Women’s Role in Water Today Reflects Ability to Diversify

  • by Pamela Tobin
  • Mar 18, 2022
  • Voices on Water

March as Women’s History Month in our nation celebrates the many significant contributions made by women to American history, culture and society. It presents an opportunity to remember, appreciate and educate. Equally important, it opens the imagination and challenges us to do more. This is especially true within the California water community as a whole and ACWA in particular.

Proclaiming this month as Women’s History Month started in 1987, the same year ACWA members elected Lois Krieger as the association’s first female president. A couple years later, she would go on to lead the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California as its first woman chair. 

The previous year, ACWA’s 1986 Spring Conference had marked another milestone with the first Women’s Forum Breakfast to highlight challenges facing women in the water industry. Krieger, then ACWA Vice President, noted that women were just beginning to move forward in the water industry. 

“The real challenge to women is to be very well informed, otherwise we lose credibility,” she said. “It is an exciting business, and I hope that by talking together more and having forums like this one we can do so much more.”

And more they did.

More than three decades later, women are an integral part of the water community. They put their talent to work in every role, ranging from engineers and plant operators to communicators and lawyers, as well as fulfilling their potential as general managers and elected officials on countless boards of directors within our member agencies, not to mention as leading many of the state and federal agencies that regulate our industry.

At ACWA, this includes my role as President, with Cathy Green as Vice President for the 2022-’23 term, comprising the first all-female Board leadership team in association history. We follow in the footsteps of so many women before us at ACWA, women such as past ACWA presidents Kathy Tiegs, and before her Bette Boatmun.

These accomplishments are remarkable, especially when you’re old enough to remember working during the 1970s and 80s. Boatmun recently shared during an ACWA Board of Directors meeting that when she attended her first ACWA conference during this era, no one bothered to introduce her because men assumed she was a secretary. It was also a time when ACWA invited members to bring along their spouses to conferences, where they could take in a fashion show or go on a shopping tour. These are reminders of what feels like a quaint and distant past, but also mark of how far we have come, well within many of our own lifetimes.

Now that we’ve looked back, though, it is time to think forward. 

At the February ACWA Board of Directors meeting, we discussed the formation of a task force to explore establishing a nonprofit foundation affiliated with the association.  Such a foundation would provide a tax-exempt funding structure for expanding ACWA’s ability to fund research, advance education and training, and support scholarships. This could significantly grow ACWA’s ability to elevate diversity, equity and inclusion, while increasing advancement opportunities within the California water industry. 

The sheer scale of the role women play within our industry today proves our ability to diversify California’s water workforce. Even now, while we may have equality, we do not have the same equity. The playing field is not level and it never has been. However, we as an association are in a unique position to succeed in terms of resources, demand to fill jobs and collaborative ability to overcome challenges. 

When you contemplate the massive task ahead of us to build water resiliency in the face of climate change, you can appreciate how we really are responsible for California’s future. We need to ensure everyone, from every background and all communities, has a place in building and benefiting from that future.

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