While men once dominated utilities, an increasing number of women are now carving incredible careers in this rewarding sector. Wondering whether it could be right for you too? To help you find out, WORK180 interviewed 17 women at varying stages of their careers in utilities.
Their wide range of experiences paints a clear picture of a workplace with endless possibilities for personal growth, as well as the chance to have a positive impact on people and the planet. And as is often the case with WORK180 employee interviews, you'll also find some tried and tested words of wisdom that will set you up for success in this sector and beyond.
Why should women work in utilities?
Lisa Crawford | HSE Manager - Projects and Construction, Zinfra/Jemena: The sector offers a variety of interesting, technically challenging projects. [...] The national energy market is rapidly changing, particularly through an increased focus on renewables. This is requiring businesses in our field to respond and adapt, which is exciting to be a part of.
Genevieve Simpson | Government Relations Manager, Western Power: It’s so rewarding working for an essential service provider. Everything we do is based on having our customers in mind – trying to find solutions that will meet their changing needs that are also cost-efficient and will work to keep tariffs down.
Lisa Chan | Engineering Manager (WA), SUEZ: Working in the water utilities sector has enabled me to work and travel throughout Australia and several places around the globe [...] However, the most exciting thing in the water sector at the moment is the leading edge innovation in technology and concepts around sustainability. The water sector is responding to the need for sustainable and efficient water use and we are seeing implementation of some awesome technological solutions.
Revana Boodhraj | Senior Business Analyst, Western Power: As an engineer, being in a utility offers a wide range of opportunities to learn numerous aspects of the business; I’ve had fulfilling experiences in design, standards, planning and auditing maintenance activities, plant procurement and tender activities, and project, construction and contract management.
Yatra Forudi | Head of Strategy and Planning, CS Energy: Utilities in the 2020s and beyond will be a fast-paced sector, as the energy world moves towards more renewables and becomes more digitised and customer-led. Working in utilities provides the unique opportunity to experience this transition first-hand and play a part in it, regardless of whether your role is technical, field or office-based.
What surprised you most about working in the utilities sector?
Cassandra Weight | Application Engineer - Nalco Water, Ecolab: I was surprised by how inclusive and accepting the utilities industry is. Before working for Nalco Water I completed work experience at numerous water treatment sites in QLD. What I found then, and in my current employment, is that most people are accepting and don’t discriminate based on gender.
Nicolette (Nic) Black | General Manager NSW Industrial, BOC Limited (Member of the Linde Group): When I first joined, I had no idea that there would be so many different avenues to explore from a career perspective, and this has helped to keep me very engaged in this sector.
Rebecca Yianakis | Senior Production Officer, Sydney Water: You’re not pigeonholed. To deliver essential water and wastewater services to Greater Sydney and the Illawarra there are multiple and very different opportunities. You really make your own future and you have the ability to keep learning and progressing in whatever field you’re interested in. Starting my career in Sydney Water I thought I was destined to work in the labs and within the field of science. However, I have been exposed to so many different fields allowing me to continuously grow and learn.
Vicky Hart | Branch Manager Private Works, Mechanical & Electrical, Unitywater: I actually didn’t realise when I started in utilities that the workplace would be so male dominated. Having said that, I have been in utilities for almost 20 years now and I’ve always been made to feel welcome and part of the team so I’m surprised we don’t see more women entering the sector. I am also surprised at how much the industry draws you in. I really couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Sophie Naughton | Executive General Manager Business Services, Stanwell: The length of service. I have previously worked in industries where churn or high turnover of people was the norm. In Stanwell we have extremely experienced colleagues, with a high level of professional technical expertise and skill that everyone in Stanwell is always willing to share (and explain!). I work in a very interesting organisation.
Do you have any examples of the kind of exciting projects you work on?
Lisa Chan | Engineering Manager (WA), SUEZ: I’ve worked on many projects that have been groundbreaking and innovative, and therefore each of them as exciting as the other in the outcomes. Most recently, with SUEZ, we have delivered the second stage expansion to Australia’s first groundwater replenishment plant in Perth, Western Australia. This plant recycles wastewater effluent to drinking water standards using ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis technology and ultraviolet disinfection.
- Team leadership
- Stakeholder management
- Multi-discipline coordination
Avantika Basu | Customer Project Development Manager, TransGrid: I’ve had the opportunity to develop the connection substations for some of the country’s largest wind and solar farms. As an engineer, I have found each to be complex projects in their own way demanding a careful balance of technical understanding, strong communication skills and the ability to coordinate an ever growing list of stakeholders.
- Technical understanding
- Strong communication skills
- Ability to coordinate stakeholders
Loretta Wareing | Group Manager – Connections Group, South East Water: I was lucky enough to be involved at the beginning of the PenECO project [...] This project was the largest pressure sewer project in Australia at the time. Following the installation of the pressure sewer reticulation, I was then involved in the next part which involved engaging with customers to encourage them to connect to the system. We actually saved money on the project and the customers that connected early, our “early adopters”, were given partial refunds to show our appreciation for connecting early.
- Customer service
What’s your one piece of advice for women considering a career in utilities?
Rebecca Yianakis | Senior Production Officer, Sydney Water: Don’t judge the book by its cover. Careers within the utility industry may not seem applicable to you, but there are so many opportunities – whether you’re an engineer, lawyer, scientist, administrator or analyst.
Working in an essential service is so rewarding. Particularly when you know that your work is contributing to the health of your family, friends and community. Whatever you do, don’t undersell yourself. We are most often our hardest critic, so it’s important to back yourself and go for opportunities.
Sophie Naughton | Executive General Manager Business Services, Stanwell: Find your mentor(s). When you first start ask HR if they can connect you with an internal mentor. Through your career you may collect many mentors and they will help you through many different experiences and challenges.
Denise Brown | Asset Performance Engineer, Powerlink Queensland: Don’t let other people’s comments judge or define you. You are the only person who knows who you are and what you are capable of.
Genevieve Simpson | Government Relations Manager, Western Power: Give it a go! The utilities sector has come a long way from being a male-dominated industry. I have found Western Power, and the stakeholders we work with, to be very welcoming of women in the sector. Utilities organisations increasingly emphasises flexibility in the workplace, meaning that there are no limitations in where you can go in your career.
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