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The 4th Women In Water Symposium discussed the career landscape for women due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Screen Capture, Women in Water Symposium

Women In Water Symposium Flows With The Change

This year’s Women in Water Symposium conference theme “Flow With The Change” is fitting. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 event is online with a new virtual format. The online format generated just as much enthusiasm from participants as prior in-person meetings. And, the virtual conference also meant people from throughout the United States could Zoom in, too.

A record 230 registrants signed up to attend live sessions covering a variety of career development topics.

Three specific career level tracks are offered to address needs at each level: entry-level for those new to water careers; mid-career for those transitioning and advancing within the industry; and upper level for senior professionals looking to leave a legacy.

Symposium highlights career opportunities

The symposium features three weekly half-day virtual formats.

Between 80 and 90 people attended the first four sessions on March 4. Topics included building a sustainable career in the water and wastewater industry; a panel discussion on public and private water industry career choices; and dealing with change and uncertainty.

Presenter flows with the change in format

“I actually participated in this symposium three years ago,” said Debbie Kaye, one of the conference presenters. “It was really fun, and it was just great energy in the room, so I’m trying to capture that energy through the little boxes on the screen,” said Kaye, president and CEO of V&A Consulting Engineers.

This is the fourth year of the conference, which started with a welcoming message from Cuyamaca College President Dr. Julianna Barnes. The college hosted the three previous symposiums.

“There’s just so many opportunities,” said Kaye. “The water industry is so welcoming. I think the thing that binds us together, we’re serving a higher purpose. We’re all supporting our families doing what we’re doing, but we’re serving a higher purpose protecting public health and protecting the environment.”

San Diego County Water Authority manager encourages women professionals

Gretchen Paniol of the Water Authority delivered a presentation on dealing with change. Photo: Screen Capture, Women In Water Symposium

Gretchen Spaniol with the San Diego County Water Authority delivered a presentation on dealing with change. She used a photo of herself at age 12 from a going-away party. “As a kid, I moved every two years, so I thought I was good at change, now it’s much harder,” Spaniol said in her presentation.  Photo: screen capture/Women In Water Symposium

San Diego County Water Authority Human Resources Special Projects Manager Gretchen Spaniol noted the pandemic year has disproportionately affected women in the workplace. “That was me at my going away party. I moved every two years as a kid, so I thought I was good at change. Now it’s harder.

“In December 2020, the U.S. economy lost 140,000 jobs, and all of those were held by women,” said Spaniol. “It’s being called the female recession, or the ‘she-cession.’ Female unemployment reached double digits for the first time since 1948.”

Flow with the change in work life

Spaniol says changes such as working from home bring on stress, and stress can bleed into all aspects of work life. She encouraged attendees to network and support each other.

“Women in water, this is a great opportunity for additional networking,” said Spaniol. “I can guarantee you someone has been through what you’ve been going through, or has been dealing with something similar. It’s great to talk to others to really get that life experience. This is a great opportunity inside and outside your agency. We have such a great industry in San Diego County.”

She also praised the value of mentorships for women in the water industry.

Upcoming sessions include discussions on the evolution of the work environment due to COVID-19, negotiation skills, receiving feedback, and the use of social media.

Registration is still open for upcoming sessions. For additional information, contact Vanessa Murrell, Cuyamaca College, Center for Water Studies:

The conference was organized by a volunteer group, the “Women in Water Committee,” chaired by Galit Ryan, Firm Principal at Peterson Structural Engineers in San Diego.