Women central to gender diversity push

Women are underrepresented in the water sector as a STEM field. Such a topic has been the cornerstone of many conferences, and Xylem is one company taking action to increase the gender diversity of its workforce.

 “As we advance our vision to solve the world’s escalating water challenges through innovation and expertise, we are committed to creating an organisation of diversity, equity and inclusion, where everyone feels involved, respected, valued and connected, and where everyone is free to bring their authentic selves and ideas.”

So said Patrick Decker, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Xylem. As a member of the United Nations Women Empowerment Principles community of companies, Xylem is committed to making a difference for women in the workplace, marketplace, and community.

Part of that commitment to supporting women in water was the creation of the Xylem Women’s Network. Xylem Women’s Network exists to advance the professional development and impact of women at Xylem by providing a supportive network to exchange ideas, facilitate learning opportunities, advocate for equality of opportunity, and unlock leadership potential.

With that in mind, Inside Water spoke to several women around Xylem Australia & New Zealand (ANZ) to learn about them and how Xylem supports their journey as women in the water sector.

Kellie Banks – Market Manager VIC, NSW, TAS

Banks has worked at Xylem since 2003 and has progressed through the ranks. While the company has changed and evolved, the people and culture are fundamental to how Xylem operates.

“Xylem has supported me by providing opportunities to work across multiple roles and in different teams within the company,” said Banks. “In doing that, I’ve developed deeply transferrable skills that I can use in multiple roles. The other fantastic thing is that they have allowed me to advance my career at my own pace. I’ve been able to define when and what is best for me. Having that option at Xylem has been incredible.”

In the eyes of Banks, diversity within the water sector is vital for its progression and attractiveness as an employer of choice. Another point is promoting the positive values of women working in the water industry.

“There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the younger generation is more value-driven regarding potential employment fields,” she said. “The water industry is a perfect direction for so many young people, given its commitment to environmental protection, looking after remote and rural communities, sustainability, climate change, vulnerable people, and various other mission-driven outcomes. There are many ways for young people to develop a great work/life balance that satisfies their personal and career goals.”

Banks also pointed out how Xylem gives women visibility through the Women’s Network and the ANZ Women in Leadership Group. There are also many opportunities for mentorship within the organisation that she believes are important.

“It’s had a positive impact on my career,” she said. “In my career, I’ve had a couple of informal mentors that believed in and advocated for me. Their support has been part of the reason for my progress. I’m sure I can give back in due course.”

Macarena Diaz – Process Design Engineer

Diaz is an experienced chemical engineer who is originally from Santiago, Chile. She completed her PhD in chemical engineering in 2021 in Australia, following the completion of her undergraduate and master’s degrees at Universidad de Santiago de Chile (also known as the University of Santiago, Chile).

“My parents were always very keen on recycling and looking after the environment,” said Diaz. “From a young age, I had a sense of looking after and being responsible for the water. When I started studying it at university, I loved the complex biology of the water treatment process.”

While Diaz is relatively new to Xylem, she has found them to be an employer that cares about its projects and people. Xylem actively recruited her following the completion of her PhD.

“The thing I appreciate about Xylem is the number of women in senior roles across the organisation,” she said. “For example, my team leader is Chris Liu, and she is highly skilled on the technical side. It shows that Xylem supports women’s aspirations to take higher positions in technically complex environments. Similarly, when I was working in Chile, my manager was female. It shows that companies like Xylem will value and reward you for your effort if you work hard.”

Diaz believes engaging with women in water is the most important way to attract them to the water industry. That engagement must happen at the earliest opportunity, whether in high school or university.

“I also think offering more internships within the water sector is important,” said Diaz. “Young people can see the impact of their work, their career’s potential and what they can contribute to their communities. That emotive reward can give them the personal drive to head into the water industry.”

Sandra Indramohan – Customer Operations & Supply Chain Director

Indramohan joined Xylem from New York after an extended period in consumer products. She admitted that while the water industry was one that she stumbled into, it is a sector that she has discovered touches everything.

“In some regards, it’s both a visible and invisible industry. We wake up in the morning and turn on the tap. Things are fine because clean water flows through it. At the same time, people don’t realise the amazing career opportunities in the water industry. It was only when I entered the sector that I realised that this is a space that touches every facet of life,” she said.

Indramohan noted that she was not a traditional candidate for her role, but Xylem understood that they needed a different sort of person for the future of the business.

“I’ve been trying to do this for other women and looking at their transferable skills,” said Indramohan. “I look at their potential and what I can teach them. It’s easy to teach someone technical skills or operational processes. However, it’s extremely difficult to teach someone to be empathetic or how to be a great communicator. These are qualities that women tend to have naturally. If we can build up their confidence, they can support each other further, and that’s how we can bring more women into leadership ranks.”

Recruiting more women into the industry can be challenging, and she sees similarities between how we attract women in water, along with younger talent. One area that Indramohan believes that the industry could improve on is using different language to recruit the best young talent. She is convinced that the younger generations want to work for companies or industries that make a difference in the world and have similar value propositions.

“Young people care about sustainability,” she said. “Young people care about reaching underserved communities. That is one of the things that we do in the water industry. At the same time, I am not sure that we’ve put our best foot forward in explaining that to young graduates looking to enter the workforce for the first time. In recent years, we have been focused on getting that message out and are now seeing candidates who tell us that they were drawn to apply because of our corporate social responsibility program.”

Chris Liu – Engineering & Design Manager

Originally from Shanghai, Liu has spent 21 years with Xylem ANZ. She has a family history of engineering, so heading into water and wastewater felt like a natural progression. Having graduated from Tongji University in Shanghai in 1994, Liu started with one of Xylem’s brands in 1996, operating out of China. It has been a long journey, where she has been able to use her love of maths and physics to work on major environmental issues.

“Back in 1988 or 1989, environmental protection was not on the agenda for the Chinese government,” said Liu. “However, my family all felt this would be important because water and water treatment are our lifelines. I studied environmental engineering, primarily in water and wastewater treatment.”

Women in water leader of engineering team

Liu prides herself on her career with Xylem and the support and opportunities she has had with them. Her constant development and progress in her career meant that she has not had to go elsewhere to find new challenges. Liu currently leads a team of seven engineers in multiple disciplines to provide engineering and design services across Xylem Australia and New Zealand.

“When I first joined Xylem, I am pretty sure I was the only female on the technical team and probably one of a few new immigrants. However, my manager was very supportive, and I have never had any concerns about being a minority in the space,” she said.

Liu has excellent role models in her family that encouraged her to take up engineering from a young age, and she has never looked back. She does note the importance of looking after other female engineers and staff across the organisation.

“It’s important to follow your interest and not to think about the things that might hold you back,” said Liu. “Don’t get frustrated by things you cannot control. In my case, I got a lot of support, and I’m now providing that support to others as a role model for younger female engineers within the company.”

Kristy Rua – State Service Manager NSW

Rua is an experienced Service Manager for Xylem in New South Wales. She is customer service oriented, focusing on developing and supporting her team to provide high-level service to Xylem’s New South Wales customers.

She has been with Xylem for 15 years, having found them close to home during a challenging period in her family’s life. Xylem supported her during this period, which was rewarded with her long service that continues to this day.

“I started as a Service and Rental Coordinator,” said Rua. “I was promoted to Service Manager for our Sydney branch in March 2018. In July 2019, I was asked to take on the Service Manager role for our Newcastle Branch. In June 2021, I became the State Service Manager for New South Wales, allowing me to expand my leadership skills further.”

As the State Service Manager, Rua manages teams of people across New South Wales. She is responsible for setting and maintaining customer satisfaction standards while providing a high-quality working environment that encourages productivity and motivation. Rua believes she is still new to the role and constantly learning, and Xylem supports her as she develops.

“Xylem has a female networking program, ANZ Women in Leadership, where we formally meet once a year,” she said. “We also have our internal communications channels as group support. Xylem has great internal training programs and provides development and career support.” 

For more information, visit www.xylem.com/au

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