Industry Leaders Share Experiences at Women in Water

Aug 30, 2022

Over 100 delegates attended British Water’s inaugural Women in Water event. The event sold out weeks in advance and attendees heard career advice from water industry leaders and took advantage of the opportunity to network at the highest level.

Northumbrian Water chief executive Heidi Mottram is the first woman to lead a UK water utility. She described how gender-enlightened policies at British Rail in the 1980s brought her into an operations management training scheme: “I wound points, operated signal-boxes and coupled trains together in the middle of the night,” she said.

Advising anyone wanting to advance their career, she delivered a tough message: “Doing your job well is not enough, you’re going to have to stand out and do things outside your remit that make a difference. Mottram recommended building as big a base as possible by moving jobs and trying different things.

“You’re going to have to move at a bit of pace, be brave,” she said. “I was moving jobs every two-and-a-bit years and always doing more than was needed.”

Mottram said she didn’t see herself as ambitious or driven, “I’m motivated where I think I can do something better, where I can do something different and add some value.”

Kate Davies, chief operating officer, EU Skills, revealed the stark gender gap in the UK water industry where only 20% of the workforce is female against a national average of 47 per cent. This actually compares favourably with other utilities where the figure is 17 per cent. “Water is ahead, and we’re going in the right direction,” she said, pointing to a glacial 2% shift over 10 years.

Inspirational stories from women’s careers included Alice Elder, senior asset engineer at Affinity Water, who came into the industry after realising she wanted to do something with a tangible benefit to people. She talked about the value of mentors and how inspiration had come from men as she “didn’t see women in positions of leadership and management” at the time.

“My mentors were great,” she said, “they could see the value I brought and what I could offer a team. It’s a really important role for men to recognise the qualities we bring,” she said.

Karen Dingley, head of mining & water services at WSP told a similar story about the mining industry where she might be the only woman on isolated sites around the world. She urged women in the water industry to “Get into schools, encourage girls to get into maths and science.”

Lila Thompson, British Water’s chief executive elect said, “The event has exceeded my expectations in terms of the range of women that came, their experience, skills and the departments they represent. The stories we’ve heard have been inspiring, showing what is possible for women in this sector.”

Looking ahead Thompson said, “I’d like to see even more interaction and more practical advice at future Women in Water events. Also, this is an event for men and women, so I would like more men to join future events. Men are critical in helping women on that journey, as we’ve heard today, and where women are in leadership roles, the relationships will be reciprocated.” 

Women in Water was hosted by PA Consulting and sponsored by Anglian Water, Thames Water and Cranfield University.


British Water

Lila Thompson

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SE11 5JH London

United Kingdom


+44 20 3567 0950



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