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More opportunities for women in water needed

Hunter Water's Renny Chivunga believes that a water industry where all people can unapologetically be themselves will be a better one for everyone.

Growing up as a tall, skinny Black woman in Zimbabwe, Renny Chivunga rejected the stereotypes of the time, which celebrated full-figured African women devoted to domestic careers.

She said these stereotypes made her angry and she decided, “that can't be how Black woman will be seen in future. I have to do something to disprove that”.

Today she’s a pilot, model, and engineer and sits on multiple boards. But Chivunga said she hasn’t changed since primary school and is still continually challenging norms.

“I care about the industry I work in and I am not afraid to challenge the status quo. If something is wrong, I will challenge my colleagues and leaders and say, ‘Hey, we need to improve on this', and I’ll do everything in my power to try and change it.”

For someone who has spent her life blazing a trail and embracing her individuality, it’s not surprising Chivunga’s main advice to other women is, “Be yourself — unapologetically”.

“It pains me to see people trying to mould themselves to fit into the confines of what is and has always been," she said.

"As yourself, you experience greater wellbeing and satisfaction. Consequently, you are better at your work. Not pretending to be something you're not liberates others to also reach their potential.”

She believes the water industry can create more opportunities for women through a combination of initiatives such as gender bias training for leaders, cultural bias training for all staff, more male gender diversity champions and KPIs around managers actively demonstrating equity in their teams.

And she said the COVID-19 pandemic has “given us a unique opportunity” to foster inclusive work practices.

“There are precursory things that happen and allow an absolute change and I feel COVID has done that for us. It has broken wide open the myth that flexibility equals reduced productivity. The new ways of working have normalised flexible working arrangements,” she said.

“Imagine a world going forward where business, family and personal circumstances are accommodated by having a very well-considered, tested and legitimate option to attend meetings online.

“I really want remote working options to become part of diversity and inclusion policies across industries. It would be a pity to miss this opportunity and reverse back to the status quo once the vaccinations are all done.”

Increased flexibility is important, said Chivunga, as it fosters greater diversity within the water industry, which leads to more innovative practices and improved customer service.

“People don't know they are welcome until they see someone who looks like them. Having people of colour within an organisation brings diversity. It also brings permission for more people from different backgrounds to come and join the conversation," she said.

“We see things from different perspectives and our backgrounds and values change an organisation. Examples from my life demonstrate my unique experiences highlighting what others missed, challenging them and seeing changes applied. That's what happens when diversity is in play.”

Australian Water Association VIC Branch will celebrate International Women’s Day with a Zoom webinar on Tuesday 9 March 2021. Visit this page for more information and to confirm your registration.