WOMEN IN WASTEWATER

At West County Wastewater, inclusion, diversity and equality are at the heart of our operations. We believe our community will thrive best when the people who live here are treated fairly and equitably. We aim to support inclusiveness and advocate for human rights however we can, including by supporting women in the water and wastewater world.

Continue reading to learn more about WCW Women in Wastewater, as well as career and educational opportunities.

JUDY CHEN

PLANNING & SUPPORT MANAGER

West County Wastewater (WCW) has experienced many successes over the years and recently, we’ve worked hard to develop our staff by honing their experiences, growing their skills, and readying them for promotional opportunities. One recent example is the career of Planning & Support Manager Judy Chen. When Judy was hired by WCW in 2020 as a Senior Management Analyst, she did not realize that her new job would go from being necessary to an essential position.

In 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Judy was hired by WCW to serve as a Senior Management Analyst in the Administrative Services Division. In this role, Judy expected to put her experience and expertise in project management, communication, and information technology to good use. When the pandemic hit, and the organization quickly went from shared office space to a remote working environment, Judy and her fellow staff had to look at things differently and dig deep to find solutions to new problems like, “how do we have a meeting when we can’t all be in the same room at the same time?”

Judy is a passionate, hard-working employee who has learned that the key to success is to communicate well with others, use all the tools she is given to her benefit, and ask questions when she has them. She looks at every problem as a project and believes in taking ownership and responsibility for her work.

“Judy is an excellent member of the WCW team and of the Wastewater community. She may be relatively new to Wastewater, but she is no stranger to the concepts of hard work, dedication, service, accountability, and community. The commitment she displays to these values as well as her ability to remain teachable make her an asset to the entire WCW community. She is dedicated to learning as much as she can about Wastewater and utilizing her existing skills in management to serve the community while improving every aspect of WCW that she has the ability to impact. Keep an eye out for Judy, she is going places and making things better for others along the way.” – Director of Infrastructure & Planning, Michael Savannah

This attitude and passion led Judy to her current role as Planning & Support Division Manager. Judy applied for, interviewed, and prepared for the position. Today, she has three very smart and talented employees who report to her, and the division is an integral part of the Infrastructure & Planning Department. This division is particularly technical, and Judy’s background makes her the perfect leader for the team.

Why West County Wastewater? A fun fact about Judy Chen is that she is a long-time Richmond resident. Since 2006 she has called Richmond her home, and she’s always had a passion for giving back to her community. Before she came to WCW, Judy worked for the Contra Costa Sherriff’s office and found that she loved serving in the community where she and her family and friends live. Working for West County Wastewater was an excellent fit for Judy because it allowed her to continue her work in public service.

When we asked Judy about what advice she might give to someone who would like to move up in the organization, she had this to say,

“Take ownership of what you do, never be afraid of a challenge, accept the work that has been assigned to you, and be passionate.”

Judy believes in staying focused and embracing change. This is particularly good advice in an organization that is forward-thinking and progressive.

Judy has seen the progress and positive changes that are happening to women in an industry that has traditionally been male-dominated. As a first-generation, Asian-American female, Judy has had some wonderful, meaningful role models in her life. Judy’s passion for learning began at an early age. Judy’s mother always encouraged and supported her ideas to learn something new and try something out. From tae kwon do to ballet to musical instruments, Judy is a sponge for knowledge. The idea that she may not be able to do something seems to never cross her mind.

Judy explained how the WCW organization and leadership, notably WCW’s General Manager, Lisa Malek-Zadeh, have paved the way for her and others with a foundation that encourages personal and professional growth.

Judy’s years here at West County Wastewater have been impactful and important. It is an example of what wonders occur when the right people are placed in the right positions and given the tools, support, and encouragement to succeed.

LYNNA ALLEN

Environmental Compliance Inspector

Empowering the community through educational outreach drives Lynna Allen’s passion for her job and motivates her to set an example for others – especially women – working in the wastewater industry.

“I thoroughly enjoy teaching how pollution prevention helps keep homes, businesses and schools clean and safe, while saving money and protecting the environment,” said Allen. “Nothing beats seeing your student make this connection.”

As West County Wastewater’s (WCW) Environmental Compliance Inspector, Allen has an opportunity to connect with the community during inspections, events and plant tours. She is known among her fellow staff for her love of increasing the public’s knowledge about water quality and the vital importance of preventing contamination.

With more than 20 years of industry dedication and experience, Allen first set her sights on her current position after touring WCW’s wastewater treatment plant years ago. On the tour, she discovered how WCW sets itself apart in terms of treatment processes and environmental programs. When she learned that her family lived in WCW’s service area, she knew the agency would be a great fit because she would be protecting her own neighbors, family and friends.

Over the years, Allen has developed confidence as one of few women in the wastewater world, something she is now able to pass on to others. She recalls the beginning of her career when she worked alongside two strong women who demonstrated independence, passion, self-respect and emotional intelligence. These women created a space for her to learn, grow and understand her worth. Adversely, she also remembers a woman who urged her to blend in and not draw unnecessary attention to herself by wearing jewelry, makeup or perfume.

“As a result, I grew thicker skin and worked harder and smarter than ever before,” said Allen.  “During my time as a source control coordinator, I worked with a female intern that I could be a positive role model for. I watched her grow and become an inspector at another agency. She tells me that she doesn’t have to worry about blending in. She wears jewelry, makeup and perfume every day.”

For Allen, the opportunity to inspire others doesn’t end at WCW, or even in the wastewater arena. She is a strong advocate for school development of cross-disciplinary programs in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). She herself was not exposed to the wastewater industry until an internship at the City of Hayward and she acknowledges that if she had experienced a STEM program, she may have developed confidence in the field earlier.

“I remember thinking that the source control inspector position was ‘too technical’ for me,” said Allen. “I ended up teaching sewer science at the City of Livermore for more than 13 years.”

The expansion of STEM programs is also vital to bringing more women into the field. When she taught sewer science, she spoke about wastewater treatment, water quality and wastewater careers. She was thrilled to discover that a few of her students ended up interning for the City of Livermore over the years. “STEM programs are inarguably changing the gender landscape,” said Allen.

Allen strives to continue being an instrumental part of WCW’s educational efforts and looks forward to seeing the organization build on its success as a regional leader in the wastewater industry. She is proud to work alongside WCW’s inspirational team, and for an agency that devotes itself to the community it serves through student outreach programs, community engagement, and the inclusiveness and advocacy of women and diversity in the workforce.

 

INGE’ MURRAY-BISH

Assistant Management Analyst

When the COVID-19 Pandemic swept through the world in 2020, a term we began to hear over and over again was “essential worker”. After 28 years at West County Wastewater, Inge’ Murray-Bish is a prime example of an essential worker. Her institutional knowledge alone spans nearly three decades. Not only has she seen many changes in leadership, culture and technology, but she’s passed her knowledge onto many employees coming through WCW’s doors in the years after her.

Inge’ was hired on April Fool’s day in 1994 and says she hoped her hire wasn’t an April Fool’s joke as she came in fresh and eager on her first day of work. After she finished her education at Heald Business College, Inge’ began her career at WCW as a Receptionist where she worked on a Word Processor, answered the phone and did filing and office work.

Inge’s hire was no joke! In fact, as the years went by, her job evolved and her workload increased as she fostered new skills and continued to learn about the wastewater industry. The offices upgraded from word processing to slow computers and started with interoffice emails before finally getting WCW email addresses. Before long, Inge’ promoted from Receptionist to Secretary.

Inge’ wanted to take on more and continue to learn. After a shift in leadership, new positions were created and Inge’ moved to the Engineering Department and was promoted to Assistant Management Analyst, the position she holds today. As she put the hours in, Inge’ learned about every aspects of Wastewater by working for different departments and supporting various work groups on important projects. She is supportive, excellent at research, quick and thorough. Her strengths include finding similarities with people, which help her form professional relationships with coworkers. She uses empathy and consideration of others’ perceptions to work out any differences. She credits those traits as attributes to her longevity at WCW.

          “Change is a big part of growing and succeeding.”

When asked what she would say to her young granddaughter about working in a primarily, male-dominated field, Inge’ says, “life is about whatever you want it to be. Dig your heels in, do your homework, practice to be better and you can do anything.”

Inge’ has raised three children and is fortunate to have her granddaughter and daughter living with her and she’s very much a part of their lives. As a strong woman with a long career in the wastewater industry, Inge’ has encouraged her children to always be self-sufficient. She has stressed to them the importance of being able to afford everything you buy and not be dependent on anyone else.

20-year-old Inge’ was timid, working behind the scenes, quietly walking behind the men, hesitant to express her opinion. Today? Today Inge’ is confident, seasoned, has wonderful ideas and has learned to respond to people’s different perspectives with grace and empathy. She makes her own decisions and is her own woman.

                              “I’m wiser- like a bottle of fine wine.”

We congratulate Inge’ this year as she celebrates another anniversary at WCW on April 1, 2022.

TANYA WILLIAMS

Senior Human Resources Analyst

Every day, Tanya Williams experiences the rewards of working in the wastewater industry.

“Everyone in wastewater has a common goal: to protect the health of our community and environment,” said Williams. “You may only have a small piece of that goal, but when you put the pieces together, you see that you can have a real impact and change in the world.”

As a career public servant, Williams transitioned into wastewater in 2019 after working in human resources for Contra Costa County. Her position as Senior Human Resources Analyst at West County Wastewater (WCW) has opened her eyes to the world of wastewater, environmental preservation and giving back to the community.

“I love how community- and environmentally-oriented my job is and how it constantly pushes me to do better,” said Williams. “I have become aware of how my job translates to my home life. What I learn at work impacts the environment and I strive to create a better future for my daughter and grandchildren every day.”

Williams knows that the employees she hires at WCW will have a direct impact on public health and the environment. She diligently works to attract candidates whose skills and attitudes align with WCW’s initiatives because they will be interacting with the community as field staff, operators, and customer service representatives.

As Williams speaks to potential employees, she focuses on equity and talent. Over time, she has noticed an increase in women applicants, which she attributes to the leadership of the organization.

“Seeing females in leadership roles at WCW is what attracted me to this position. It demonstrates that the organization values women and that there are positions of authority for women to grow into. It is comforting to see women in such powerful, typically male-dominated roles,” said Williams.

Williams applauds WCW for its diversity and inclusiveness. When communicating with job applicants, she finds many of them speak of WCW’s innovation and progressiveness.

Williams predicts the next decade will see even more women entering the field of wastewater.

CHERYL SUDDUTH

Vice-President, Board of Directors

From a young age, West County Wastewater (WCW) Board Vice-President Cheryl Sudduth was aware of privilege, inequality and the socio-economic systems that hold people back no matter how hard they work.

Today, her passion for equity stems from the idea that not everyone has the same quality of life, including access to essential services. As a biologist, environmentalist, mother and advocate for equality, Sudduth is dedicated to racial and environmental justice.

For her, it’s not about having a seat at the table – it’s about building the table and inviting other women and people of color to join. “Do not wait to be invited,” she said. “Be willing to fight for the next person who is coming behind you. It’s not about you. It’s also about the process; it’s about serving and making it easier for the next person.”

In addition to clearing a path for those following behind her, Sudduth is adamant about being a voice for the community. She is proud to serve WCW as the only second woman president at a time when the organization also has its first female general manager and general counsel. Serving on the WCW Board is about communication, collaboration, cooperation, commitment, coordination, and compromise – all traits that she says are essential for an effective leader and colleague.

Sudduth sees her role at WCW as ensuring everyone has access to affordable wastewater services and supporting the mission and vision of the organization.

“It is our job to reflect the voices of local residents and ensure we are acting in the best interest of public health,” she said. “This doesn’t always mean we agree either with one another or necessarily with what the community wants. It means we are going to do what is best for the community by tending to its needs and protecting the people who live here.”

With a 25-year career filled with people questioning her knowledge and ability to do the job, Sudduth has faced many challenges as a Black, Latina, Indigenous, Muslim woman who uses forearm crutches to walk. She is committed to demanding respect, not just as a person filling a position, but as a human being, and doing the work it takes to fight for a future of equality, diversity, justice, access, and inclusiveness.

“I am very proud of everything that I am, including my disAbility,” she said. “I’m not willing to dim myself or to not be authentic because someone else is uncomfortable.”

Sudduth, who once ran for Congress, is currently a Contracts Services Manager at AC Transit. She is active in the community, aiming to bring more diversity to the working world and encouraging women and youth empowerment. She volunteers with local girls in a STEM program, serves on many boards and steering committees that advance human rights, environmental justice, changes to our criminal legal system, and regularly mentors youth and young adults.

“I tell them to take a chance, to go after something they’re passionate about,” she said. “There are only two things that can happen: you’re successful, or you’re not successful yet. We don’t fail; we’re just not successful yet.”

ANGELA ANDREWS

Capital Portfolio Manager

Motivated by the desire to create a better world for her young daughter and inspired by the fight for equality, Angela Andrews is dedicated to service and doing what’s best for the community. Her passion for helping others extends to her role as Capital Portfolio Manager at West County Wastewater (WCW) and to her position as the first Black woman council member for the City of Hayward.

With a graduate degree in urban planning, Andrews was surprised to find herself working in construction facility development. The project and construction management skills she learned there easily translate to her current work at WCW, where she has her “boots on the ground” every day.

Andrews manages maintenance and upgrades to the pipes, pumps, lift stations, Water Quality and Resource Recovery Plant, and other equipment to ensure that wastewater is safely transferred, reducing emergencies and protecting public health.

“Equity in water, our most important resource, is vital,” Andrews said. “With the current water crisis, we are seeing how it is going to be even more crucial to have access to clean water. How water is treated and making sure infrastructure is current and updated both play a role in keeping water, our community and the environment safe.”

Andrews regularly interacts with city planners, general contractors, engineers and designers, positions she says are historically male-dominated jobs and illustrate the lack of representation in the industry. That lack of representation drives her to make change in her community, fight against inequalities and pave the way for her 2-year-old daughter.

Before being elected to the Hayward City Council in November 2020, Andrews served on the Hayward Planning Commission, the Keep Hayward Clean and Green Task Force and the Downtown Streets Team – Hayward Advisory Council. She also volunteers to read in local elementary classrooms, showing girls the opportunities that exist for them, and spends time mentoring other women.

“If there’s a position you want, go for it. Every position that women take is an opportunity for the next person who wants to come along and do the same thing,” she said. “I would love to see more representation in the field, more women working in all aspects of construction and actually working in the trade.”

Andrews praises WCW for its commitment to supporting professional growth of its employees and dedication to cultivating a diverse workplace. She is optimistic for a future for her daughter and other women that is inclusive – with no more “firsts.”

“I want to show her that she can be whoever she wants to be and do whatever she wants to do, if she puts her mind to it,” Andrews said. “I hope she sees that nothing stopped her mother from doing what she wanted to do – that I became the first person but won’t be the last. I am hopeful that it becomes common knowledge that anyone can be anything – that there is equal access and equity in our world.”

JANELLE GARABEDIAN

Plant Operator

 “It is out of sight and out of mind. I like to think of us as unseen heroes.”

The role Janelle Garabedian plays in protecting the environment and public health is essential to the community. One of Garabedian’s favorite things about the job is seeing what the water looks like coming in and knowing her part in making it clean and safe for discharge. Most of the water treated at WCW’s Water Quality and Resource Recovery Plant is used as recycled water for industrial purposes. But the process the wastewater undergoes also makes it safe to return to the environment. 

“If we as operators didn’t do our job correctly, then we could end up discharging water that is dangerous to the environment and could cause serious harm,” said Garabedian. “Most people don’t realize what happens after they flush the toilet, wash their dishes, etc.”

Growing up around the water and wastewater treatment world, Garabedian always felt a connection to the industry. But it wasn’t until her senior year of high school that she considered following in her father’s professional footsteps. 

“I realized this is an amazing field with job security, so I decided to pursue a career by attending Solano Community College,” said Garabedian. 

Her hard work paid off. In April 2017, Garabedian secured a coveted Operator in Training (OIT) position at a wastewater plant, and participated in a student intern program for laboratory work at a second plant. The training and internship programs gave her the career boost she hoped for, and she was hired by West County Wastewater (WCW) in February 2020 as a plant operator. 

For Garabedian, who recently achieved a Grade III Wastewater Operator Certificate and is now pursuing a Grade IV, the drive to keep learning stems from her passion for preserving the environment and her love of the industry. She credits WCW for supporting her efforts to continue professional development and growth. WCW offers its employees tuition and course fee reimbursement and provides an encouraging atmosphere for ongoing training and education. 

“I also love that the technology and knowledge is endless,” she said. “There is always something new to learn about the wastewater industry.”

Garabedian encourages other women hoping to enter the wastewater world to find ways to stand out in the sea of applicants, by obtaining as many certificates as possible, volunteering and trying all parts of the industry to gain more experience. She said she faced her share of rejection letters, but instead of getting discouraged she kept going until someone gave her a chance. 

“It is definitely not an easy career to get into,” Garabedian said. “Don’t stop trying. Keep pushing forward and go above and beyond. As a female, you have to prove yourself a little more in this industry but at the end of the day, it will be worth it.”

CAREER AND EDUCATION RESOURCES

West County Wastewater is dedicated to growing the number of women in wastewater-related positions. Over the last few years, we have increased our workforce of women from 12 to 20, with seven of the 20 in leadership roles. We currently employ three female plant operators – an industry anomaly!

Click here to learn more about careers and education at WCW and in the industry.

“WCW has been instrumental in my career growth. I’ve never worked at an organization that encourages so much professional development, not just in technical skills, but soft ones as well. They really care about what I want to do here. I really value that. You spend a lot of time where you work, so I appreciate that they want their employees to be fulfilled, professionally and personally.”

Angela Andrews, Capital Portfolio Manager