Delegates to the second Women in Water conference organised by British Water have embraced the trade association’s campaign to support women in the industry.

The event took place at MWH Treatment’s Manchester headquarters on 16 October and speakers shared their career stories along with offering expert advice from direct experience.

British Water chief executive Lila Thompson said, “One of the important things about Women in Water is that it’s not just an event, it’s now a campaign, and we’re building our resources and incorporating other organisations’ actions and events. We’ve already had some excellent feedback from delegates that will help determine our next steps as we build on this important initiative.”

In the spirit of collaboration, Angie Needle, founder of the Women’s Utility Network, delivered a keynote on empowerment. Setting out the current gender imbalance in stark terms she said only 20% of the half-million people working in the utilities are women; only 23% of those in leadership positions in the water industry are women and only 1% of those in skilled trades.

“I’m absolutely in it for equality,” Needle said. “We need more women because there’s masses of research that says that more women adds to better diversity, which adds to better productivity, which adds to better growth and creates a better company.”

Sharing her own career experience, Needle advised those moving up the ladder to “Go for things you don’t think you can do – the whole point is you’re learning.”

MWH Treatment human resources director Hilary Tew had practical advice for companies wishing to recruit and retain female employees, “We asked whether our benefits are inclusive. We now offer an extra five days holidays you can buy. It’s not just about women, men can share the benefits. If we can help with their family life, it’s a win-win.”

She also had advice for women managing negative comments and sexist “microaggressions” in the workplace: “Be calm, face the reality and address the matter directly with the person giving those comments,” she said. “If it doesn’t get any better, you have to report it.”

Feedback from delegates during and after the event was overwhelmingly positive.

Tanya Sephton, commercial director, South East Water said, “This was a good opportunity to come along and bring some of the team with me so they can develop too. In terms of the challenges that women face, confidence is a big thing. It’s important to understand that the feelings women have about their confidence, everybody shares.”

Hayley Wakeford, a network project engineer at Portsmouth Water and the Institute of Water’s Rising Star for the south-east region said, “I’m one of a few female engineers at Portsmouth Water and I wanted to get involved with other women in the industry. Women in Water provides a network and a platform for women to connect with each other, but I’d also like to see outreach into schools and putting the water industry on the map to attract other women.”

Posting on LinkedIn, Victoria Banks, UK sales manager, ATi UK said, “I left today’s Women In Water event feeling encouraged and motivated after listening to and interacting with many inspirational speakers. Being a mum with a full-time job, continuing further education – life’s a juggle for sure! Today has definitely given me that confidence and reassurance to pursue my career in the water industry.”

Also posting on LinkedIn, Lucy Hargreaves, senior production manager, Jacobs said, “Buzzing after a great day. One of the many takeaways – be brave.”

Anyone wishing to receive updates about Women in Water and interested in joining the campaign should email

A survey of British Water members on the Labour Party’s plan to renationalise the water industry shows that a majority believe it will negatively impact the supply chain and customers.

On overall impact on the supply chain, 78% of respondents said they believed future investment would be reduced or significantly reduced, while 14% believed it would increase. Sixty-four per cent said they believed the number of people employed in the supply chain would be reduced.

A similar number, 66% believe that standards of service would be reduced or significantly reduced, but only 39% believe that water quality at the tap would be reduced. Some 40% of British Water’s 200+ member companies responded, with some 55% saying they believed their business’ turnover and profitability would be reduced or significantly reduced.

One respondent said, “I think there would be a lack of investment followed by a deterioration in assets and environmental performance. I think that drinking water standards would be maintained by hook or by crook.” Another said it would be useful to consider other models such as not-for-profit Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water.

Shadow chancellor of the exchequer, John McDonnell unveiled the Labour Party’s intention to bring the UK’s privatised water companies in England and Wales back into public ownership in a conference speech in September 2018. He said that the re-nationalised industry would be run by local councils, workers and customers under a new ownership model.

British Water UK director Paul Mullord said, “Changes in the ownership structure of the water industry would inevitably have an impact on British Water members. The risk coming from re-nationalisation is that levels of investment would fall, reducing opportunities for the supply chain, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, and potentially impacting on levels of service for customers.

“While less than 40% believe water quality into people’s homes would be affected, a majority of our members have expressed concern about the impact on their businesses, jobs and levels of investment.”

Of the 40% of British Water member companies that responded, 37% were consultants, 30% were contractors, 29% were manufacturers and suppliers, and 4% were water utilities.

British Water is the lead association for companies operating in the UK water industry supply chain. The survey was conducted by British Water to obtain the views of its members regarding the Labour Party’s proposal to re-nationalise water companies in England and Wales, most of which were privatised in 1989.

Yesterday’s speech by Environment Agency chief executive James Bevan about the high risks water scarcity in the UK poses was covered widely in national media.

Lila Thompson, chief executive, British Water, said,

“British Water welcomes the speech from Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan about the UK’s pending water crisis and the “mix of methods” needed to reduce demand and increase supply. Water scarcity is a very serious issue in the UK and globally and British Water members are very keen to play their part alongside the water utilities, the regulators and the public in achieving long-term water resilience.

“The water industry supply chain has a long history of innovation in meeting crises in water and sanitation evidenced over many decades. The UK already boasts a very broad range of technologies and expertise which include areas such as leakage detection, smart metering, data analytics and sustainable water management.

“As the UK’s lead trade association for the water industry, our members can provide knowledge and experience in every aspect of water technology, services and infrastructure. We are always ready to put those connections to work for the water industry in the UK and internationally.”