News & Events

Confronting Racial Inequalities in the Water and Wastewater Industry

Abstract: As the nation further awakens to systemic racism, NEWEA members must actively identify opportunities to build a more inclusive environment for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in the water and wastewater industry. Diversity, not only of racial identity and ethnicity, but also gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, religious beliefs, age, and mental and physical ability, encompasses all that makes us unique (Eswaran 2019; Scott and Pozzi 2020). But it is inclusion—a measure of culture that allows diversity to thrive—that enables all individuals and groups to feel safe, respected, engaged, motivated, and valued (Mitjans 2019). Inclusive environments foster the diversity of thought, perspective, and experiences that allows an industry to excel (Eswaran 2019; Scott and Pozzi 2020).

Systemic racism, which refers to systems that perpetuate racial injustices, occurs in fundamental, powerful structures in the United States, including communities, educational systems, and the workforce (Collins 2018). This paper looks broadly at systemic racism against BIPOC and its impacts within these three structures as they relate to the water and wastewater industry, and suggests actions to dismantle the systems within them that perpetuate racial inequities. These suggested strategies are by no means comprehensive; they are provided to help empower NEWEA members and bring awareness to opportunities for building more inclusive environments in their respective communities, schools, and workplaces. While acknowledging and confronting white privilege and systemic racism can be difficult and complex, the industry cannot wait any longer to confront the nation’s history of racial injustice.

Authors: Isabella Cobble, EIT, Jennifer Lawrence, Ph.D., and Marina Fernandes, PE, LEED AP of Tighe & Bond, Stephen King, PE, Town of Danvers, Massachusetts Nick Tooker, PE, University of Massachusetts

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