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.

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.”

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.”

CHERYL SUDDUTH

President, Board of Directors

From a young age, West County Wastewater (WCW) Board 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.”

EVELYN CHRISTIAN

Plant Operator

Evelyn Christian graduated as the only African American female in a class of all men at RichmondBUILD Academy, a public/private endeavor to develop talent in construction and renewable energy. Now a plant operator at West County Wastewater (WCW), she serves as an example of how the local industry works together to support education and training programs and how WCW encourages the professional development of its employees.

After completing the academy, Christian was hired for an operator-in-training (OIT) program at a nearby agency in 2013. The industrywide OIT program gives job seekers the opportunity to gain experience in the field and learn from wastewater experts. At WCW, the OIT program is paid, which is rare in the industry.

Christian finished the 18-month program and was hired by that agency as a Wastewater Treatment Operator Grade I, later coming to WCW in 2018 as a Wastewater Treatment Operator Grade II.

“My goal was to have a permanent occupation that allowed future continuous growth,” said Christian. “WCW has been instrumental in helping me reach that goal. I also have an opportunity to explore other occupations that I didn’t know existed inside of the wastewater treatment field.”

As a State of California Certified Operator with a focus on health and safety, Christian finds the intricacy of wastewater operations, including the scientific and biological aspects, both impressive and fascinating.

“Few people know what it takes to keep a plant operating. It has several independent integrals, however, they all come together to have a positive outcome for public safety and health. I love that my job is a vital key in protecting 100,000 customers,” she said.

As part of her job, Christian operates equipment, records meter readings, collects and tests samples, cleans and maintains equipment, and ensures WCW is following U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. The work keeps disease-causing bacteria and harmful organisms that can affect people’s health out of the environment.

As an animal lover, the care and protection that WCW demonstrates for the environment is important to Christian. “We protect the wildlife that share our community alongside us,” she said. WCW treats and sends its wastewater for safe reuse as recycled water for industrial purposes, protecting the San Francisco Bay and its ecosystem.

Working in a traditionally male occupation has been full of challenges, beginning at the apprenticeship stage, Christian said. She expected barriers and pushed back every time she felt like giving in and quitting. She encourages other women pursuing male-held careers to stay true to themselves and set an example for the women alongside them.

“Do not be afraid to pursue personal and professional growth. Don’t be intimidated. In all actuality, it is the man who is intimidated by you entering his occupational industry,” Christian said.

TANYA WILLIAMS

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 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.

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