Identifying Opportunities for Women in the Western Balkan Water Sector Project

Some of the participants at the Building Bridges Over Water Forum organized online on 7 December 2020. Photo Credit: WPI Team

In the framework of its long and fruitful collaboration with the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), USA, last year SHUKALB worked with a team of 3rd grade students from WPI to conduct a project titled “Identifying Opportunities For Women In The Western Balkan Water Sector”.

The goal of the project was to catalyze a network of female wastewater professionals in the Western Balkans, United States, and beyond and to develop mentorship opportunities, spaces to share experiences, initiatives to support career development, and programs to help alleviate the obstacles women face in the wastewater sector.

On 7 December 2020, the WPI team with the support of SHUKALB, facilitated a virtual discussion forum titled “Building Bridges Over Water Forum”, where participants discussed their experiences in the wastewater sector and issues related to developing and sustaining a network. The forum was attended by Professor Leslie Dodson and Professor Robert Hersh from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, representatives from SHUKALB, senior as well as young water professionals from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosova, Albania, WPI Alumna from USA, as well as other professionals interested on the subject.

The forum was opened with a welcome speech from Elisabeta Poci, Deputy Executive Director of SHUKALB and then the WPI team composed from Lindsay Ambrosino, Gabriella Cerbo, Aaron Krueger and Shawna Winters made an overall introduction about the project and the findings of their work, followed by a facilitated discussion on hey topics about the gender issue in the wastewater sector.

The forum hosted several speakers who shared their experiences on specific topics of discussion.  Arlinda Ibrahimllari, Freelancer – Project Manager, Korca WSS company, Albania shared her experience on “Why is it important to get involved in networks and learn knowledge from around the world”; Leila Arifović, Head of the laboratory for wastewater, Bosnia and Herzegovina shared her insights on “Gender inequality in the workplace”; Mary Danielson, WPI Alumna and Staff Engineer, Tighe & Bond, USA shared her experience on “Gender and diversity committee-related; how have these commissions helped alleviate issues” and Jami Walsh, WPI Alumna and Construction Coordinator, Massachusetts Water Resource Authority, USA talked about “How mentorship affects careers”?

In addition, the participants were organized in working groups (breakout room) discussions, where they shared with each other on different topics such as: opportunities that networks and other professional organizations have created from them, changes they had seen regarding gender inequalities that have been successful or unsuccessful, changes they would like to see (i.e. from companies, legislation), mentorship or other positive influence in their career, and the opportunity for offering mentorships as part of this network.

With the support of SHUKALB, the WPI team conducted 21 semi structured interviews between September 2020 and December 2020 to learn more about women’s experiences in the wastewater sector of the Western Balkans. While they mainly interviewed women, they included three men to illuminate male perspectives concerning gender inequality in wastewater utilities. The team also included male and female students and alumni from the Polytechnic University of Tirana (PUT) in their sampling to learn more about the pipeline between education and professional work and to gain perspective on how students perceive issues and opportunities in the wastewater sector. Each woman’s interviewed is featured, and their full profiles can be accessed at SHUKALB internet page at this link: http://shukalb.al/en/programe/women-of-water-project/.

Based on this qualitative research approach, WPI team convened a group of female water professionals in the Western Balkans and the US to collaborate on developing a professional organization to connect women in the wastewater sector internationally. To join the network and to inquire more information visit the group page on FB at https://www.facebook.com/groups/womenofwatershukalb