As in Any Industry, There Is Strength in Diversity in the Water Sector Workforce

Diversity and inclusion emerge as key priorities for the Water Environment Federation and efforts to build a new-generation workforce.

Together we stand, divided we fall

Come on now people, let’s get on the ball and work together

Come on, come on, let’s work together, now now people

Because together we will stand, every boy, every girl and a man

The words above came over the PA and the crowd filed in for the Opening General Session at the Water Environment Federation’s Technical Exhibition and Conference. And I wondered: Why are we listening to Bob “The Bear” Hite and Canned Heat at a clean-water industry conference?

It didn’t take long to find out. The call to “work together” fit in perfectly with one of the session’s themes: diversity and inclusion. WEF President Thomas Kunetz, P.E., devoted a large share of his message to that topic. 

Reflecting communities

Kunetz observes that the world is transitioning from an industrial to an entrepreneurial economy. “More and more, individuals are having to rely on their own resourcefulness to earn a living,” he says. Therefore, “The water sector workforce needs to be composed of people who are self-learners, creative, resourceful, able to adapt to constant change.

“In addition to the right education, the water workforce of today should be a reflection of the community it serves. Right now it is not. According to a recent study by the Brookings Institution, the water sector workforce is two-thirds male and 85% white.

“We in the water sector are standing on the threshold of a golden opportunity. We need talented, energetic and adaptable young people with fresh perspectives to fill the ranks of our workforce. And there is a diverse group of talented individuals available to fill those roles, to bring their perspectives, which will make the water workforce more creative and more resourceful. The trick is to let them know that we exist, that we have great jobs waiting for them.”

I was surprised to learn that one-third of the clean-water workforce is composed of women; I would have guessed a much smaller share. So I took that revelation as good news. The bottom line is that the industry needs the talents and perspectives of people of both genders and all ages, colors, backgrounds and countries of origin.

How are we doing?

With that in mind, I did a little soul-searching about Treatment Plant Operator and how we represent diversity on our pages. We’re conscious of it, and we have been ever since the magazine was founded 10 years ago. On our covers and in the profiles that we publish about outstanding plants and operators, we’ve had what to me seems a good representation of the workforce as it exists.

We most often select our profile subjects from among winners of awards given by WEF Member Associations and other operator groups. Those organizations and their award winners seem to be quite diverse. However, I haven’t gone back over 10 years of issues to count up the numbers of women and people of color featured and pictured in our articles.

So I’m wondering: What do you think? Are we doing the job where diversity is concerned? I would be interested in your perceptions. Send a note to I promise to respond, and we will publish a sampling of the reactions.

A saying I heard often as a kid was: “It takes all kinds of people to make a world.” It also takes all kinds to make an industry. The more diverse we are, the stronger we’ll be. It brings to mind the words from another Canned Heat song belted out by The Bear:

When you’ve got troubles, have no place to go

I’m sure you’ll find someone who’ll help you know

It’s the same all over

It’s the same all over

It’s the same all over, good people everywhere you go.


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