This International Women’s Day we’re celebrating the wonderful women working in varied roles across the water industry.
Here, we spoke to four inspiring women from different teams across South East Water about their roles and why they’d encourage others to consider a career in the world of water.
What does your career at South East Water involve?
Zoe: As a Distribution Technician my career is field based and very varied. On a day-to-day basis I do things such as operate water main valves, exchange water meters, look for leaks on our network and help customers with noisy internal pipework. I also supervise our teams whilst they do water main repairs and carry out audits to ensure all health and safety standards are met.
Gemma: I currently work as an Asset Planning Manager. It’s quite a varied role and I love the fact I work with so many different departments. My key activities involve managing our planning team to ensure our infrastructure from water treatment works and pumping stations to pipes and vales perform as they should, as well as developing schemes to repair or replace existing assets or develop new ones to meet future needs – such as new water mains. It’s such a diverse role and very busy, but I have a great team of planners who always get stuck in and do a fantastic job.
Jenny: I’m responsible for all the sites that treat, store and pump clean water to Kent, as well as the teams that fix, maintain and run them. This involves working closely with lots of different departments at South East Water to ensure we’re offering the best possible service to our customers.
Charlotte: I work as a Catchment Adviser which involves talking to farmers and other land managers about the way they manage their land and how to reduce any risk of their work polluting surface and groundwater. I also talk to them about more sustainable farming overall such as good soil management, air quality, biodiversity enhancement and much more.
How long have you worked at South East Water and what did you do before?
Zoe: I’ve been with the company for four years now. Before I joined I worked for the company Hydrosave on behalf of South East Water and prior to that I used to clean in schools.
Gemma: I’ve worked at South East Water for 15 years now and I’m sure I’m a ‘lifer’. I joined in 2006 after three months of teacher training college when I realised that wasn’t the career for me! The water industry’s not something I’d ever considered but I’m so glad I got that first job and I think it’s an industry I can stay in for the rest of my working life.
Jenny: I’m now in my third year of working for the company. Before joining I worked for Thames Water for five years, beginning my career on their Graduate scheme, and then doing a number of different roles.
Charlotte: I joined South East Water on secondment in the summer of 2020 from Natural England where I worked as a Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer doing similar work. I’ve also worked as a land management adviser for Natural England and been involved in environment schemes, protected sites and wildlife licensing.
How did you get into you career?
Zoe: I was very fortunate as my brother at the time was a manager for Hydrosave. I was desperate to find another job so I got an interview with them. After being there for just over a year a position arose for a Distribution Technician at South East Water, so I applied and got it!
Gemma: Honestly, I think I fell into most the roles I’ve had! I started off in the Water Quality/Engineering team taking water samples across the company. After six months I moved into the Water Resources team looking after water efficiency. Then in 2015 I moved into the Asset Management department. In 2018 I became manager of a new team within the department – the Investment Policy and Strategy team. The team is still a work in progress and I’ll soon be handing over to a new lady who will taking over from her current role in Engineering.
Jenny: My dad worked in the Water industry for over 30 years, so you could say it was in my blood. Growing up, I always saw him (still do) as a hero helping to ensure people had clean drinking water. After completing a Chemistry degree, I wasn’t sure what I what I wanted to do as a career and my dad suggested I might enjoy working with water. The seed was then sown and I started applying for graduate schemes. I’ve not looked back since.
Charlotte: I studied earth sciences early on, followed by geography and then geology. As my interest developed, I progressed to an environmental management post graduate qualification – all while raising a family. I then went sailing for two and a half years to Australia and had time to do some thinking. Recognising that 70 per cent of the land in England is farmed, I came home and studied agriculture for a year before joining Natural England to work with farmers for the benefit the environment.
Would you recommend your career to other women?
Zoe: Most definitely! We need more female technicians to join us. I love it when I get good feedback from the customers, and I always get comments about how nice it is to see a female doing the job I do. It’s lovely to have a good chat with our customers too, even if it is nothing to do with water. I’m really proud to be part of such a diverse company.
Gemma: Yes I definitely would. The water industry is so varied and there are a range of different roles on offer, from customer services to huge capital engineering projects. It’s quite heavily male dominated given the fact engineering and operational roles have historically been seen as more male roles, but this has definitely started to change over the last five to 10 years. It’s great to see more female engineers and technicians as well as more women in senior roles, and I support the way the company encourages women into the workforce with family friendly policies such as flexible working. South East Water is like one big family and the support I’ve had from many people has been amazing in some very tough times in my life.
Jenny: Absolutely! No two days are the same which makes each day varied and interesting. The people I get to work with are incredibly talented and they inspire me on a daily basis. You get to contribute to delivering a service that’s essential to sustaining life – a big responsibility, but very rewarding. It’s a great privilege to have such a meaningful job.
Charlotte: Yes! If you care about the environment and people it’s a great career to have. Farmers, amongst land managers in particular have an enormous amount of regulation and change to deal with on top of the day to day challenges of running a business to make a profit. It’s rewarding to provide support to them and encourage them to farm in an environmentally friendly way. I love getting out on the farm, seeing the crops, meeting the animals, and the farmers too, of course!