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The Journey of ISAWWA’s WIW Committee and Panel Discussion on Gender in the Workplace

Monday, April 30, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Brianna Huber
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The Journey of ISAWWA’s WIW Committee and Panel Discussion on Gender in the Workplace Brianna Huber, ISAWWA WIW Committee Chair

 

In 2014, after working in clinical public health for several years, I transitioned to environmental public health, taking a management position as a chemist at a drinking water utility. Once I’d adjusted to my new job responsibilities, workplace culture, and team, I was struck by how differently I—a female who had worked in more gender-balanced white-collar environments—approached work compared with my predominantly male, blue-collar counterparts.

 

I knew, going in, that taking my first management position in both an industry new to me and a workplace environment completely different from my experience would be a challenge. And, if you know me, you know that I like a good challenge. By 2016, after months of noting my working approach differences from my male coworkers, I began to question myself. They all seemed to think the same way. Why was I so different? However, one day, it hit me: “I can’t be the only woman working in a water utility that feels this way, right?”. So, I set out on an investigation. Even though I only knew a handful of other women working in area drinking water utilities—plus two women in utilities a couple of hours away—I was determined to figure out if I was the only one questioning myself in this way. I reached out to these women, shared my feelings, and asked if they knew of any “women in management” or “women in water” groups. They did not, but they were open to starting such a group together. This was the inception of what would become the ISAWWA Women in Water (WIW) Committee. In 2017, ISAWWA launched its first WIW Committee at Watercon.

 

To the best of our knowledge, we were the first section under the national American Water Works Association umbrella to have an official WIW Committee. Our mission is to empower women working in the water industry by providing a safe environment for mentorship, developing a woman-to-woman support network, and engaging in women-centered educational and leadership development opportunities. While this committee seeks to serve the needs of women working in the water industry, all—including women, men, and transgender individuals—are welcome in our committee and at events. It is our ultimate goal to create a more cohesive and inclusive working environment for all people in the water industry, regardless of gender, paving the way for a progressive industry focused solely on providing the highest-quality total water solutions. When this WIW Committee launched in 2017, the most interesting thing started to happen. People who I had never heard murmur a single word about gender in the water industry suddenly had something to say! As it turned out, everyone had thoughts, but no one was brave enough to share them, even conservatively, until now. Apparently, women working in the water industry is still controversial. And, as chair of the new WIW Committee, I got to hear all about it. As I began to speak with both women and men across the industry about this, a few key takeaways stood out. First, my experiences as a woman in water are not always the same as the experiences of other women in the industry, for better or worse.

 

Second, even as adults working in a multi-gender environment, it’s hard for people to openly talk about their experiences. I thought to myself, gender is clearly a greater issue in this industry than I thought, and we should be having an open and honest conversation about it. This is what led to our panel discussion, “Gender in the Workplace: Building a Stronger Workforce by Getting to Know Your Counterparts,” at Watercon 2018. This discussion marked just one more milestone on the journey of our committee, and we look forward to continuing to make progress and grow in the water industry in the future!

 

To read more about our panel discussion, please see my first article, “Great Conversation about Gender in the Water Industry Workplace: Hosted by ISAWWA’s Women in Water Committee at Watercon 2018.” Again, thank you to the water professionals that have supported and participated in our committee, and this panel, and for having the tenacity to accept the challenge. 


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