Women in Water: Making a Difference

December 21, 2016

Featured

Jean Malafronte, WEF member and associate at Greeley and Hansen

Photo courtesy of Jean Malafronte.

Photo courtesy of Jean Malafronte.


Jean Malafronte, associate for Greeley and Hansen (Chicago) in Philadelphia, is a member of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.), Pennsylvania Water Environment Association (PWEA), and New Jersey Water Environment Association (NJWEA). She serves on the NJWEA Water for People Committee and the PWEA Utility Management Committee. Malafronte is a licensed professional engineer as well as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and EnvisionTM accredited professional.

What happens when you bring together a diverse group of professional women in the water sector to find ways to bring creativity, innovation, and work-life balance into their daily lives? A lot of lively conversation, discovery, and inspiration takes place. As utility employees, executive directors, consultants, and other water sector professionals gathered at the Women in Water Breakfast during the 89th Annual Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC), the room filled with conversation and bright ideas.

Keynote speaker Kristen McIntyre talked about ways to tap into creativity, and strategies to become more innovative and successful. She posed an interesting challenge to everyone attending — write your address on a postcard with a note of inspiration to yourself on the back.  She asked us to answer two questions:

  • What challenge will you address with an innovative approach this year?
  • How will you nurture creativity and innovation in your life this year?

Naturally, we picked up our pens, put our heads down, and furiously started to write. After we were done, we took part in group discussions. I learned that the women in this sector ultimately are responsible for working toward a better environment by supporting each other and speaking up when working to improve relations with our colleagues. My group shared a number of key points through discussion of the postcard exercise.

Find ways to lift other women up

Malfronte (right) talks to other water professionals at her table during the Women in Water Breakfast. Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

Malafronte (right) talks to other water professionals at her table during the Women in Water Breakfast. Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

In our group, we heard from an engineer working for a public utility who also serves as the chair of her Member Association (MA). She had created a number of initiatives during the MA’s conferences to connect women in the water sector with each other. These initiatives included a women’s networking lunch where each attendee was given a $5 coffee gift card; with these gifts, each attendee was encouraged to take another woman out for coffee to find ways to support each other outside of the conference venue.

Share tips for being authentic and staying true to ourselves

Attendees were asked to fill out postcards to inspire themselves on innovation and creativity. Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

Attendees were asked to fill out postcards to inspire their own efforts toward success. Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

We discussed how to be recognized for our skills, how to be authentic, and how to overcome our fears. Many of the women around the table shared strategies to handle being asked to accomplish tasks not relevant to their jobs; taking different approaches that could change perceptions of women in the sector; and retaining confidence from our hard work. We also shared tips for staying calm during stressful times, either through training ourselves to take a pause or through using a smartphone application to assist in a moment of daily meditation and reflection.

Advice for all of us

We recognized that women are making a difference in this sector. There’s no need to feel that we must prove that anymore. Now, we just need to focus on continuing to work toward making a positive impact, both in leading the people we work with and in the world outside the workplace. Women in the sector need to

  • speak up,
  • be authentic,
  • lift each other up,
  • avoid giving into fear, and
  • find ways to use innovation and creativity to make our work products better.
Keynote speaker Kristen McIntyre shared tips for tapping into creativity to foster innovative and success. Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

Keynote speaker Kristen McIntyre shared tips for tapping into creativity to foster innovation and success. Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

By participating in this information exchange about shared experiences as a woman in water, I learned that the women in this sector ultimately are responsible for working toward a better environment by supporting each other and speaking up when working to improve relations with our colleagues.

For more information about the breakfast, read the WE&T article, “Getting a boost of creativity at the second annual Women in Water Breakfast.”

— Jean Malafronte, WEF member

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