Reflecting on International Women’s Day 2024

Posted: 8 March 2024

With more than 34 years of experience in the water industry between them, we sat down with two senior members of our team to hear about their journey in water, get their thoughts on how women are represented in the sector and ask what International Women’s Day means to them.

Reflecting on International Women's Day with Kara Sadler and Caroline Cooper

Caroline Cooper (CC) joined Cambridge Water and South Staffs Water as an asset management analyst where she was responsible for understanding and predicting how our underground pipe network performs. Since then, she has been involved in four price reviews and has been appointed Strategy and Regulation Director.

Kara Sadler (KS) has recently joined  Cambridge Water and South Staffs Water and works closely with Caroline as the head of water quality. Previously, Kara worked at Anglian Water where she spent  11 years taking on multiple roles across strategy and regulation and network services before moving to Z-Tech Control Systems working as their Operations Manager.

How did you first get into the water industry?

CC: I started working in water when I was 19 working for a multi-discipline civil engineering consultancy company as a technician putting out field tests to help capture pressure and flows. From there I ended up doing a HMC in civil engineering before going to Severn Trent where I did a master’s in water environmental management. And then I came here.

KS: I came in as a chemistry graduate working as a supply scientist assistant within the water quality team at Anglian Water. I went through various roles and different departments across 14 years before joining South Staffs and Cambridge Water last year.

Did you find there were more men than women in your area of the water industry when you first started?

CC: When I first started as a technician, I was the only female technician. But all my male colleagues were lovely and as a young person coming into the industry for the first time, they looked out for me and helped me out.

KS: When I started with the water quality team there was a diverse mix of male and female scientists, although not at the management level. As I furthered my career going into a more operational role as a network service support manager, I was the only female in the office, in the team and the management team and that was quite daunting. I think operations is an area where there is still a large gender gap and there are predominantly male-dominated roles.

Have you ever noticed a difference in perception towards women working in the industry?

CC: When I was a technician out on site, there was no “Oh that’s a man’s job and that’s a woman’s job” we just all got stuck in and there were some grim jobs! No one thought that was something I couldn’t do. I went on the same lifting courses and traffic management courses.

Whilst I haven’t experienced any negative bias in my roles, I think there has been a general shift in the way people talk in the industry which I think is a generational thing. There were things said then, perhaps unconsciously, that wouldn’t be acceptable today and we’re getting graduates coming in now who are more aware and accustomed to how things are today which shows how things have changed.

Do you think there are still challenges that may put women off working in the water industry?

KS: I think there is more flexibility for women in office-based roles today, with the opportunity of home working, which is great, particularly for those who need to care for elders or are parents, a role often the responsibility for a lot of women. However, this flexibility can be harder for women in field-based roles, as there is not a lot of opportunity for flexible working with key rotas and out-of-hours standby. It’s not always easy to see the progression and opportunity for women moving from field-based roles into management or technical specialisms and it can then be hard for women in this area to know how they can move up through their careers.

Do you think there are more women in more senior positions than there were 20 years ago?

CC: Yes, a lot more. I’m really proud of us and the gender split we have here. When I first started, we only had one woman on the Executive team and now we have much better representation.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

KS: For me, it’s an opportunity to celebrate and highlight amazing women and their successes. I think it gives hope to all women that regardless of their background it is achievable to be who you want to be.

CC: I feel the same and I would say that I’ve got some amazing women who work in my team, and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to mentor and share my experience with them, and equally I learn from them. I think International Women’s Day is also a day to be proud of what we have achieved.