Only one in seven engineers in the United States is a woman, according to the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress. And in wastewater, only one in 20 treatment plant operators across the country is a woman (The Institute for Women’s Policy Research).
So, is the gender ration any more balanced in California? Yes and no. For example, women make up 31 percent of the engineering staff at LA Sanitation, City of Los Angeles, reports Traci Minamide, the District’s chief operating officer. Yet LA Sanitation has only two women on its operations staff of 123 filled positions. “The female engineering percentage is reasonable,” Minamide says, “but the operator field definitely has room for improvement.”
The traditional barriers to female employment and advancement, however, have not impaired the clean water careers of many women in our state, Minamide
among them. In our Women Impacting Water Series, Traci, Lisa Arroyo, Amber Baylor, Michele Beason, and Michelle Tarrantino agree that self-confidence, determination, focus, training and most of all, networking are keys to success. “The sky is the limit for women in the wastewater field,” says Tarrantino. “It just depends how much you want to put into it.”
From her position in top management, Traci Minamide sees the role of women in water and wastewater management expanding.
“Absolutely,” she says, “I see the role of women changing. There is much more emphasis on women becoming part of this industry. We are paying more attention to gender equality than in the past.”
Minamide is responsible for a department with more than 3,000 employees and $1 billion in annual revenue. Her work includes a focus on the city’s wastewater reclamation programs. With a degree from Cal Poly Pomona, she started out as an associate engineer 25 years ago, and worked her way up to a full engineering position, then division manager in both the industrial pretreatment program and regulatory affairs, and finally, the executive office. Along the way, she earned a master’s degree in environmental science from Loyola Marymount University.
From the mayor’s office to educational programs at trade schools and colleges, her city encourages female employment, she says. “It is absolutely essential. In the traditional operations careers, we are still very low on females. We try to get out to colleges that have operator programs. We need more women in these jobs. They are just as capable as anyone.”
Minamide believes the traditional barriers to women in the field are disappearing, though there are still some long-held viewpoints that men are better suited to engineering and technical careers. “That needs to change,” she says. “At younger ages, both boys and girls need to be encouraged to look at a STEM curriculum.”
She says her personal career has been a positive experience. “In LA, diversity and equal opportunity are very important,” she says. “I feel I have been provided with a great work environment.”
The city carries on that tradition in its recruiting of new employees, she notes. “We recruit across the board, for diversity in gender as well as ethnicity. In operations, we offer a good starting salary, and we have developed a training program to help new employees become licensed so they can qualify for jobs with higher levels of responsibility.”