2023 Women in Water

April 3, 2023
How women in the industry are shaping the vision for water's future.

Introduction by Bob Crossen

During Women’s History Month, marketers at Ford produced a commercial for a Men’s Only Ford Explorer. A deep, gravel-like, traditionally masculine car commercial voice espoused this Men’s Only car came without windshield wipers, heaters, or turn signals. The Men’s Only Edition had no rearview mirrors, nor did it have GPS. It wasn’t much of a car at all.

Those missing features were all designed by women, highlighting their significant contribution and expertise to the modern car as we know it. It doesn’t take much thinking to see how the vision of the water industry has been changed by women.

The first Wastewater Digest Industry Icon Betty-Ann Curtis pioneered a way for original equipment manufacturers to get a seat at the table on association committees. Keisha Powell was the president of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, Pat Sinicropi is the executive director for the WateReuse Association, and Radhika Fox is the assistant administrator to the EPA Office of Water.

While these are esteemed titles and positions of influence, in any role, women are helping make a difference in the industry every day. On the following pages, meet three such women and know that their voices are just a few of the many who are reshaping the industry as we know it.

Cora Revis

HDR Montana Water Business Group Manager

Why Water?

Water is essential to our health and central to our communities for both drinking and recreation. As a headwater state, Montana has water that flows through three different continental divides and impacts the rest of the country. The state has stringent nutrient removal requirements for water quality in our streams, so getting the right people in place to meet these demands is critical.

That’s why water at HDR is inspiring: because we have the opportunity and the people to help our clients design, build and optimize treatment facilities to meet their community’s needs and adapt to ever-changing regulations. I am honored to be part of providing clean water to our state for years to come.

I have always loved math and science and knew I wanted to be an environmental engineer from a young age. While I originally had lofty thoughts of saving the world, I have settled on water. It has such an enormous impact on our entire planet.

What about your current position excites you?

As Montana’s water business manager, I oversee 40 water professionals in five offices. We work together to solve technical water challenges for supply, treatment, reclamation and water resources for communities around the state, ranging from lagoons to cutting edge wastewater treatment.

In my role, I am most excited to support our excellent staff with the tools they need to perform quality work and provide opportunities for connection across the state and to our other areas. I help connect people, help our top minds solve complex problems, and it is fun!

What is the most important issue facing the industry to you, and what is your moonshot idea for addressing that issue?

The most important issue to me is the loss of knowledge when people retire, both engineers and treatment plant operators. People have devoted their careers to improving water quality, and I am not sure we are adequately capturing their immense knowledge as they leave the workforce. The moonshot idea would be to directly connect brains and be able to download their knowledge, wisdom and insight; in absence of that, however, creating time for mentoring and the transfer of knowledge will have to suffice.

What role has mentorship played in your career to date?

Mentorship has been an extremely important part of my career. I have been fortunate enough to have learned from fantastic mentors for 17 years and can still call and ask for support or insights. Recognizing the role advisors have played in my professional development drives me to pay it forward and do the same for others. If you don’t have a mentor or aren’t mentoring someone, just do it. The payback is immeasurable and will stick with you forever.

What piece of media (books, TV shows, movies, games, podcasts, etc.) has had the greatest impact on you in the past 12 months?

I do not have any time for TV or movies, but I do enjoy leadership and money management podcasts as I drive around our large state to meet with colleagues and clients. I appreciate hearing different perspectives and learning possible solutions to personnel challenges, or how to inspire others to do their best and meet their career goals.

What does it mean to you to be a woman who works in the water industry?

As a woman in the water industry, I am often the only female in a meeting, and many times I am leading it. I am looking forward to more diversity in the industry to enhance our solutions and bring additional perspectives.

Stephanie Corso

Rogue Water Labs CEO

Why Water?

I’m in the water industry because of one woman, Becky Johnson. Becky was one of my professors in graduate school, and I took every class she taught. The one that changed my life was Water and Wastewater Treatment. I was a business undergraduate; my mind was blown. She taught the process, but it was the way she told water’s story. Her stories brought to life how deeply connected water was to our daily lives. I fell head over heels with that story and have been telling it ever since, in my own words.

What about your current position excites you?

The connections with people, the opportunity to teach and share new ideas, the fact that every day is different. I loved working for a utility but my whole world was my utility. It’s been such a gift to work in this industry from a 40,000 foot level and see all the different players and spaces water professionals impact.

What is the most important issue facing the industry to you, and what is your moonshot idea for addressing that issue?

Probably no big surprise here, but the lack of value placed on communication. To solve the challenges the industry faces, all of us, not just people with communication in their titles and job descriptions, will have to invest in improving communication and emotional intelligence skills. Our communication efforts need to move beyond education and public relations and evolve into the adoption of more true public engagement and outreach practices.

My moonshot idea doesn’t feel like a moonshot idea because I’m already doing it. I’m not alone in the work either, but we need more investment and buy-in from the industry at large. Communication has to be a priority. It has to become an expectation of leadership and management. One way to demonstrate that communication is a priority is financial investment in training for staff. Your communication infrastructure is as important as the infrastructure in the ground. The way we communicated in the past, if at all, is no longer effective and sometimes can even be detrimental to public trust.

We need communication and education professionals that know how to develop strategy and content and can also go out into the community and work to build bridges. That can be a lot for one person, so utilities may need to build internal and external communication teams.

What role has mentorship played in your career to date?

Mentorship has been essential to my career. I learn so much from the mentors in my life, but they’ve also been the support system I’ve needed during difficult personal and professional times. Leadership is lonely. Having peers and mentors is not a “nice to have” but a “must have” in my book.

What piece of media (books, TV shows, movies, games, podcasts, etc.) has had the greatest impact on you in the past 12 months?

A book called “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer took me apart and put me back together in the best way. Kimmerer is a botanist by training and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. I never experienced anyone blending the science and the soul of all living things as powerfully as she did. It’s a reminder to everyone doing any type of environmental work, that there’s more than science and regulations at play.

You can’t go wrong subscribing to Ozan Varol’s newsletter or reading his books. I pre-ordered his latest book, “Awaken Your Genius,” so I could get access to the ebook in advance. “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert is my creativity bible. Moon Omens is my astrology, not-so-guilty-pleasure blog. I experienced a lot of loss in the past 18 months and was recommended the podcast, Terrible, Thanks for Asking. It’s pretty great, and I recommend it to anyone experiencing a period of grief in their lives. It’s a space to normalize talking about grief and the people we’ve lost. Even if you haven’t lost someone, it helps you think about things you may not have before.

What does it mean to you to be a woman who works in the water industry?

A week ago, my answer may have been different but I recently attended and helped facilitate the Resolve event hosted by the Water Tower. It was a women in water event. It was powerful and cathartic, and I walked around feeling more proud than ever to be in this industry because I felt connected to other women walking this journey.

Leadership is lonely, but being a woman in this industry can also be lonely. Being a woman leader in this industry can feel outright isolating. That event helped many of us feel seen, feel belonging, and feel reignited to change the world. To me, being a woman in water means being a badass.

Susan Herman

Black & Veatch Digital Water Lead

Why Water?

I became an engineer to solve complexities in communities and provide opportunities for people to prosper. Starting in education technology, I was part of a masterful team partnering with educators and districts to improve their ability to affect student learning in STEM topics.

This successful journey collaborating with districts led me to broader discussions about infrastructure concerns — specifically water. The more I discussed the topic — adding communities of younger adults and their concerns — and the more I understood the interconnectivity of water management and adjacent utilities, the more I understood the complexities, difficulties of change and the need to take an integrated approach.

In my area of Texas, much like the rest of the U.S., water demand is expected to far outweigh supply in the coming decades. Now is the time for rapid innovation in water and deploying the talent to solve the challenges of providing quality water to match demand.

What about your current position excites you?

I am excited every day to work with utility leaders to help them transform and to help the consulting landscape evolve to accelerate change for communities and consumers. Black & Veatch takes an integrated approach to water, and we believe that digital enablement can reorient processes to make the job of delivering quality water easier. 

Being at the forefront of sector transformation is thrilling. I have the ability to create new ecosystems, influence standards, accelerate digital transformations, train the next generation and see the measurable improvements in infrastructure.

What is the most important issue facing the industry to you, and what is your moonshot idea for addressing that issue?

As I have seen in many industries, change is hard, and knowing who can help is fraught with issues such as comparing a vendor’s language and qualifications. Industry 4.0 capabilities have brought the opportunity to rethink how work is done and how value is created. From nuances of supply chains, including projects and financial management, to planning, asset management, treatment process optimization and maintenance, we can rethink and rebuild how customers are best served.

Despite the challenges, change can happen; it means the water utilities need a professional team backed by a cohort of digital enablement capabilities to rapidly plan and check measurable change.

It is assessed that some 70% of digital transformations fail. My “moonshot” is to reduce this by half in water utilities. This will require a change to traditional partnerships with utilities and the need to take an integrated approach.

What role has mentorship played in your career to date?

Throughout my career I have played the role of both mentor and mentee. Mentors help us think in bold steps and continuously improve. For example, early on I had a mentor ask what I wanted my brand to be. I’ve used this question throughout my career to focus my north star and behaviors that affect colleagues and customers. I also have used this many times with mentees, and it always leads to great benefits.

Mentoring always stays with you, shaping actions and behaviors. We are lucky if we can look back over a career and see the impacts of our mentors and the accomplishments of our mentees.

What piece of media (books, TV shows, movies, games, podcasts, etc.) has had the greatest impact on you in the past 12 months?

It’s difficult to choose only one. I have many hobbies and interests, and consuming multiple forms of media helps me see things through a new, diverse lens; whether I’m learning about specific subjects in water or interests outside of work such as law, woodworking, running and cooking,

I find that the art of learning takes me across all forms of media. Much like the integrated approach to problem solving for clients, all media types combine to support learning.

What does it mean to you to be a woman who works in the water industry?

When I was in formal training to be an engineer, I was in a class that was less than 20% women. During my entire career, I have been in the minority and had the ability to influence change and success.

About the Author

Bob Crossen

Bob Crossen is the editorial director for the Endeavor Business Media Water Group, which publishes WaterWorld, Wastewater Digest and Stormwater Solutions. Crossen graduated from Illinois State University in Dec. 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in German and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. He worked for Campbell Publications, a weekly newspaper company in rural Illinois outside St. Louis for four years as a reporter and regional editor. 

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