Women in Water

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| Published , updated March 21, 2024

March 8 marks International Women’s Day and this year we are recognizing some of the incredible women that work in water services in Belleville.

Worldwide, less than 1 in 5 water workers are women. The City of Belleville currently has 12 women working in water amounting to just over 26% of the workforce, a number that has seen a significant increase in the past decade. While the amount of women in the field continues to grow, there is still a significant underrepresentation and at a time when skilled operators are needed the most, a shift towards equality is more important than ever.

The women in water in Belleville have broken down barriers and now they are encouraging young women to do the same. In celebration of International Women’s Day, six of Belleville’s women working in water have shared their stories and advice for those looking to enter the industry. Read what they had to say below.

Sarah Fulford

Job Title: Lab Operator

Education: Environmental Technologist, BA Environment & Resource Studies

Tell us about your job

I am the Lab Operator who samples the drinking water to ensure its safety for the public. I also ensure that the instrumentation used to analyze the water quality is reading accurately.

What made you interested in the the water field and how did you get started?

I attended Loyalist College and Trent University. I was interested in the Environmental field but at that time wasn’t sure which facet of the environmental topics I would be interested in. When a job posting came up, I figured why not try this since I had done the training and certification for it. And, here I am almost 20 years later still enjoying my role in water treatment.

What advice to you have for other women interested in a career in water?

Don’t let fear or assumptions stop you from pursuing or trying something new. Be willing to try different things. Environments are changing and we, women, are being part of that future. Embrace it.

Joanne Biggs

Job Title: Water Treatment Operator

Education: Environmental Technology Program

Tell us about your job.

I provide safe drinking water to our consumers.

What made you interested in the water field and how did you get started?

I worked at a consulting company as a placement, where I provided staffing assistance to clients. I then switched to municipal work so I could maintain and upgrade my licence.

What advice do you have for other women interested in a career in water?

Go for it. You can do this job, you don’t need to be the most mechanical, or the strongest in the group; or an expert at everything; you have your own strengths and can learn the rest.

Janelle Snache

Job Title: Water First Intern

Education: Biotechnology Student

Tell us about your job.

I am an intern with Water First at the Belleville water treatment plant. I have my Operator in Training certificate and am learning how to operate and maintain the plant to provide clean drinking water to our city and gain experience to become a certified operator.

What made you interested in the water field and how did you get started?

I have always had an interest in science and as an indigenous person, in our culture we have a deep connection and responsibility to protect and care for the land and water. Women are known to be stewards of the water. During my time studying, I was introduced to the topic of water treatment. I thought it was a great hands-on career where I could apply my interest in science and connection to water.

What advice do you have for other women interested in a career in water?

There are so many opportunities for women in water and we bring a lot of value to this field of work. It is a rewarding career that provides clean drinking water to communities which is essential for life. Be open to learning and that its okay not to know everything right away as long as you try!

Amy Stather

Job Title: Water Treatment Operator

Education: Bachelors of Science, Minor in Environmental Science

Tell us about your job.

As a water treatment operator, I oversee the operation of the city’s water treatment plants. I perform maintenance on equipment, make adjustments to operating parameters like pressures, levels and chemical additions, and take samples for ourselves and accredited labs to run analysis on the water. I adhere to strict regulations from The Ministry of Environment, Conservation, and Parks to ensure the highest quality of safe, potable water for all the towns users to enjoy. 

What made you interested in the water field and how did you get started?

I began as a summer student in a water department, without much knowledge of the industry. Growing up in a rural area, on a well, I figured it could be interesting to spend a summer seeing how city water works. I became so interested in the scientific and mechanical components of being an operator, that I joined the department as a permanent employee. 

What advice do you have for other women interested in a career in water?

This is an industry with room for everyone. There are important roles for people who are mechanically savvy, who have good chemistry knowledge and techniques, who are familiar with software and programming, and who have strong organizational and note taking-skills. It’s a job you learn on the spot and no one is expected to be perfect when they are new. This industry operates in the background; making sure schools, hospitals, and residents are kept safe and comfortable, without any of them really knowing. It’s an awesome way to serve your community. 

Shannon Williams

Job Title: Water Distribution Operator

Education: Environmental Technologist, Bachelor of Environmental and Resource Science

Tell us about your job.

Water Distribution Operators are responsible for ensuring the water from the treatment plant reaches our customers safely and efficiently. Some of the jobs we do include fixing watermains when they break, tapping watermains for new services and monitoring chlorine residuals throughout the city. We also flush fire hydrants annually to clean the watermains and make sure the hydrants are in working order for the fire department.

What made you interested in the water field and how did you get started?

I learned about the water industry when I was in high school. I watched a program on TV about Indigenous communities in Canada that didn’t have access to clean, safe drinking water. I couldn’t believe there are communities in Canada without the opportunity to have safe water from their taps.

Before watching that, I never thought about where the water from my tap came from. I attended the Environmental Technologist program at Loyalist because they offered the entry-level course for drinking water operators as an entire semester course. I really enjoyed the course, which is why I decided to pursue working in the industry.

What advice do you have for other women interested in a career in water?

I want women interested in working in the water industry to know that there are a variety of jobs you can do and to not be intimidated. It can be scary doing jobs you’ve never done before, but everyone I’ve worked with has been very motivating and helpful if I have questions.

Olivia Hughes

Job Title: Environmental Compliance Supervisor

Education: Chemical Engineering

Tell us about your job.

Environmental Compliance is about navigating the rules and standards that protect the quality of our drinking water and the natural environment around us. My team works with stormwater, wastewater, and drinking water operations to investigate problems and make improvements to our processes. I also help on projects to upgrade infrastructure and make sure it’s designed correctly.

What made you interested in the water field and how did you get started?

Seeing the complex systems that keep Cities functioning behind the scenes is amazing. It’s fulfilling to find a job where you can make a positive difference in your local community.

What advice do you have for other women interested in a career in water?

Look for opportunities to volunteer, get an internship or summer job where you can learn about this industry. There are so many ways you can work in water, and we need more smart and passionate people to take on the work from older generations who paved the way.

Source: https://www.belleville.ca/en/news/women-in-water.aspx

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