Adele Barker, group chief people officer, Pennon Group Water Excellence, Comment, Pennon Group, South West Water, Innovate water, Field operations, Smart water networks

Pennon Group’s Adele Barker outlines a number of steps the firm is taking to both remove barriers facing women entering the water industry and actively promote gender equality within it.

While International Women’s Day is a great moment to celebrate the progress which has been made in increasing gender equality, it is important that we never stop encouraging women to pursue roles within our industry and our organisation all year round.

I’m proud to be a leader in an organisation where hundreds of women every day are making a fantastic contribution through a wide variety of roles. From scientists working in our labs through to head office roles, to being out on the frontline delivering improvement projects for customers and contributing to the board, helping shape the future.

However, we recognise there is much more to do.

Women remain underrepresented in traditionally male dominated industries such as ours and we need to look at our processes and working environment to ensure we are attracting and retaining the very best talent.

Just 20% of all employees in the water industry are female – to put that another way four-out-of-five employees in our industry are men.

With this in mind, I believe we have an even bigger responsibility to remove the barriers which women face to entering the industry. I believe creating a representative workforce is integral to better serving our customers and our region.

Driving female representation

We have made some great progress in this area. The proportion of female employees in our business has increased for the third year running – now approximately 30% of our workforce.

On top of this, 45% of the senior leadership team at Pennon are female, compared to an industry average of 23%. We are also now one of only four companies in the FTSE 350 to have both a female CEO and chair.

Earlier this year, we were recognised as a global leader in gender equality, in a report published by Bloomberg. For the third year running, Pennon has been named in their Gender-Equality Index (GEI) – a report that recognises the performance of public companies committed to disclosing their efforts to support gender equality through policy development, representation and transparency.

The report showed we performed particularly strongly on gender pay (82%) and disclosure (96%).

And, just last month we were proud to be recognised by the FTSE Women Leaders Review as first in the utilities category and tenth overall.

This means we have the highest percentage of women on our board in our industry and female representation in our executive teams. The announcement marks a significant improvement for us after being ranked 23rd in 2021 and reflects our dedication to a diverse and inclusive culture.

Promoting gender equality

While these accolades are great to receive, what drives us is the belief that whoever you are, whatever your background, gender, ethnicity or sexuality you are able thrive in an organisation like ours.

While female representation at Pennon is above the industry average, we know that we still have a way to go, and we are making changes.

To promote gender equality in our workplace we have updated our approach to monitoring diversity in our job applications.

The wording and language used in jobs adverts can be particularly important for promoting opportunities fairly. Pennon now uses software which checks all of our job adverts for words typically associated with male characteristics which could potentially deter women from applying for the role.

We also undertake lived experience group sessions to understand what it is like to work at Pennon for employees from minority groups.

Alongside this, South West Water has once again contributed to the industry’s Women in Water initiative. The initiative supported by Water UK, and aims to encourage women into the water industry, support their development into more senior roles and ensure that their industry voices are heard.

Actively promoting talent

We are passionate about encouraging more young women into science-based careers. We have been working with local schools and colleges to encourage young people from all backgrounds to consider a career path in STEM subjects.

A number of our female employees are also STEM ambassadors, which is a fantastic vehicle to demonstrate to children and young people the opportunities which STEM subjects can lead to.

It is through these mechanisms that we will address the gender balance in our business and will continue to pursue new strategies to level the playing field when it comes to recruitment, employment and retention.

By actively promoting a diverse range of talent in our business we will be best placed to solve complex problems, deliver innovative solutions and earn the respect of our customers and colleagues.

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