Be who you want to be

Sunwater has a commitment to diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace and opportunities to support its staff at its operational core.

Sunwater captures, stores and delivers about 40 per cent of the water used commercially in Queensland. At its core, is its commitment to inclusivity in the workplace and opportunities to support its staff.

The strong regional presence of Sunwater helps the company understand not just its customers’ needs but the differing needs of its staff. Its values include looking after people, working together, and taking responsibility for its actions.

Derived from its values is a culture that seeks to foster inclusiveness, encourage diversity, enhance employee engagement, and emphasise wellbeing for greater innovation and new ways of thinking.

Marie Fowler and Casey Macfarlane demonstrate how women in the water industry are supported and are representative of Sunwater’s drive for diversity and inclusion. They also speak to the opportunities for the industry going forward.

How they got into the water industry

Fowler entered the water industry after a decade in customer service-oriented roles while studying for her civil and environmental engineering degree. As part of her thesis, she completed her dissertation on utility hole relining techniques with Logan Water.

“It was very enlightening to lift the curtain on the water industry. Before joining, I didn’t know anything about it,” she said. “I had no appreciation for the complexity, ingenuity, stakeholder engagement, technology and business management going on behind the scenes when moving water from one point to another.”

Macfarlane is still early in her Sunwater career, having joined the water planning team from university with a background in integrated water management and environmental engineering. Her interests lie in water and wastewater engineering, water resource management, and ecosystem restoration.

“My studies were weighted towards all aspects of the water cycle, with a strong focus on water and wastewater systems, and within my policy and planning work at Sunwater, an area of interest for me is people’s perceptions of water.”

A dynamic industry needs visibility through education

Macfarlane emphasised the importance of the water industry continuing to support people from diverse backgrounds and groups and ensuring that consistent opportunities for career growth and development are made available to all.

“Unfortunately, the challenges faced by women in our industry persist. While women are still underrepresented in the water industry, it is changing. Sunwater has successfully taken steps towards encouraging a more diverse workforce, embracing the idea that we can strengthen our team through authentic inclusion,” she said.

Macfarlane also noted that attracting and retaining talent in the industry may be a matter of those in the water industry showcasing their work and projects, making clear the variety of opportunities and depth of impact that the industry can have.

“Being able to show people all of the different facets of the water industry and the opportunities available would have a measurable positive impact,” she said. “We are not just about drinking water, or pipes and sewage. We are so much more. We are the rivers and catchments and wetlands, the local creeks to the oceans, the farmers and producers and manufacturers, the urban green spaces and inner-city ecosystems, water security in times of drought, and protection and management in times of extreme weather events.”

Macfarlane further added society is at a critical point in history in terms of the climate and finite resources. While this is cause for concern, it is also cause for action. It is an exciting time to be a part of the industry, a time for problem-solving and innovation. The water industry provides a space for innovation, as well as an opportunity for passionate people to make a real impact.

Fowler supported Macfarlane’s thoughts by advocating for more education at all levels on the dynamic industry that is water.

“With women, we need to show them there are lots of opportunities to enter the industry through cadetships and graduate engineering programs. Once they enter the industry, we must provide them with strong mentoring and career development opportunities,” she said.

Mentors and role models

The role of mentors has been a vital part of the water industry’s supportive and collaborative environment. Both Fowler and Macfarlane spoke positively about their experiences with their mentors. From Macfarlane’s perspective, her team leader was a fundamental role model. They were always advocating for learning and wider engagement in the industry.

“In my previous role, I had a team leader who inspired me to continue my career in the water industry. The way that he spoke about the water industry showed he was always positive about the future of the industry. He was genuinely excited to see how we can tackle some of the critical water issues facing our country,” she said.

Fowler entered the water industry later in her career and sought a mentor to help her with its specific aspects. That mentor supported the development of the technical skills needed for her role, given her previous career experience.

“It was a fantastic way to learn, as I could see how they had worked through similar challenges,” she said. “It helped me work through problems. The best part of my mentorship was learning how to handle events and communicate with clients on-site, in the moment. Those interpersonal skills have guided me and, as a result, I have also started mentoring graduate engineers. That has helped me learn about myself, my career, and where I want to go. It’s a total lifecycle of development.”

Openness is the future of diversity and inclusion

Fowler believes that the water industry is already heading down the right track when it comes to diversity and inclusiveness.

“While people may have differing viewpoints, we are all still able to have the conversation to get to the best solution,” she said. “Sunwater has a fantastically diverse environment, and I believe that having a lot of different opinions is the way forward. We’re definitely heading in the right direction as an industry.”

Macfarlane had a similar view, saying it will only get better. She believes it is just a matter of time before diversity and inclusiveness become par for the course.

“It will just take time for industries to catch up. Fortunately, there are organisations like Sunwater that are acknowledging the value of diversity and fast-tracking inclusiveness.”

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