Comment Contractor

Nelmac’s water woman

Raewyn Philbey admits to getting the odd strange look from homeowners when she responds to callouts in her role as a Water Service Person with Nelson Environmental Management Company, Nelmac. By Angela Mockett.

“Callouts in the early hours of the morning are just part of the job, as is putting on your wet weather gear and heading out when everyone else is heading in.”

“IT’S PARTICULARLY THE older guys” she says.

“Sometimes when I arrive I see them looking behind me expecting to see a guy in overalls coming along to take charge. It doesn’t bother me – I just get started and they soon see I know what I’m about.”

After 10 years with the company, Raewyn’s determination to ‘just get started’ has made her a valuable member of the Nelmac water team. Previously employed as a petrochemical plant operator (one of the first two women in the role worldwide), Raewyn says she had her eye out for a job that would take her away from working with chemicals, feeling a decade’s exposure was “probably more than enough for anyone”. Hearing that Nelmac had a position available, water – she felt, sounded like a much better option. And so it has proved to be.  She now holds both the National Certificate in Water Reticulation and the National Certificate in Wastewater Reticulation as well as qualifications in water sampling, traffic management, respirator work, confined space work – and confined space rescue. She is a senior member of the Nelmac water team and popular among the company’s 250-plus staff.

Not being one for the limelight however, not only was Raewyn reluctant to take the spotlight for this article, but it seems even many around her have little idea of her daily role in this otherwise maledominated field. When asked what others think of her working with Nelmac, Raewyn admitted she just doesn’t talk about it much.

“I mean they know I’m at Nelmac, but I think most of them think I’m on the parks team or maybe working out at one of the water treatment plants.”

The truth of course, is that Philbey is more likely to be under a road somewhere attending to a burst water main or running a job site with colleagues and subcontractors anywhere in the city.

Being a water services person can mean hard work and long and unsociable hours. Callouts in the early hours of the morning are just part of the job, as is putting on your wet weather gear and heading out when everyone else is heading in. Like all those working in infrastructure management, Raewyn is used to digging deep.  “If there’s a job on – it has to be finished. You can’t just knock off because it’s four o’clock if there’s a hole in the road.”

Asked if she thinks the job is harder for a woman, Raewyn is keen to play down stereotypes.

“Obviously it’s hard physically but I’m strong for a woman.” And does she feel an extra pressure to succeed?

“I guess being a woman in a typically male job you can feel that maybe being as good as the guys isn’t enough, that maybe you have to try to be even better. But I’ve got over that. I’m confident in what I can do.”

And just how have ‘the guys’ reacted to having a woman on the water team? “It’s not an issue,” she insists.

“The guys are just as happy to work with me as anyone else. It’s about what you do and how you do it, not whether you’re a guy or not. On a team everyone’s going to be different in one way or another aren’t they?”

In November, Raewyn will have been 10 years with Nelmac. The decade, she says, has seen a few changes, both for her and for the industry.

Her responsibilities have grown – organising crews, water sampling, traffic management and the industry too has matured, with increased awareness of environmental management and the importance of health and safety on every job.

“Nowadays we know that things like bucketing out native fish, site safety and talking with the community are just as important as anything else,” and that, she says, is just how it should be.  “When you’re in charge of a job you’re responsible for everyone and everything on site – and the public. You have to get it right.” A keen walker, mountain biker, horsewoman and martial arts (Bushin Ryu) exponent, Raewyn isn’t one for sitting still for long.  Unable to imagine herself in a desk job, she talks animatedly about enjoying the outdoors aspect of the job, the variety of the work and the satisfaction solving problems brings. “What we do contributes to the community – the whole community.

“Yes, the job’s not always pretty or easy – but it’s important and it’s got to be done.”

So, as one of the female water services people in New Zealand, is it a career she would recommend to young women?

“Yes,” is her immediate response. “There shouldn’t be any barriers to more women entering the industry as long as they have the strength required and the right attitude.”

Raewyn, it appears, is short of neither.

“I guess being a woman in a typically male job you can feel that maybe being as good as the guys isn’t enough, that maybe you have to try to be even better. But I’ve got over that. I’m confident in what I can do.”

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