Women in Water, Week 3: Onwards and Upwards

For the final week in our Women in Water series, started on International Women’s Day, we have interviewed women across the world who are dedicated to the protection of water and the environment, and the use of technology to do so. This week, we met with Angela Perks, an AQUARIUS user from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council in New Zealand, and Tamara Roberts, a Linko user at the City of Bloomington Utilities in Bloomington, IN, USA.

Angela Perks is an environmental data analyst with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council who administers the AQUARIUS database, performs field work, and works to automate data capture.

After receiving her master’s degree in geology, Angela worked for a while in the geology field before moving into hydrology. She notes that the hydrology field can be difficult to get in to, as it’s not well known, and people often can’t get into it right after school. However, she notes that once you get in, the industry is great, and happily states that: “It used to be male-dominated, and in some of the harsher regions of the country it still is. But I’d say now that’s it’s about 50/50, men and women, especially in the city.”

Angela also sees a relationship between evolving technologies and having more women in the industry. “It used to be that the hydrology field was about a lot of field work. And there weren’t many women. But now that technology is such a huge part of hydrology, and women are receiving better education than ever before, they’re able to start ticking some of those boxes in interviews. It’s really not all heavy lifting. But of course,” she laughs, “women can do the field work too!”

To women considering a career in hydrology, Angela encourages them to go for it. “Don’t be put off, this isn’t so much of a male-dominated industry anymore. If you’re passionate about it, get that work experience while you study, and always say yes to new opportunities. Believe in yourself and know your stuff so that you can hold your own in any situation.”

Tamara Roberts, Pretreatment Coordinator at City of Bloomington Utilities, has three key pieces of advice for young women looking to enter the water industry:

  1. Most people are willing to help you learn if you’re respectful and straightforward with them.
  2. You can learn something from everyone – from operators who may have never went to college to highly educated individuals, different people will teach you different but very valuable things.
  3. Networking is critical, and you have to be resourceful. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the larger industry community for support.

Tamara is responsible for the management of the City’s pretreatment program.  She ensures that inspections are performed, writes wastewater discharge permits for industries, and ensures that those industries remain compliant.

Tamara has always been drawn to the wastewater pretreatment field. Working previously as an Environmental Manager with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and as an Industrial Hygienist with Crane Army Ammunition Activity, she found that the pretreatment field was engaging and allowed for her time to be balanced between the office and the field. “It’s very interesting, I learn something new every day,” she remarks, adding, “You can become an expert in one area and then a new industry comes along, meaning that you’ll have to start learning again.”

Tamara has also found the pretreatment field to be wide open as far as career advancement in concerned. “With a little involvement, you can gain experience in a wide variety of areas, including permit writing, safety, enforcement, etc. There’s also ample opportunity to advance into higher level roles.”

As more regulations are passed, Tamara has observed that the field continues to grow. “I’m also seeing more women in the pretreatment field, more than there are in wastewater operations. The newer pretreatment coordinators tend to be younger women, and it’s great to see this becoming more of a career path.” Nevertheless, Tamara remarks how she’s previously received comments about how young she was or the fact that she was a woman on the job. “However, I think it’s important for women to remember that they’re not alone. And as time goes on, I see more and more women working in the wastewater field, so I’m very hopeful for the future.”

This is the third and final post in our “Women in Water” series, in which we’ve highlighted six women working in the water and wastewater industries over the month of March. Thank you for joining us as we shared the stories of these remarkable women and celebrated their achievements!