According to recent research completed by the World Bank’s Water Global Practice, less than one in five water workers are women. Women are also often underrepresented in technical and managerial positions in these positions within some utilities.
At American Water, we are proud to say that women make up an important part of our team—26 percent of our workforce, 28 percent of our people leaders, and 34 percent of our executive leadership team. In honor of Women’s Equality Day, we want to take a moment to acknowledge the hard work of these women in our organization as a reminder that women play a big role in the water utilities industry. In addition, we’d like to highlight some of the amazing women who help keep life flowing here at American Water.
Dr. Sunayna Dasgupta, Scientist, Research & Development, American Water
As a Scientist in American Water’s Research & Development Lab, successful completion of a project, which has a greater applicability in the public health domain, brings an immense sense of satisfaction to Dr. Dasgupta. Successful fulfillment and publication of her first research report on “Hospital Wastewater Practices and Compounds of Emerging Concern in Water” funded by the Water Research Foundation will always be special to her.
Dr. Dasgupta performs experiments in the lab, where she uses specialized tools and techniques to provide the necessary technical information to support American Water and its customer needs. She also works on externally funded research projects that usually involve several years of work at a time. This research work is usually focused on addressing pressing research needs for the water/wastewater industry that are likely to help shape future treatment, public health protection or regulatory goals.
“Nowadays, it has become easier for a woman to be in my or any other industry. Certainly, there are some challenges, but in the end, the feeling of accomplishment overshadows everything. The water industry has offered me with the right environment and set up to work and put forward my effort. It has provided me with mentors to guide me throughout and nurture my skills. I feel equivalent to my peers of opposite gender in terms of opportunity and work culture.” – Dr. Sunayna Dasgupta
With the exception of a three-year stint as a professor, Dr. Christina Chard has been with American Water since 1997. Over the years, she has held roles in various parts of our operations including credit and collections, customer service, computer programming, PC/network support, T&I capital and expense management, and leadership.
Now, she works in our Rates and Regulatory area— a little-known forensic accounting and financial litigation career field within the utilities industry—for the Mid-Atlantic Region. This type of role requires a unique combination of business, finance, law, economics, and accounting as well as critical thinking and people skills, and is usually dominated by men.
“My hope is that more women become aware of and interested in this career field. Diversity and a focus on critical thinking, reading, and writing skills are so important.” – Christina Chard
In a career path in which women are often underrepresented, Krista Citron is a reminder of why women are an important part of our Engineering department. She thrives in every situation, even when things are tense, and plays the role of problem solver for her teams.
She is well aware that, as a society, we’ve worked hard to encourage more women to pursue STEM degrees, but there’s still a gap when it comes to women working or holding positions of leadership in STEM career fields. She admits that, at times, it is difficult being the only woman in the room, but she has seen the push for workplace culture change and sees more women are choosing to work in engineering—and stay there. Krista has the following advice for young women: Be bold and persistent with your goals for yourself. Recognize that your best mentors may not look or act like you, but that doesn’t mean they can’t provide great advice and direction. Speak up—no one else is going to do it for you.
“I am continually impressed by Krista’s willingness to take on challenging assignments to stretch herself and expand her skill set. Meanwhile, in addition to her challenging work as an engineer, she still finds time to represent Kentucky American Water at local community events, serve her community through mentoring, and be involved in family activities that serve the community.” – Shelley Porter, Director of Engineering, Kentucky American Water
Samantha Williams, External Affairs Manager, Missouri American Water
Samantha E. Williams began at American Water less than a year ago and has already made a great impact. Prior to joining the team, she was a Congressional Aide at the U.S. House of Representatives and brings with her a vast depth of knowledge when it comes to community engagement, DEI in communications and more.
Samantha encourages women to seek mentorships not only from other women but from men, as well. She challenges young women to find people within their field, or, people who have a skillset they wish they had and study them. As a kid with a passion for politics, she studied Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. Once she entered the communication field, she found articles on the top women in the public relations field and tried connecting with them through LinkedIn. She gained mentors by simply saying – “Hi, I am new to this field and would love any pointers you may have for someone like me.”
“Sometimes we have to be the first and use our voice, even if it makes us nervous, in order to build a platform for other women. I hope that within the communication field and within the water industry we create safe spaces for women to be heard and create mentorship opportunities so they can reach the top of their respective fields. Also, I hope that we also understand that women of color have different, and often unique perspectives and experiences. We should not use broad strokes to define women’s experiences in the workforce or in any industry.” – Samantha Williams
In her nearly eight years with Illinois American Water’s water quality team, Pam Ingersoll-Goede’s role has been, in the simplest terms, to help safeguard our customers. She knows that at the end of every pipe is a family drinking, cooking, and cleaning with the water we treated, tested, and delivered to their homes. She takes pride in that work and does not take the trust placed on her team lightly.
With that in mind, there is also a challenge: ensuring the future of the workforce. According to “America’s Water Sector Workforce Initiative: A Call to Action,” prepared by the US EPA in 2020, one of the major challenges facing our nation is a staff shortage in the water workforce that operates and maintains our essential drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. Knowing this firsthand, Pam has made it a personal mission to engage young people, including young women, with the industry.
“I remember becoming interested in science when I was very young. And, I knew I wanted a future in science, but there weren’t a lot of female role models to look to as I pursued [that field]. So, it is important for me to champion young minds and encourage Illinois American Water’s young customers to learn about drinking water, wastewater, and the science behind these essential services.” – Pam Ingersoll-Goede
Cheryl Naimoli, Director of Health and Safety, New Jersey American Water
With more than 20 years of experience, Cheryl Naimoli plays an important role for the New Jersey American Water team by helping them decrease OSHA recordable incidences dramatically since she started in her role in 2018. Along with excelling at her job, Cheryl is also a great role model for young women in the industry and in the community.
While working full time and raising three kids, she earned her MBA and found time to give back to the community. She enjoys working with women’s leadership organizations and attending conferences to empower and raise up other women. Cheryl is a volunteer with Jersey Cares in Trenton, NJ, a nonprofit organization that recruits and engages volunteers in rewarding, effective efforts that address community-identified needs.
“In a male-dominated industry as well as the field of occupational health and safety, which is also predominately male, Cheryl serves as an incredible role model to other women at American Water through her leadership, fellowship with others, and her expertise in safety, a core focus at American Water.” – Denise Venuti Free, Director of Communications & External Affairs, New Jersey American Water
Jennifer Milakeve, Manager, Water Quality and Environmental Compliance, Pennsylvania American Water
For the past 10 years, Jennifer Milakeve has been making her mark at American Water. She is hands-on in providing support to water quality and environmental compliance operations. She is responsible for a large geographic area and spends her days catering to its needs. From customer service to reviewing sample test results or interpreting complex regulations, every day is different.
And while she understands that water and wastewater operations is still very male-dominated, Jennifer takes that on as a challenge and an opportunity. In college, Jennifer wasn’t even aware that her current field existed, and that’s probably still the reality for many students, especially young women. So, she’s excited to see more and more women entering the field and hopes that others considering it will not be intimidated by the statistics.
“Jennifer is an excellent representative of our company when communicating with customers on water quality inquiries and complaints, or when interacting with local officials during water quality events. For all of this, and more, she is an incredible role model for girls and young women who may be considering a science/technical career.” – Daniel J. Hufton, Director, Water & Environmental Compliance
Cheryl Norton, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, American Water
Joining American Water in 1988 as a microbiology research technician at the company’s Central Laboratory in Illinois, Cheryl Norton came in ready to make her mark in the industry. Thirty-three years later, we’re proud to call her one of our highest-ranking executive officers. In fact, Cheryl made history this year by becoming the first female COO at American Water.
In this role, she is responsible for the successful performance of American Water’s regulated states, serving approximately 12 million people in more than 1,600 communities. She also leads customer service across the company’s footprint, including two national customer service centers, as well as systemwide engineering, health and safety, and environmental and regulatory compliance.
Cheryl has also shown it is possible for women to climb the executive ladder and have a family. She is married with three adult children and six grandchildren. She has successfully handled the demands of both work and family life at home, and serves as a mentor for other professionals, striving to achieve a balance between family life and professional advancement.
“Cheryl’s dedication to advancing women, and her own success as a woman in the industry, make her an outstanding role model for everyone. By skillfully identifying talent and by challenging them with significant responsibility, Cheryl has had a positive influence on the next generation of leadership within American Water and the industry overall.” – Melanie Kennedy, Senior Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer, American Water
On an average day, you can find Kelly Ryan in the Hopewell Water Treatment Plant laboratory reviewing water treatment plant data and water quality results, assisting the Operations team with any water quality issues for the day, collecting water samples, and planning for any community-based activities. In fact, her team says she is always one of the first to volunteer when it comes to visiting local schools to teach students about water sheds and water treatment or providing tap water, on behalf of American Water, at local community events such as races and farmers markets.
In short, during her 13 years with American Water, Kelly continued to make an immense impact at the lab and in the community, all while being a mom of three. And, while she acknowledges the difficulty of being a working mom in 2021, Kelly is hopeful for the future.
“My hope is that the societal pressure for women to be good at everything and be ‘on’ all the time is broken down and evenly distributed. There are endless opportunities within this field for women—finance, engineering, business operations, water quality—and I hope that balancing the personal expectations of men and women will help young women pursue and get farther down such paths in our industry and others.” – Kelly Ryan
Kira Shamblin, Supervisor, Field Operations, West Virginia American Water
For almost 11 years, Kira Shamblin has been a part of the West Virginia American Water team, and in that time, she has established herself as a critical component of the Commercial department’s operations. She makes sure 30 employees have the proper work for the day and serves as their go-to person for help throughout their time at work.
Right now, she is the only woman among the other management staff within the Operations department. This part of the business— the field and management are still predominantly male—but Kira has high hopes for the future.
“I hope if other women want to be part of this line of work, they pursue it and do not let those stats deter them from it. If they want to be here, they should go for it! It is a fun, fast-paced field that changes often, but could always benefit from more voices at the table.” – Kira Shamblin
When getting a degree in biology and chemistry, Sarah Snodgrass never imagined having a career at a water plant. But, today, she plays an integral role in the day-to-day running and upkeep of an American Water plant laboratory. By analyzing samples, maintaining analytical equipment, collecting samples, and, overall, helping us provide the best service possible for our customers.
“I would tell younger women to take the opportunity to explore their options in the industry. I don’t believe a lot of people think of a water plant operator as a career, but it is a wonderful, fulfilling position, and you have many opportunities working for American Water.” – Sarah Snodgrass
Kristen Stanfill, Operations Specialist, Tennessee American Water
Kristen began working at Tennessee American Water in the Distribution department as an operations specialist during the height of COVID, in September 2020. Starting a new job during the pandemic hasn’t been easy on any new hires, but Kristen jumped in with both feet, eager to learn the business. Kristen is organized and goal-focused, which can be challenging in an environment where there is constant change, and every day is different. Her background in environmental compliance has been an asset to the business. She strives for excellence, which has made her an effective member of the team in a short period of time.
While new to the utilities world, Kristen’s interest in water quality has been a primary focus throughout her career. She has a Bachelor of Science in biology and a Master of Public Health in environmental health. She is a team player and is committed to doing what is right for her coworkers, customers, and community. Kristen is continuously building her knowledge and contributes her expertise to achieve meaningful operational benefits.
“Kristen is a role model for young women in the industry because of her passion for clean, safe, reliable water for the communities we serve. Her passion has not only led to a career focused on water quality, but is also reflected in her personal life, including outreach to schools, creating materials to educate the public, and volunteering with a local clean water organization.” – Charles Cofer & Will Blevins, Supervisors for Field Operations, Tennessee American Water
Barbara Williams, Billing/Collections Specialist, Pennsylvania American Water
Barbara Williams has been working in the Business Performance section of Pennsylvania American Water for about three years and, according to her coworkers and manager, is more than deserving of a spotlight. Barbara, known to everyone as Barb, goes above and beyond in every situation. She is her team’s go-to subject matter expert and a primary point of contact for the supervisors in customer service. In fact, she even performed training for all customer service representatives during training day.
Originally from Brazil, Barb represents the growing international community within American Water’s workforce.
“Barb is a passionate young woman who loves her job. She is a great role model for all young women, but especially those from diverse backgrounds who may be hesitant about applying for a position within a large utility. We are so excited to see her advance in the coming years.” – Cheryl DiSanti, Manager, Business Performance
Marielis ‘Ely’ Nunez, Operational Excellence Manager, Military Services Group
Ely Nunez isn’t afraid to take on new challenges and expand her skills to meet the needs of the business. As the Operational Excellence Manager for American Water’s Military Services Group, Ely is largely responsible for making sure that the metrics used to drive business decisions are as efficient as possible. She notes that critical and problem-solving skills, along with a strong interest in math, are key to her role and encourages other females to expand their skills in these areas. She also encourages females to be well-rounded in their interests making time, like she does, to participate in their local communities and spend time doing activities they enjoy.
An active member of her church, an outdoorswoman and a person with multiple hobbies, like making masks during the pandemic, she challenges other women to explore the world around them in order to find what truly interests them.
“For girls and young women considering a career in data management, I’d say challenge yourselves. Try new things to find out what your interests are and don’t be afraid to take math and other STEM courses. If you desire to be a female in STEM, follow your instincts and work towards your goal.” – Marielis ‘Ely’ Nunez
We’d like to thank all the women who are a part of our American Water team—not just for the incredible work they do every day, but also for the spectacular example they are setting for young women who are interested in a career within the industry.