CIWEM President’s Blog – Female Fellowship

CIWEM President’s Blog – Female Fellowship

“Rarely are opportunities presented to you in a perfect way. In a nice little box with a yellow bow on top. 'Here, open it, it's perfect. You'll love it.' Opportunities – the good ones – are messy, confusing and hard to recognize. They're risky. They challenge you.”
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If you’ve seen the March Edition of The Environment Magazine you’ll already know that it’s a celebration of International Women’s Day. In this blog, I want to continue that theme and offer my personal reflections on what it means to be a female Fellow in an Institution where currently only 9% of our Fellows and 30% of our total members are female.

Dr Judith Brammer and I have known each other since we were thrown together in a tutor group at the University of Sheffield in 1997 and we have been firm friends ever since. Our career paths have been different but both stayed within the water and environment sector and both decided to join CIWEM at a similar time. We supported each other through Chartership and last May, both successfully applied for Fellowship. It might seem like an unusual thing to say but the benefit of going through this journey with someone else is not to be underestimated, certainly not in my experience.

So, rather than just sharing my reflections of what it means to be the third female president of an institution in 125 years, I asked Judith about her experiences of being part of CIWEM, why she joined, why she became a Fellow and why she thinks we’re only at 9% and I’d love to share some of our conversation with you.

What were your first experiences of joining CIWEM?

Judith - I started on the mailing list when I was still doing my PhD, it meant that when I started to apply for jobs I was aware of what it meant be chartered and the benefits it brought even though I’d come from an academic background. I joined as a Graduate member and started to attend meetings. I wanted access to an organisation with people who were like-minded as well as to broaden my understanding of issues in the water environment. My involvement picked up when I moved to Atkins, I became a Committee member for the North Western and North Wales branch and decided to go for Chartership.”

Why did you decide to become Chartered?

Judith - I started to notice that colleagues were getting Chartered and I recognised for the value placed on becoming a chartered member of such a well-regarded institution. Chartership is not only a recognition of your capability but also an external marker of your experience.

Ok, so we convinced each other that we’d both get Chartered together.

So, what next?

Judith - Over the next few years, I got more involved with the CIWEM Committee and supporting Graduates on their journey to chartership. The North West and North Wales branch was really lively with lots of events. Every month I was heading to Lancaster, Lingley Mere or into the centre of Manchester for meetings or presentations. I started to see the same faces popping up at events, finding others that were looking to expand their environmental awareness. A topic comes to life when you talk about it rather than reading a journal. I met some inspiring characters and made some great connections.

So post-Chartership you had your first child, how did that impact your involvement with CIWEM?

Judith - I continued being involved but found it increasingly difficult to get to after-work meetings. By the time baby number two arrived it was too much to regularly walk in from work mid-evening. It didn’t feel fair on my husband and wasn’t sustainable with family life, so in 2015 I stepped down from the Committee. I still attended events, just less regularly and now look for opportunities to support our graduates on their chartership journey as well as look for potential in our placement students.

So, I know you became a Fellow last May, we applied at the same time just like Chartership, so why did you decide to apply?

Judith - I started to see colleagues becoming Fellow and I thought – if they can do it, why can’t it? There wasn’t anything standing in my way, I just don’t think it had crossed my mind and then you suggested it and I thought, I wonder what’s involved. I looked into the level of experience required and application process, I was pleasantly surprised! If it’s in my grasp, why wouldn’t I apply? I had no idea that so few women were Fellows.

What did you expect the number to be?

Judith - 40%, I work in a business that’s got a really great gender balance. I am involved in placement and graduate recruitment and as an organisation there is a lot of emphasis on mitigating unconscious bias and I’ve never seen gender bias in the audience of CIWEM events that I’ve been to.

So why have we not got more women applying to be Fellows do you think?

Judith - And is there anything about the name Fellow? What’s the unconscious bias around the word?

It’s an interesting one! I’ve spoken to lots of men who are experienced in their career and also aren’t fellows. Fellow for me is about Fellowship, a member of a learned society but I do wonder if it switches women off from applying.

Judith - When my CIWEM magazine arrived recently my 8 year old was fascinated by all the letters after my name on the envelope - PhD FCIWEM MCIWEM C.WEM C.Env C.Sci – it’s a great way to inspire the next generation! When I see that come through the letter box I think, I did that and it’s a personal commitment to get Chartered.

I totally agree, it’s a big responsibility upholding the values of the Institution and it’s unusual later in our career to have our abilities externally validated and I think there’s nothing wrong feeling proud of those achievements.

Judith and I concluded that there’s still more that we can do as members of CIWEM to share the benefits of being part of the CIWEM community. For me, some of this comes back to connection and that the benefits of being part of this community are the connections you can make, the opportunity to problem solve with others from across the sector and beyond, to pick up the phone and get some constructive challenge and a different viewpoint from someone outside of your business. Ultimately as CIWEM members, whilst we’re an individual bunch our ambition is grounded in the same things and that’s really powerful.

So, my challenge - if you’re thinking about being more involved, what’s stopping you? And if you’re already there what can you do to support others to follow you? How do we make sure the 9% are really visible and that 9% rapidly becomes more representative of the sector at large?

I’m keen to hear what more we can be doing so if you want to continue the discussion drop me a line at

Niki Roach

CIWEM President 2020-21

Dr Judith Brammer is a Principal Environmental Scientist for Atkins, a member of SNC-Lavalin Group.

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