Event Debrief: Woman in Hydrogeology (GWD YPs)
On 25 August 2022, the GWD Young Professionals hosted an event in celebration of women's month titled "Women in Hydrogeology".
The event was hosted by the ever sparkling Ms. Annalisa Vicente (GWD Young Professionals Portfolio) with the following (just as accomplished and engaging) Panelists:
Dr Nicolette Vermaak - Post doctoral researcher, University of the Free State
Ms Aqeela Parker - Hydrogeologist, GEOSS
Mrs Oudi Kgomongwe - Hydrogeologist, Department of Water and Sanitation
Ms Maike Diekmann - Junior Hydrogeologist, Knight Piesold
It was so interesting to listen to the experiences of these women, juggling office and field-work in their stride - all committed and united in their passion for the science of groundwater!
Thank you to Mr. Thapelo Mongala (GWD Young Professionals Portfolio Lead Representative) for offering us a summary of the session:
What made you decide on the hydrogeology field?
Maike: Transitioned from geology, enjoys the outdoors and doing field work.
Nicolette: Transitioned from zoology and botany through her placement as a graduate trainee at the DWS. Her background allowed her to look at the impact of groundwater abstraction on biodiversity. Enquiries with the IGS led her to pursuing a masters in hydrogeology.
Aqeela: Her initial interest was in geography in school. She followed that interest by studying environmental sciences and was captivated by the complexities of hydrogeology. Exposure to researchers and mentors committed her to this sector.
Oudi: Also transitioned from geology (exploration). She felt her values were misaligned to the mining field and its profit motives. Her sensitivities to the water aspects of geology allowed her to pursue her masters in hydrogeology and complete her transition.
Do you believe it is still a male-dominated industry?
Maike: She agreed, although she was surprised by the representation of women in her company. The fieldwork and supervision of contractors exposed her to the stigma and stereotypes of the workplace. She highlights confidence as key in those situations. She acknowledges the change however and the work of women that opened the doors to this progress.
Nicolette: She bid an ode to Rowena Hay, Jane Baron and the other women that paved the way in the field. Mentorship is important in the industry. She also noted that the physical strength of men is necessary in some situations.
Aqeela: She also acknowledged the industry is male dominated however it’s not as prevalent in the younger generation of hydrogeologists. Structural change is occurring, and the industry is moving forward.
Oudi: She concurred in this being a male dominated industry due to it being mainly outdoors, rugged terrain and dealing with heavy machinery. The preconceptions of women are there but are changing as people are becoming used to women in the industry. She appreciates the inherent differences between men and women and affirms that those differences are important and have a positive contribution in the workplace.
What are the pros of being a woman in this industry?
Maike: Women exhibit greater rapport compared to the candour of men. A woman's intuition is also key.
Nicolette: Similar thoughts. Knowing what you’re talking about will always gain you respect. Women are individuals and not a monolith. Each one has their own strengths; they should embrace them.
Aqeela: Self-sufficiency is a good trait. Bringing different perspectives is also an advantage.
Oudi: Women showing up as women and nothing else, in their best element and leveraging that is their strength.
What are the cons of being a woman in this industry?
Nicolette: Safety for women working alone in the field is an issue, although in the current state of affairs is not safe for women and men
Aqeela: Safety, especially in remote areas and high crime zones. Countries also differ, women in South Africa are more vulnerable than those in other countries
Maike: Concurred with Aqeela, safety differs in her lived experience. Working in Namibia is safer even in remote areas.
Oudi: Sanitation for women is not considered in the field.
What advice do you have for the next generation of women considering a future in hydrogeology?
Maike: Finding mentorship is key. Being inquisitive and having eagerness to learn is to your benefit. There are always passionate people willing to help.
Nicolette: Do lots of fieldwork, much is learned this way. Be proactive and look for opportunities. Have passion for the work but have a good life balance.
Aqeela: Hydrogeology is fulfilling. She mentioned the impact of a successful borehole in a water scarce area as quite satisfying. Hydrogeology is also fulfilling in its broadness with the variety of branches it provides.
Oudi: Hydrogeologists are needed in the public and private sector to allow the invisible resource to be seen and respected and moved away from the shadow of surface water. She also added that women should not be intimidated. Mentors are out there, follow them or reach out if possible.
Questions and Comments from the audience
Palesa: The session helped her introspect about the field, especially transitioning from geology.
Oudi mentioned that the transition is possible through short courses and learning concepts that apply to the field like Darcy’s Law.
Maposhodi: To Oudi, how has the transition been from geology in mining to hydrogeology in government?
Oudi: The private sector (mining) is driven on short term goals whereas the government is focused on long term agendas, implementing and influencing the groundwater sector. She advised that getting technical expertise is important for the transition because it gives broad exposure and perspectives.
Nicolette: Technical know-how and field experience is important when getting into government. Competence through exposure is key.
Annalisa: Are there a lot of job opportunities in the government?
Oudi: There are many employment opportunities. She encourages everyone to get experience and join government to help apply pressure and get groundwater seen. Where she sits, the surface water cohort specialists outnumber the groundwater specialists and finds groundwater decisions made by surface water specialists.
Angelo: What can men do to treat women better?
Oudi: Start by removing the biases and preconceptions about women.
Aqeela: Accept women as they are and have an open mind. You can learn something from women.
Angelo: Believes women should be assertive and be confident and avoid insecurities and self-doubt.
Nicolette: Agreed with Angelo and stressed that perspective is important. Women can contribute as much as men.
Interested in Mentorship / Advice : Contact Dr Nicolette Vermaak (email [email protected] to receive her contact detail / contact her via Linked-In)
Join the GWD (and the Young Professionals) to be informed & take part in regular Groundwater online and in-person sessions
Find this Talk recording on the GWD YouTube Channel