SUEZ knows that gender diversity is a strength. It is part of its daily life and territorial presence. For SUEZ, diversity among its teams is a genuine source of value creation, innovation and performance. It is why the company is committed to a diversity and inclusion policy that applies to all levels of the organisation.
SUEZ has worked to promote gender diversity at all levels. It is committed to increasing the number of women within its ranks this year and for years to come. Among the women within the company’s ranks are Nichole Perry – Head of Safety and Well-being, and Lisa Chan – Innovation & Improvement Manager.
Chan and Perry have had impacts while working in the water industry and for SUEZ. Chan was recently the winner of the 2022 Women in Innovation South Australia Award (Government), where she was acknowledged for her work with SA Water.
How they got into the water industry
Chan has spent more than 25 years in the water industry after completing her Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from the University of Western Australia in 1995. She took the opportunity to reflect on what she wanted to do in her career.
“I wanted to find a company I wanted to work for, that I could connect with, and that suited my values,” said Chan. “I was looking for something to keep me entertained and somewhere I could enjoy myself. While I didn’t know exactly what it was, I did know that I did not want to join the mining and resources industry. I had a strong environmental focus, starting from the 1990s.”
Through a stroke of good luck, Water Corporation in Western Australia started its graduate recruitment at the end of the year rather than earlier in the year, like most employers. At the time, they offered Chan a position in the field. She would be working with operations and maintenance crews in an engineering support role. Chan got to work on maintaining the performance of Water Corporation’s water and wastewater assets. Since then, Chan has embraced diverse opportunities throughout her career in the water industry, which has taken her across Australia and internationally.
How Perry got into the industry
In Perry’s case, her career in health and safety started in the oil and gas industry. In a male-dominated field, she found herself in situations where support was not what was needed for women.
“After returning to work three months after my son was born, the flexible work arrangements that were in place to support my return were withdrawn following a change in management,” Perry said. “There was no indication of why these arrangements were removed and certainly no performance justification for it.”
She explained that one Tuesday, she was to attend an interview on a Thursday for a vacancy in a different industry. Perry was provided with no information or reason for it and discovered that the interview was more of a meet and greet with the contract manager. It was here that she found her new job would be in the water industry, starting Monday.
“With nowhere to go and no one to turn to, I started the new role as an H&S professional in a different industry and enjoyed it. After four months, a request was made for me to go back to my previous industry to ‘help out’, but I declined. My current manager fully supported my decision to stay in the water industry, and I have never looked back,” said Perry.
Support for women in the water industry and gender diversity
Chan believes she has made an excellent decision to enter the water industry. She has found a meaningful career.
“There are two areas that are particularly important to me regarding a career. One is working with people that are also passionate about what they do. The other thing is focusing on the environment and sustainability,” she said. “I’ve always found my place in the water industry. Another great thing is that I have enjoyed diverse career options within the water industry. I’ve maintained a sense of being challenged and providing meaning and value to my work.”
SUEZ has supported women within its workforce, which Perry believes has been part of her development.
“Working actively within the water industry has been rewarding. Throughout my career, I’ve had General Managers who respected the H&S staff, including myself. They’ve elevated my profile and openly advocated for what I believe in. SUEZ actively promotes its Women in Leadership Programs to encourage women to develop their confidence in the workplace,” she said.
Visibility of women in water vital for gender diversity
Perry and Chan believe in increasing the visibility of female engineers and women generally within the water industry to improve gender diversity.
In her role, Perry believes promoting career opportunities that make a difference to the environment is vital.
“We need to be able to contribute to the future of our resources through emotional intelligence,” she said. “Women in the workplace are better equipped to identify and regulate their emotions and understand the emotions the others. Therefore, they can influence others through building relationships, reducing team stress, defusing conflict, and improving job satisfaction for everyone.”
Similarly, Chan focuses on having female engineers and leaders visible as much as possible.
“It’s important to have those female leaders and engineers provide a supportive framework and environment,” said Chan. “That’s critical for new engineers entering the water industry for female participation and every inclusivity group. There should be no barriers preventing people from being their best.”
Women making a difference for the future
Perry is convinced that role models and mentoring are essential when looking into the future.
“That’s been my motivation in the water industry. It’s to become a female H&S leader and openly encourage and mentor other females in the industry,” she said. “To me, having open discussions with others about their ambitions and career goals contributes to a woman’s leadership development. Both males and females have reported to me in my career, and all are treated equally. Everyone feels safe to discuss what they need from the business and how the business can support their aspirations of becoming an H&S leader.”
Chan focused on the importance of a diverse range of opinions.
“Everybody has their perspective and unique ability to bring something to the table. Having more women in the industry and other diverse points of view will only contribute to us making things better in the future,” she said.