Michelle Tarantino is one of only two women in the group of 20 operators at the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District in Martinez. Yet she sees no particular barriers keeping women from the field, as long as they are determined to succeed and willing to put in the time. “The sky is the limit for women,” she says, “it just depends on how much work they are willing to put into it.”
Tarantino began her professional career in interior, commercial, and residential design but gave up that career after the housing crash nine years ago. Encouraged by a friend who said she had the right stuff for a wastewater position, she joined the Central San staff, first working in the warehouse, and then taking in-house training to become an operator. Today, she oversees all aspects of plant operations and holds a Grade 3 California license.
She says that while she is seeing more women in other wastewater departments, the operations side is still mostly men.
That is not because of physical or psychological barriers. “Other than life issues (like child care) that need to be worked out,” she says, “I don’t see any barriers for women in this field at all.”
As far as respect and communications go, she sees a level playing field. “I remember being tested when I first started. When I passed the test there was no ‘great job’ from others, but I knew I had gained respect and that was all that mattered.”
And she believes communications continue to improve as younger people – who are more accepting of change – come into the field.
Despite the scarcity of women in plant operations positions, she remains hopeful. “I’m crossing my fingers that we will see more women operators,” she says. “As we host tours by school groups and scout troops I hope we present a positive impression instead of a scary place to work.”
“I am a big fan of John Wayne,” she adds. “You need true grit to be a woman in operations but if you hold your own, keep growing, and keep studying, there is really no stopping you.”
Michelle Tarantino graced the cover of the Fall issue of the Wastewater Professional Women Impacting Water Series. Photographer: Kit Ohlman with Central San