By Dr. Elesia Glover, Senior Project and Policy Manager
City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management
October 22, 2020
When most people think about the water industry they think of a male dominated field. Historically, it has been overwhelmingly male driven, although there have been and are many great women in the industry today. Currently women represent less than 15% percent of the United States (US) water workforce.
Fortunately, at the City of Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management (DWM) both male and female leadership run throughout the organization serving drinking water to over 1.2 million customers every day. Multiple women Commissioners have led the Department and many women are in executive roles overseeing core functions of the utility. Currently, four out of 11 executive staff members are women and represent the top three positions in the utility. Unfortunately, for many utilities this level of representation is still an anomaly, given that only six percent of US water utility CEOs are women. Even with the progress that has been made, there are 956 male employees compared to 478 female employees in DWM’s total workforce. There is certainly work to be done in our industry.
Many utilities question how to create a more equitable workforce with respect to gender after assessing an imbalance in their own utilities. After the assessment it is important to understand that efforts to increase equity are often not equal. The recruitment, retention, or hiring efforts directed toward female employees may not be equal to the level of recruitment, retention, or hiring efforts directed toward male employees. The notion that equality and equity are not the same and often do not go hand in hand is a challenging concept for many to understand. Nevertheless, in order to create an equitable environment, more effort may need to be directed toward female vs. male recruits or employees.
The City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management has spent a great deal of time creating and publishing the One Water Vision, serving as our 2022 strategic plan. The e-book can be found at the following link https://www.atlantawatershed.org/sp2022/
The One Water Vision sets five core values for our utility including teamwork, integrity, customer centric, accountability, and employee engagement. Employee engagement as a value demonstrates the utility’s commitment to valuing employees as our most important resource. Understanding the value of employees is critical to understanding the need for gender equity in the workplace. Furthermore, the One Water vision focuses on eight priority areas with workforce development as one of the areas. To create equity within a utility it must be a priority that is promoted across all departments in order to gain confidence in the effort from all employees and not just leadership.
Through every effort under workforce development there is always an avenue to create a more equitable workplace. It may take some brainstorming and creativity, but it can always be done. Utilities can take the efforts they already have in place and use them to recruit more women to the field. The first objective of DWM’s workforce development priority area is to recruit and retain a competent, diverse, and skilled workforce. Initiatives include partnering with local schools, community groups, and industry affiliates to increase participation and knowledge of water sector careers. This initiative can be used to increase awareness among young girls and women about opportunities within the water sector. Another initiative is to coordinate with our City’s Department of Human Resources to develop a sourcing plan that creates partnerships with local nonprofits, workforce development agencies, and technical schools. Again, this sourcing plan can be tailored to recruit and hire more women to our workforce.
As budgets are critical to the work utilities do and providing safe and affordable drinking water and wastewater services is of the utmost importance, focus areas such as workforce development often take a backseat. However, utilities can tailor what they already have without allocating exponential funding to their gender equity effort. Every utility, whether small or large, city or rural, public or private, has the capability to work toward gender equity in the water sector. The only way we can correct the current imbalance is to do the work, educate the pipeline of future water leaders, and tailor a plan to get it done.
Dr. Elesia Glover is 2010 and 2011 graduate of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University with a BS in Mass Communications and a MS in Agriculture. She obtained her Ph.D. in public policy and administration from Walden University in 2018. Dr. Glover currently works for the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management as a Senior Project and Policy Manager. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.