Women rise up the water and waste agenda

The positive impact of women working in the water and waste sectors has been highlighted as calls grow for more recognition of their talent and skills.

Both industries have traditionally been male dominated, but an increasingly number of female graduates entering the field is starting to redress the gender balance at an operational level, which is where core competencies in technology and engineering are required.

To recognise this, Sri Lankan water pioneer Kusum Athurkorala is calling for an international ‘women and water’ day. Despite progress, she claims more needs to be done as the water industry is still a “male-dominated and technocentric” environment.

“We have still not got to the point where we are engaging with half of humanity’s human resources. Forget equity, or gender if it raises hackles. Call it the optimisation of human resources,” she said.

Athurkorala recently won the International Water Association’s (IWA) Women in Water Award for her work in water resources management, gender and water, and limitations to water management.

A pioneer of gender inclusion in the water sector, Athukorala founded the Network of Women Water Professionals and developed many successful water and sanitation projects.

She is also a representative of the Women for Water Partnership – a global alliance of women organisations and networks active in water, sanitation, poverty and gender programs.

In 2008 the IWA started the Women in Water program in 2008 to support and encourage women to stay in the water sector. Its young water professionals group is predominantly female (60%) but this number declines dramatically after the age of 35, during career development.

Meanwhile the waste sector saw its first ‘women in waste’ event take place at the Resource Management & Recycling (RWM) show in Birmingham last week.

A packed theatre of mostly women listened to a panel of female representatives from major companies such as Viridor, MITIE and Veolia as they highlighted the importance of attracting top quality recruits into the sector.

The consensus was that while more women were working in the industry in office-based roles such as management, communications or admin, the gender imbalance was far more acute at an operational level.

Viridor’s landfill gas operations manager Lucy Morris admitted that the industry was still largely dominated by men despite an influx of newly qualified female engineers.

“We do get the attention, we do get the support and we do have to prove ourselves. We draw attention to ourselves so we have to be prepared for that but hopefully we can tip the balance and encourage more women to consider a career,” she said.

Maxine Perella

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