people on the journey at the same time (harnessing women and diversity). The third pillar in my belief is that this progress cannot occur in a way that negatively impacts the environment.
I believe that technology is a powerful tool to drive innovation to progress and advance the human race
Personally, I’m not sure that I can point out any specific examples of women leading digital innovation in the water industry that would make headlines in the traditional sense (which is not to say that it isn’t happening). However, at Envirosuite, I see women championing the use of digital tools in water utilities because they see the game changing benefits that they bring to their organisations. In these cases, they are using the “softer” skills of influencing and supporting to bring others in their organisations on the digital journey, rather than the more masculine approach of driving an agenda for an outcome (which can also be very successful). The difference with digital technologies is that for them to truly add value, they need to be integrated into existing business structures and this often requires a softer touch with ample stakeholder engagement and change management. I have seen examples of this with two software platforms that Envirosuite provides – Omnis, our environmental intelligence software and SeweX, our sewer network digital twin software.
If women had a low presence in STEM-related careers, their presence is even lower in ICTs. Do you think there is a risk that gender gaps will be perpetuated in the digital age?
I believe we will continue to perpetuate the gender gap in the digital age if we do not start to change the way we talk about STEM and ICT in our school system
I believe we will continue to perpetuate the gender gap in the digital age if we do not start to change the way we talk about STEM and ICT in our school system. I think this is the number one way that we can change the female representation in industries like ICT. However, this will take some time as the belief of the masculine nature of STEM careers is very engrained in our society – and more so in some countries than others.
That said, I think we are well on the way already. The school systems that I am in contact with have some amazing programs to make STEM approachable for girls, like Young Engineers Club and Coding Clubs that openly embrace girls.
I also believe there is a responsibility for business to play their part in this. For example, LEGO have launched a STEM range with a NASA Space shuttle including Olivia and her Friends from the Friends range of LEGO. This is a great step forward. I would like to see other companies develop similar product offerings that break the barriers around girls’ engagement in STEM.
The digital age is changing the way we work and technology provides greater flexibility in terms of forms of employment. Do you expect this will have an impact on gender parity?
I hope this will impact gender parity. From a high level, of course a greater amount of flexibility will assist women’s engagement in the workforce as we fit work around the other roles we have in our family unit, be that mother, carer for elderly parents, home maker/keeper etc.
We also need men to lean into non-work roles more to share the load of family and home
However, technology on its own cannot solve this problem. It needs to come with a mindset from the employer that is different to what we have had in the past. While this is not possible in all forms of employment, an expectation on outcome rather than effort/time spent is needed. In the context of remote work, we also need high quality managers to have open and candid discussions with employees about their output and provide timely and constructive feedback. It is much more difficult to manage a remote team than one sitting in the office with you. Of my team of 40 people, only one of them lives in the same city as me. It is a challenge.
Finally, we also need men to lean into non-work roles more to share the load of family and home. I see this is happening in so many families around me, which I think is incredible, and my personal success could not have occurred without significant past and ongoing support from my husband. However, I do think I have the lens on a demographic that is probably not representative of all of society when it comes to this situation.
How can digital innovation be leveraged to address some of the specific challenges facing women, such as access to mentorship opportunities?
There are lots of ways that digital innovation can be leveraged to address specific challenges facing women
There are lots of ways that digital innovation can be leveraged to address specific challenges facing women. Stereotypically women have a greater need for emotional connection than men – digital innovation can harness this by allowing connection from the comforts of our living room. For example, I recently spoke at an online event for The Victorian Information Communication Technology for Women Network which is an organization trying to further the entry, retention and progression of women in ICT. The audience listened in to me in my home office from around the globe despite the time differences. I find this amazing.
In a non-work context, I also believe that digital innovations are helping to assist the lives of women. Whether it is tracking online progress of your child’s performance at school to period/cycle tracking to manage fatigue and mood – these all benefit women and our ability to contribute to our family and society.
Have you seen any specific examples of how technology has helped to level the playing field for women in the water sector?
I have provided a few examples above of digital innovations to assist women participating in the workforce but also managing their lives. However, I would have to say that I cannot think of a specific example for the water sector. Is this a problem? Not specifically. If digital technology can benefit men and women together, rather than just concentrating on one side of the gender equation, then surely this creates greater value. To that extent, Envirosuite has digital tools like our Designer and Optimiser software which creates a digital twin of a water treatment asset. We see this used by utilities to assist with operational training on plants – this is a tool open to all genders, it just needs an open mind and a willingness to learn, something I believe is not gender dependent.