Women's History Month: Celebrating Women in Wastewater
March is recognized as Women's History Month; a time when we celebrate women’s contributions to our culture, diversity, history and society. Since the beginning of time, women have made significant contributions to advancing our country in a variety of industries. Working in the water and wastewater industry has typically been a male-dominated field, but not anymore. In this month's blog, we are featuring an article on Katie Anding, Lead Operator with the City of Columbus.
ICS Group: "Thank you for taking the time to share some of your experiences working in wastewater. Can you tell us what interested you in working in the wastewater industry?"
Katie: "In 1990 I was a single mom, working at a clothing manufacturer, barely making the rent. I knew I had to do something different to support my children and I had an opportunity to go to technical school. I took the entrance exam and tested high in science and math. The associate degree options for science and math fields included: food science, CAD, and Water and Wastewater technology. I weighed the options and felt like the Water and Wastewater field was the most secure and had the best opportunities."
ICS Group: "It is always interesting to learn how people ended up in their line of work! I am sure this was a difficult time, but you made the most of the situation and pursued the field that resonated with you. Once you decided wastewater was your future, did you participate in an internship to get on-the-job experience?"
Katie: "Before graduation, I was required to do an internship. I worked through my winter break at the City of Columbus and at the end of the internship they offered me a job as a lab technician/operator."
ICS Group: "You achieved the internship dream of being hired directly! You started your career at the City of Columbus, have you worked at other wastewater facilities?"
Katie: "I worked for the City of Columbus for 5 years, then at Alto Dairy Co-op. In 2001, we moved to Florida, where I worked in wastewater operations for about 18 years for the City of Clearwater and then for Pinellas County. Around 2020, my husband and I decided that we wanted to move back to Wisconsin. In February 2021, I came across the job posting for the Lead Operator position for the City of Columbus."
"I interviewed for the position, accepted the offer, and returned to work for Columbus on March 22, 2021. So, the short version of the story is I started my wastewater career in here Columbus, and I will likely retire from the City of Columbus. I just happened to have a lot of adventures in between! Overall, I have been with the City of Columbus for 7 years."
"If you count all of the facilities that I worked at in Clearwater, throughout my career, I have worked at 6 different wastewater treatment plants with daily flows ranging from .5 MGD to 13 MGD. The various positions that I have held included: Trainee, Lab Technician, Wastewater Operator, Belt Press Operator, Shift lead/Senior Operator, Chief Operator and Water Pollution Control Coordinator."
ICS Group: "We imagine all of the knowledge and experience you gathered from working at these wastewater treatment plants was invaluable. Bringing your career back home to Wisconsin must be a terrific feeling, knowing this is where you started your career and will likely retire! What are some stigmas associated with working in the wastewater industry?"
Katie: "Wastewater is typically a male oriented field. Regardless of gender, a person working in this field should be mechanically inclined, physically able to do manual labor, occasionally lifting and working with heavy tools, pumps and equipment. The person must have a strong stomach. I have worked with both men and women who could not stand the smell (as it can get pretty ripe at times.) Those operators who can't take the odor usually don’t last very long."
"Because of the workplace environment, I think a lot of women may not be interested in working in the field. It can be a dirty job; however, it is one of the most secure blue-collar jobs that I can think of. Truthfully, in my 30+ years in the field, only a handful of times did I go home really dirty."
ICS Group: "If you were a female who doesn't mind getting dirty, has an interest in science, and wants to help their local environment - would you encourage them to pursue a career in wastewater?"
Katie: "More women should consider wastewater industry. We will always need wastewater operators. Water and Wastewater operator wages are pretty good compared to other blue-collar jobs. Most municipalities are making operator pay competitive to attract and retain qualified individuals."
ICS Group: "In light of Women's History month, what is the lasting message you want to share to encourage more women to join the wastewater field?"
Katie: "I cannot really say there have been obstacles because of my gender. There were times in my career that I moved up through the ranks much faster than my male counterparts."
We want to thank Katie Anding, Lead Operator at the City of Columbus, for sharing her unique story about working in wastewater. A diverse work environment provides the opportunity for new ideas to emerge through meaningful discussions. Water is a resource for everyone, no matter your skin color or gender. During Women's History month, we remind everyone of the importance of working together toward the common goal of a healthy community.