International Women’s Day: Interview with Heather Peters
In celebration of this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) and continuation of our mission to foster the next generation of global water tech leaders and change agents, we caught up with Heather Peters, SUEZ Water Technologies and Solutions North American Human Resources Leader and Co-Chair of the Global Women’s Network. Heather discussed her career, workforce, and what IWD means to her. She also provided advice for women as they progress in their careers. Check out the interview below!
What does International Women's Day and its theme #BreaktheBias mean to you?
IWD is a time to reflect on the progress we’ve made as women, but it’s also a reminder that we need to continue fighting against gender inequality. My mom was a single mom until I was 16, and she worked very hard in a corporate role to #BreaktheBias so that things would be better for me. The stories she tells of her experience in corporate America are painful and outright disturbing. While I haven’t had to face overt sexual harassment and discrimination that my mom experienced, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Inequalities, big and small, still need to be broken. I have to do what my mom did for the next generation of women – I have to work just as hard to make change for women in the workforce. IWD reminds us that we need to keep making progress, and it inspires us to keep going.
Why do you think diversity in the workplace is so important?
Without diversity of gender, race, background, and experience, ideas become one-dimensional. Innovation and creativity hit limits. It is essential to be inclusive in order to maximize our potential as a business, as a team, and as individuals. Yes, it can sometimes feel frustrating to sift through various perspectives in a diverse group of collaborators. But in the end, outcomes will be richer, more meaningful, and ultimately, more powerful. I believe that we should always be looking for ways to celebrate our differences, which is why our employee resource groups (ERGs) are so important. In addition to allowing employees to be heard, feel valued, and get engaged, ERGs ensure alignment between the business and diversity strategies.
What are the challenges facing women in leadership? Have you faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman? If so, how did you overcome them?
I don't want to generalize, because everyone’s challenges are unique and personal. But for me, I struggled to recognize the subtle (and maybe not so subtle) inequities I experienced over the years. I was conditioned to be “nice,” so found myself stepping aside when I should have been stepping up. And, others let me step aside. I didn’t recognize this as an inequity - opportunities were denied to me and my voice was disregarded because I was a “nice girl.” I’ve since learned to own my voice, hold my power, and identify when someone tries to take it away. I can now face my challenges upfront and embrace my emotions. It's not always easy, but all change starts within.
What is your most significant achievement so far?
I’m a mother to a 13-year-old son who I adore. I also have a meaningful and rewarding career in the water industry. I am so proud to be the co-chair of my company's global Women's Network, which creates a community for women that promotes career development, provides mentoring and support, and helps facilitate professional collaborations.
What is an essential piece of advice you have been given and want young women thinking about their careers to know?
It’s hard to pick just one but being open to change is a good piece of advice. Try out different things to figure out what direction you want to take. For my career, internships and rotational programs were instrumental in helping me decide on future plans. We have a lot of great summer internships and a graduate rotational program at WTS that students should definitely apply to! The path that I originally set for myself changed throughout my career, thanks to strong development programs that helped me reflect on my next steps. I started out in the mental health field but fell in love with HR when I took an HR internship. As I grew professionally, I took advantage of support systems, like mentoring programs, that gave me the confidence to take on challenging roles. We still have work to do, but I am proud to say that we are continuously working to refine our development programs for our employees at all levels.
What has you most excited about the future?
Women have done so much over the last couple of decades to advance technology, medicine, engineering, and more. I can’t wait to see what the next generation of leaders will do!
If you could have dinner with one or two inspirational women, who would they be and why?
I have a long list, but the immediate women that come to mind are Michelle Obama, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Oprah Winfrey, Brené Brown, Gina Davis, Tina Fey, Beyonce, Laverne Cox and my mother. All of them. Together. At the same time. How amazing would that be!?