Water industry still needs to address exclusion, says OFWAT chief

A glass ceiling is still “looming over” women working across the water industry and despite some progress, the sector is being held back by exclusion, Ofwat chief executive Rachel Fletcher told a British Water conference.
Fletcher was keynote speaker at Women on Water, which gathered 80 industry professionals together virtually to share experiences and advice to support and empower women working in all areas of the industry. In a motivating address, she spoke about her personal story, acknowledged the efforts of previous generations in the battle for equality, but said the personal aspirations of many people today could be limited by a lack of visibility of diversity within the sector.
She said: “I feel a debt to all those women who fought for equal opportunities, so today it’s completely normal for women to have a career. As women in 2020, we’ve come a very long way and we have a huge amount to be grateful for. The glass ceiling has been smashed – or has it?
“I’ve been working in utilities for 25 years and it still feels more male dominated than many other sectors. While it’s great we will soon have six water company female chief executives, it is only in the last 12 months we have got the first female board chair.
“Female executives are still in the minority and mainly limited to customer-facing roles. It feels like we’ve punched some holes in that glass ceiling but it is still looming over us and this worries me because if we look up the ladder and we don’t see anyone like us, it can really limit our aspirations.”
Fletcher added the biggest barrier to career progression was a lack of self-belief, highlighting the importance of networking events such as Women on Water in building individuals’ confidence. However, the industry as a whole will only reach its full potential if it embraces the skills from a more diverse workforce, in particular people with disabilities and those from a Black, Asian, minority ethnic (BAME) background.
Fletcher said: “Gender equality is the first step on the road to a diverse workplace. Frankly, if we are not seeing full equality for women, we are surely a very long way from achieving equal opportunities for those from the BAME community, those with disabilities, or those who haven’t had the privilege I had of growing up in a middle class home and going to a Russell Group university.
“The Black Lives Matter movement is a huge reminder of how far we are from treating everyone as equals and it is something we should be taking seriously. While this discrimination and exclusion is a tragedy for the individuals concerned, it is also something that is holding the water sector back.
“The industry has amazing potential to make massive improvements to our natural world and to show to society what can be achieved through responsible companies providing life’s essentials – but it is going to achieve this potential, we need people who think...