Women in Water Pledge To Help Others at WEFTEC

September 27, 2016

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Debra Shore, Speaker at the WEFTEC 2015 Women in Water Breakfast

Photo courtesy of Robert Kusel.

Photo courtesy of Robert Kusel.

Debra Shore, the keynote speaker at the Women in Water Breakfast held during WEFTEC 2015, is a member of the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. As an advocate for resource recovery and cleaning Chicago’s waterways, she received the Public Officials Award from the Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) in 2013.

Debra Shore, the keynote speaker at the Women in Water Breakfast held during WEFTEC 2015, is a member of the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. As an advocate for resource recovery and cleaning Chicago’s waterways, she received the Public Officials Award from the Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) in 2013.

Last year, water sector leaders Sandra Ralston, Karen Pallansch, and others including Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) staff, organized the first Women in Water networking breakfast — an opportunity for female professionals to meet and get to know each other — held at WEFTEC® 2015.

I was invited to deliver a keynote address at the breakfast. I am not a biologist, an engineer, a treatment facility operator, or a technician; but as an elected member of the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), I consider myself to be a “woman of water.”

The Board of Commissioners at MWRD consists of five women and four men. In September 2015, the MWRD’s 1869 employees included 511 women, and 48 of these women were degreed engineers, including Catherine O’Connor, director of engineering, and Manju Sharma, director of maintenance and operations, who retired in May.

Women leaders network during the WEFTEC 2015 Breakfast With Women Water Leaders. Photo courtesy of Oscar Einzig Photography.

Women leaders network during the WEFTEC 2015 Breakfast With Women Water Leaders. Photo courtesy of Oscar Einzig Photography.

Still, many of our facilities are not welcoming places for women. We have much to do to change the culture. Part of changing the culture happens when we come across as competent, knowledgeable, smart, and confident colleagues. Part of it happens when we increase our representation — in elected office, in trade unions, in boardrooms, and in control rooms.

So, I asked each woman at the breakfast to think about ways they could be more visible — as engineers, treatment facility operators, biologists, and technicians — to other women, especially young women, in their communities. Younger women need to see us to know what is possible. They need to see us as role models and get to know us as mentors.

Debra Shore, comissioner for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, gives the keynote speech at the first annual breakfast. Photo courtesy of Oscar Einzig Photography.

Debra Shore, commissioner for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, gives the keynote speech at the first annual breakfast. Photo courtesy of Oscar Einzig Photography.

If we are visible and excited about what we do, then we can capture the imaginations of young women and launch them into futures full of greatness. I asked attendees to consider ways to share their work in the water and wastewater sectors with other women:

  • Could they invite girls in an advanced chemistry or physics class at the local high school to shadow them for a day?
  • Could they produce videos showcasing women at utilities briefly talking about what they do?
  • Could they use World Water Day or World Toilet Day as opportunities to publish an op-ed or host a community event featuring their work in the water world?

I encouraged each of these women to write down one commitment for the next year that would introduce local young women to her work. I collected these pledges, written on postcards that each participant addressed to herself, and mailed them at the beginning of the year.

“I will reach out to a young water professional and introduce her to a circle of women leaders,” pledged Duyen Tran, director of Sustainable Operations at CH2M Hill (Englewood, Colo.) in Fayetteville, Ark.

“I’ll bring a woman into the wastewater plant as an apprentice,” pledged Jeanie Grandstaff, director of Hopewell (Va.) Water Renewal.

“I will reach out to every intern I know and help guide her in finding a permanent position,” pledged Marisa Tricas from WEF.

“I’ll work towards forming a Women in Water group for India chapters of [the American Water Works Association (Denver)],” pledged Nandita Ahuja, assistant engineer at Hazen and Sawyer (New York), in Hollywood, Fla.

Attendees listened to speakers and participated in facilitated table discussions during the breakfast. Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

Attendees listened to speakers and participated in facilitated table discussions during the breakfast. Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

I am pleased to report that many pledges have been fulfilled. But the year is not over yet, and the most important thing is not what happened in 2015, but what women of water do every day for the rest of our careers and the rest of our lives.

When the women of water reconvene at WEFTEC 2016 in New Orleans during another breakfast on Sept. 28, I hope that one of the topics of conversation will be how we can become even more visible in the future.  And I hope that we can again turn talk into action when everyone returns home.

Read more about the WEFTEC 2015 breakfast in the WE&T article “Women in Water at WEFTEC: Networking breakfast delivers inspirational messages.” Stay tuned to WEF’s publications for more information about the WEFTEC 2016 Women in Water Breakfast.

— Debra Shore, WEFTEC 2015 Keynote Speaker

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