Water Journal : Current November 2017
www.awa.asn.au 22 wastewater sector. That's different from the informal, unpaid work women do in water and sanitation, which I described earlier. This ratio influences where we place our attention. The intent is not to say that blokes are deliberately doing something wrong or bad, it's just that when you limit which worldviews are in the room, you're limiting what is seen as important. AWA: Do you have any thoughts on how to get more women working in Australia's water sector? Mitchell: When I started working as an engineer, there were about 12% women in engineering. The number has grown a little, but it's still only 17% women coming into engineering now. There are more efforts to get and keep women engaged in these fields, but we also need to look at our hiring practices. What are we missing? Is there unconscious bias in recruitment, promotion and retention practices that we can address? It also goes back to getting multiple perspectives involved. It will take an active effort at many levels, from a bunch of different directions in the water sector to increase the participation of women at all levels of organisations. AWA: Is an interdisciplinary approach important to solving these issues? Mitchell: Yes, it's not just about gender issues, it's about a broader set of societal and ecological issues that are implicated in our historical ways of thinking about water and sanitation services, both in developing and developed countries. Our approach to providing water and sanitation services has generally been centralised and segregated. We don't have the planetary resources to sustain that approach anymore, so we need to shift to a much more integrated approach with more crossover between wastewater, stormwater, working water, risk management, technology, institutional arrangements and more. The ISF did some award-winning work for Melbourne's Water Supply- Demand Strategy, which demonstrated the economic value of a diverse water portfolio. We showed that investing in ecologically better outcomes gives you economically better outcomes. AWA: What are some things Australia can do to help achieve this goal? Mitchell: Australia has some strengths, but the key thing we need to do is not just export what we've always done as the solution, because what we've always done is what led us to where we are now: a world that is transgressing many of its planetary boundaries while not meeting many of its human rights obligations. If we're serious about moving towards net-positive infrastructure and restorative systems, it's an opportunity for Australia to transform itself as well. There's an opportunity for collaborative learning between us and other regions. For example, I did some work in Indonesia. It's a country of 250 million people, but only 3% have access to sewage as we know it. You can look at that and go "Argh!" or you can say, "Okay, they don't have a lot of existing water infrastructure. What if we do things differently and make real linkages between water, wastewater, energy, solid waste and stormwater in their condominium developments?". Rather than think we have the answer for places like Indonesia, we need to look at how we can learn together with them and find new ways of tunnelling through cost and integration barriers that we could implement here as well. My dream is to get to a point where regenerative, restorative, net-positive thinking is embedded in the way we think about our infrastructure planning. Water is a fantastic place to make this happen because we have so many opportunities for different ways of thinking about water. But today's water professionals also have the hard job of making politicians care about water and sanitation issues ... especially sanitation issues. Basically, we need to make sanitation incredibly attractive for politicians -- and for people in general -- because there are a whole lot of health reasons why we should be comfortable talking about what comes out our other ends. I'm on a mission to make it all right to talk about pee and poo in polite company, but it makes people uncomfortable. When I recently did a presentation in the UK, I brought it up and got a bunch of little polite titters from the audience. I asked them, "See what you're doing?". These were engineers, scientists, social scientists, and they all had this visceral response to talking about pee and poo. The reason Indonesia has those issues is because no one wants to talk about it. If we're serious about dealing with global water and sanitation challenges, we need to be comfortable talking about this because it's a wasted opportunity for the water sector to not think about the circular economy and what it means for the water sector. There are so many business opportunities, ecological opportunities, new service opportunities and more that could actually meet people's needs. OUR WORLDVIEW LIMITS WHAT WE CAN SEE. Cynthia Mitchell The Association, in collaboration with the Australian Water Partnership, has launched a new program focused on increasing equality and diversity in the water sector. To learn more, visit: bit.ly/awa_channelingchange Photo credit: Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).
Current August 2017