Women in Innovation - Dr Sarah Ward

Leigh Jenkins
Marketing Manager - Innovation | Enterprise Europe Network
8th May 2017

Dr Sarah Ward is a Chartered Water and Environmental Manager with a passion for making a difference in the water and environment sector. She established a social enterprise, RainShare, to generate multiple gain through sharing rain (roof runoff) across a portfolio of alternative water infrastructure system services representing fresh new business models. 

In these environmentally challenged times, RainShare helps homeowners, businesses and those who manage community facilities to re-engage with and manage the water they generate and use by sharing and storing harvested rainwater (roof runoff) between properties.

What is a typical working day for you? 

Actioning any demanding emails are a priority, I can then focus on my schedule and get the most from the day ahead. I continue to work as a research fellow so have to be mindful and organised in dividing my time between the demands of that work together with those of setting up a new business.

I spend a lot of my time office based working on research, running models or presenting my findings but the development phase of RainshareRainShare takes me out and about to forward thinking businesses and communities.

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

People generally don’t give water a thought, it’s something that we all take for granted, it’s a constant in our lives. I’ve heard people’s experiences of flooding, drought, wildfires and the consequences on their health. It’s been fascinating for me to realise that everybody has a water story, I love witnessing the moment when they make the connection from their own story to the big picture.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

I’m involved in such a diversity of projects, all with different agendas, I have to develop and maintain the skill sets to suit. Setting up RainShare and stepping into the business world from academia has been a steep learning curve then again I am loving the challenge.

What are the challenges facing women in innovation?

Finding the confidence to challenge the status quo. The answers always lie outside of the norm and mindsets have to be challenged, networks broken. The prospect can be overwhelming, I’ve found that it’s best to chip away gradually making incremental changes until you arrive at the tipping point.

What are three key things you think are important to succeed as a woman in business?

Perseverance - a door closes then you find another one and that closes too, you have to have blind belief in what you’re doing and keep looking for another door.

Focus - there are so many things to juggle at any one time, it’s easy to become distracted. The more you focus the more you’ll get to recognise and pursue the beneficial distractions.

Overcoming self-doubt - there will be times when you berate yourself for missing an opportunity or not achieving enough, it’s so easy to look around and imagine that everyone else has got ‘it’ sorted. Have some self-compassion and appreciate that you’re doing it in your own unique way.

What's the best piece of business advice you've ever been given?

Find someone to ask you questions! Answering the questions from my business mentors has enabled me to map out the business so I’ve been able to plan and step out the progress required.  

Why did you choose a career in science?

I discovered that science was the primary way that I could study the environment. I’ve always had a passion for the environment and for finding ways people can connect with it. I see engineering as applying physics to problem solve whilst geography is more about observing and reflecting. Interestingly nobody mentioned engineering to me at school, I had to go down the geography route and find my own way here where my research and practice aims to combine both perspectives.

Do you have any tips for people looking to progress their career in innovation?

Hold on to your passion by any which means and seize any opportunity to grow. Even when you think that you’re not going in the direction you want, your personal growth will give you something you value.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Being with my 3-year-old has taught me that play is a great distraction. Whether I’m with my husband, son, wider family or friends I can guarantee that I’ll return to work with the answer to my latest challenge when I’ve been immersed in play.

I’m lucky to live near the coast so like to head off to the beach whenever I can.

What women inspire you and why?

Those women who are so confident in themselves that they’re not afraid to play devil’s advocate, unafraid to ask questions and voice their opinions. 

What are the biggest challenges for the future generation of women in innovation?

In terms of policy and technological innovation, challenging the male-dominated world of engineering is the biggest. For all their excellence, Universities typically have male dominated engineering departments although happily these days engineering is promoted as a career opportunity for all genders.

I didn’t realise this was an issue back in my geography departments where there’s a greater gender balance. That said, innovation also seems hidden in education, we need girls and women to know that gender differences are continually evolving and that they can be part of innovation in engineering and other STEM disciplines. They need help to gain insights and opportunities to innovate and stimulate enterprise with a more connected technical and social feel.

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