Having diversity, equity, and inclusion in all levels of the workforce is vital to innovation and growth in the water sector. We are excited to update you on the work of the WEF Workforce Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which will be wrapping up in the next month and transforming into a standing board Subcommittee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
Kicking off with unclear roads ahead
After the release of the Brookings Institution report Renewing the Water Workforce last year, the WEF Board of Trustees recognized that diversity and inclusion in the water workforce was an important and timely issue needing WEF’s attention. In August 2019, the board established the WEF Workforce Diversity and Inclusion Task Force with a charge to provide recommendations on where WEF should best focus efforts related to the development of a more diverse water workforce.
A little vague? Yes. A little broad? Yes. But after hours of brave and uncomfortable conversations and lots of research, we provided the board with over 50 recommendations on how WEF can make an impact on the water industry. More importantly, we recommended that to help the water industry, WEF needed to take a critical look internally first.
Meeting in-person for uncomfortable conversations
Over the past year we’ve had bi-weekly conversations and in February we had an in-person facilitated workshop. In addition to the 15 task force members and staff, we also invited WEF Executive Director Walt Marlowe and Joseph Kane, co-author of the Brookings Institution report, to participate.
During that workshop we identified more than 25 different groups represented within the water industry and determined that WEF could best impact the following:
• Underrepresented/underserved in management and leadership (including Black people)
• Underrepresented/underserved in operations (including women)
• Expertise diversity
With the groups narrowed down, we began ideating on quick wins and long-term projects that WEF could undertake to best enhance and recruit those underrepresented/underserved groups.
At the April Board Meeting, we shared more than 100 recommendations for the board to consider, including these eight:
Start a national conversation on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the water industry through different media channels.
· Develop bold partnerships with external partners (ex: National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Boys and Girls Clubs, HR/Communications/Marketing related organizations) and industry giants (ex: Google, Facebook), leveraging access to underrepresented/underserved communities.
· Celebrate and create incentives to encourage companies to undergo diversity, equity and inclusion training (ex: unconscious bias, DE&I basics, inclusion, sensitivity training)
· Facilitate a network for underrepresented/underserved operators to communicate best practices, mentor, and engage others.
· Tell stories! Focusing on local/regional/national news stories on the importance of our water operators.
· Create a skills database for the water industry that is searchable by career opportunities, skills, experiences, career paths, and job descriptions.
· Create mission-based “Industry for Everyone” campaign seeking out and highlighting non-traditional water professionals to tell their stories
·Create a “Water Bootcamp” training program for mid-level non-engineer professionals (similar to WEF’s Water Leadership Institute) currently not in water or new to water.
As we continued conversations about the diversity of the water workforce, the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion at WEF continued to come up. We quickly recognized that for WEF to make an impact on the water workforce, we had to set the stage internally to create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment for both the WEF staff, members, and Member Associations.
Taking a look at WEF internally and next steps
So that’s great, but what’s next? With internal housekeeping on the mind, we recommended that WEF:
• Establish a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Subcommittee within the Board of Trustees to provide guidance to the board on WEF’s programs, communications, and membership to establish WEF as a fully diverse, inclusive, and equitable water organization.
• Hire a consultant to provide the expertise in diversity, equity and inclusion needed to assess WEF’s current state and culture and to advise the board, staff, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Subcommittee on developing and driving a strategic plan for diversity, equity and inclusion
In June, the board approved both recommendations and last month WEF issued a request for proposals to solicit the consultant. Additionally, the board has established the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Subcommittee which will convene in September and report directly to the board’s Governance Committee, a crucial leadership group, and will ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion is fully and permanently integrated into WEF’s culture.
In addition to the consultant and subcommittee, WEF is also implementing other recommendations, beginning with continuing the conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion. A new Words on Water podcast series focusing on diversity and the water sector begins this month.
We appreciate the support and acknowledgement from WEF on the importance of incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion into the culture. We realize that this journey is far from over, but just beginning. While we may not be a leader in this area yet, we believe that the quick actions taken by WEF leadership show that making the WEF and water sector environment inclusive for everyone is a top priority.
We want to thank the entire Workforce Diversity and Inclusion Task Force for their continued effort and sharing their candor and courage among uncomfortable conversations. It was truly a privilege working with this group of dedicated WEF members that care so much about the water workforce and WEF. Let’s continue these difficult conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion as we strive to make WEF a more inclusive environment.
WEF Workforce Diversity & Inclusion Task Force
• Carla Reid, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, Task Force Chair
• Nikita Lingenfelter, Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, Task Force Co-Chair
• Jeseth Delgado-Vela, Howard University
• Donnell Duncan, Arcadis
• Ralph Exton, Suez,
• Joone Lopez, Moulton Niguel Water District
• Paige Peters, Marquette University/Rapid Radicals Technology, LLC
• Karyn Riley, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission
• Stephen Sanders, SUNY Morrisville Environmental Training Center
• Megan Yoo Schneider, Seven Management and Consulting, Municipal Water District of Orange County
• Sarah Zibin, Metro Vancouver
• Ifetayo Venner, Arcadis, WEF Board of Trustees
• Bri Nakamura, WEF
• Laura Childs, WEF