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News & Press: Illinois Section AWWA News

Great Conversation about Gender in the Water Industry Workplace

Monday, April 30, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Brianna Huber
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Great Conversation about Gender in the Water Industry Workplace: Hosted by ISAWWA’s Women in Water Committee at Watercon 2018 Brianna Huber, ISAWWA WIW Committee Chair This year at Watercon, the Illinois Section American Water Works Association’s (ISAWWA) Women in Water (WIW) Committee hosted a panel discussion, “Gender in the Workplace: Building a Stronger Workforce by Getting to Know Your Counterparts,” as part of their WIW track. As the moderator of this panel and WIW chair, I would be lying if I said that I was not nervous about doing this.


Having a discussion like this could go either very well or very badly. It seems that, when we talk about gender in the workplace, conversations are emotion-laden, and one-person (or gender) winds up being hurt, defensive, or a plethora of other negative adjectives. While the idea of having this panel blossomed long before, and the topics and goals of this panel discussion were vastly different, the emotions that the MeToo movement has stirred up on either side of the controversy seemed to exponentially add to the potential for this panel to wind up going very badly. If this occurred, it could affect my reputation and/or the reputation of the WIW Committee.


Nevertheless, it felt like it was time to begin the conversation. Not knowing if anyone would be willing to do this, I put out a call for volunteers to gauge interest, and five males and four females responded. I prepared twelve questions about gender in the workplace for panelists to respond to at the event and invited the audience to speak openly and add to the conversation, when they felt moved to. In addition, I conducted live-polling of audience members to extract more input and better understand their experiences. I asked everyone who spoke to be 100% honest, even if that meant hurting someone’s feelings or stirring up controversy.


Of course, I also asked them to be respectful while doing so. I am happy to report that the discussion went so well that we did not even get through half of the prepared questions; we ran out of time! Everyone was respectful, and we had a healthy and productive conversation. Men and women alike shared their thoughts and grievances, and no one was offended. When our time had run out, panelists and audience members said that they wished we had more time and that we should do this again to continue the conversation. Having such a wonderful discussion and receiving such inspiring feedback has reassured me that we are on the right track and are ready to have these conversations! Further, it has reinforced the philosophy that I try to live by: being the change that I want to see. If you didn’t get to attend the panel discussion and are curious about what we learned, here were some of our key takeaways: We asked audience members if they feel supported in the workplace by peers of the same gender and peers of the opposite gender. When asked if they felt supported by peers of the same gender, 100% answered “yes.”


However, less than 60% felt supported by peers of the opposite gender. Because women are oftentimes considered more skilled in the areas of organization and planning, men often ask women to plan workplace events and parties. But, women do not feel it is fair that these responsibilities primarily fall on them and often do not want to perform these duties for a variety of reasons. First, these duties take away from their primary job functions (engineering, operating, lab, etc.). Second, employees are typically evaluated on these primary job functions; if they are not given equal opportunity to perform them—due to secondary planning and hosting of office events—it can hurt their performance evaluations, thereby hurting their potential for wage increase and promotion.


Third, just because men may not be perceived as inclined towards organization and planning, it does not mean these skills should not be equally expected of them or opportunities should not be equally offered to them. Our conversation was extremely eye-opening, and we learned much more than what I have shared with you here. I hope that you will consider participating and enhancing the conversation in the future! I would like to extend thanks to the nine panelists who accepted the challenge to openly discuss this topic; the ISAWWA, for supporting WIW; and the WIW committee members dedicated to supporting women throughout the water industry. 

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