Women in Water, Donna Hollis and Alice Ohrtmann.

Women in Water, Week 1: Paving the Way

As part of our Women in Water series, started on International Women’s Day, we are interviewing women across the world who are dedicated to the protection of water and the environment, and the use of technology to do so. This week, we met with Donna Hollis, an AQUARIUS user from TasWater, and Alice Ohrtmann, a Linko user from Rock River Water Reclamation District.

First up was Donna Hollis, a Data Scientist at TasWater, in Tasmania, Australia. Donna has a wide variety of responsibilities at TasWater, including administration of the AQUARIUS system, data integration, and reporting.

Donna has always had an interest in science and technology, and after obtaining her Bachelor of Science in environmental science, she decided to pursue her interest in computers, and became involved in scientific data and systems. After completing a second bachelor’s degree in information systems with honours, she entered the water space, bringing her passion for the environment and technology together. Nowadays, her day-to-day work life is filled with variety, depending on her current project. Donna works collaboratively with other departments at TasWater to discuss requirements, data management, reporting, and dashboarding in AQUARIUS. She also delivers reports, manages consultants, is involved in SQL programming, and makes strategic decisions to make sure the right data gets into the system.

“It’s definitely a growing field,” remarks Donna, “This is the time when we’re seeing many companies moving from spreadsheets into systems. People also think of data differently, they think about how it informs decisions, and more thought is put into how to get good quality data and how to manage it. I’ve really enjoyed working with AQUARIUS over the years and seeing how the system has evolved to meet these changes.”

However, from Donna’s perspective, there is still an imbalance in terms of gender in the industry. “There’s definitely a gender imbalance whereby females are the exception, not the norm, in water data science.” Nevertheless, Donna is a firm supporter of women who want to get into the industry. “It’s important to have a mentor, that makes a huge difference. Also, I believe that presenting the stories of women who have started to pave the way for others, sharing their journeys, is quite important. We need to discourage isolation and establish clearer pathways for women to break through the glass ceiling, get into management, and have a better representation overall in the industry.”

“Avoid the labels. Don’t allow people to separate you out because you’re a woman. You’re not a ‘woman engineer’ or a ‘man engineer,’ you’re an engineer. The inequality exists because we allow this kind of distinction, but gender is really irrelevant in the workplace. Avoid the places and companies that distinguish between genders.” – Alice Ohrtmann

Our second interviewee of the week was Alice Ohrtmann, who works as a Project Engineer III, Management Associate at Rock River Water Reclamation District in Rockford, IL, USA. Alice is responsible for overseeing capital improvement projects for the wastewater treatment plant.

Alice is a graduate of the University of Illinois, where she received her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and her master’s degree in environmental engineering. Alice began her career in consulting, where she worked for 10 years, and later gained experience as the Executive Director of the Freeport, IL Water & Sewer Commission. After spending a few years back in the consulting world, Alice moved back into the municipal wastewater treatment realm, where she’s been working for the past six years. After her years in the industry, Alice has seen firsthand the value of technology. “Technology has been a wonderful thing for the wastewater business,” she notes, adding, “it allows us to collect more real time data that can be used in the operation, design, and compliance reporting. From an engineering point of view, we can use this data to either troubleshoot an existing system or as a baseline for the design of future facilities.”

Alice offers some key insight for those hoping to enter the industry: “Look at all of your options. I personally didn’t question starting my career in consulting, but I wish someone had told me that I wasn’t limited to what everyone else was doing. Really look at what industries are hiring people in your field of expertise. There’s probably a big variety. And then consider what you want to do – are you happy being in the office full time? Do you prefer big picture thinking or do you like thinking about the very detailed view? These are important things to consider when choosing where to work.”

This is the first post in our “Women in Water” series, in which we’re highlighting a number of women working in the water and wastewater industries over the month of March. Join us as we share the stories of these remarkable women and celebrate their achievements by following our blog.

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