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Thames Water celebrates women in engineering

Friday 3rd July 2020 09:56

Poster celebrating women in engineering at Thames Water

Female engineers at Thames Water have shared their stories to mark International Women in Engineering Day and encourage more young women to consider a career in the water industry.  

The company hosted an online panel for schools and students, which brought together three Thames Water engineers alongside representatives from UTC Reading, a college specialising in engineering and computer science.  

The panel discussed how Thames Water, society and the education sector can support a more diverse workforce, challenge stereotypes and provide greater opportunities for women and girls in engineering.  

The digital event on July 1 was attended by over 160 students, aged 11-14, after it was publicised by Speakers for Schools, a prominent work experience and motivational speaker organisation for students from state schools.  

Aspiring engineers from as far afield as Manchester tuned in to ask questions about engineering careers at Thames Water and to find out more about the rewarding roles available.  

One of the speakers was Katherine Whatley, a Thames Water ICA technician. She is based at Chertsey sewage treatment works and her role involves maintaining the electrical equipment which controls the company’s sewage works sites across Surrey.   

Katherine said: “As an apprenticeship graduate and female engineer, I think it’s important to champion women in engineering. I wanted to take part in this event because I feel that as a subject and a career engineering isn’t often perceived as an option for girls at school, and I think that it is vitally important to spread the message that it is an exciting opportunity and worthwhile career path. I love that I have such a practical and active job. Engineering has such a broad scope and there are so many girls and women that could benefit from and thrive in this environment.” 

Stephanie Mitchell, executive director of careers and destinations at UTC Reading, added: “I was absolutely delighted to have been asked to take part in the Thames Water live virtual talk to celebrate International Women in Engineering Day as it is a cause that I strongly believe in and one that we are continually campaigning for at UTC Reading.  

“Having always been a female teacher in engineering-based subjects, there have been times that I have had to teach whole classes of male students. When this scenario occurs it becomes an opportunity to not only teach them about engineering but to teach them to become allies to their female engineering peers. It becomes an opportunity to challenge their stereotypes and unconscious bias to help them realise that female engineers can be just as powerful as their male counterparts.”  

Engineering is a key part of the water industry and women in engineering roles at Thames Water range from on-site technicians, who maintain the company’s large waste and water treatment sites, to design engineers who develop new projects and systems to improve engineering capabilities and waste and water services.  

The other Thames Water speakers were

  • Dina Gillespie, area operations manager: Dina joined Thames Water 8 years ago and her first role was managing Europe’s largest sewage treatment works in Beckton. In 2019 she became area operations manager covering four sites in West London. Speaking about her role, she said: “No day is the same; challenging, exciting and very rewarding.” 
  • Cheryl Atkinson, Thames Valley East systems operator: Cheryl is responsible for ensuring the company’s water storage supply is available for customer usage at all times. She is also a mental health first aider which enables her to offer advice to colleagues as part of Thames Water’s health and wellbeing programme.  

International Women in Engineering Day took place on June 23 this year. It aims to raise the profile of women in engineering and focuses attention on the amazing career opportunities available in the industry. 

Thames Water provides water and waste services to 15 million people in the Thames Valley and London. Before the lockdown, Thames Water operated its comprehensive education programme from seven specialist centres based at its sites and through visits to schools by speakers.  

Over the last five years, 100,000 schoolchildren have been given a fascinating insight into how the company deals with clean water and waste for millions of customers.