Diversity, Inclusion Key Themes at Women in Water Symposium
San Diego County Water Authority General Manager Sandra L. Kerl delivered an inspiring keynote address at the 2023 Women in Water Symposium at Cuyamaca College. The conference was not held at the college in 2021 or 2022 due to the coronavirus pandemic. And Kerl’s address focused on the sixth annual conference theme, “Building Resilience In Post-Pandemic Times.”
At the March 29 symposium, Kerl shared insights and lessons from leading the Water Authority during the coronavirus pandemic. One lesson was learning how to do business in a different way while still meeting the Water Authority’s essential mission.
“We need talent, knowledge, and fresh ideas from a wide range of people with a wide range of perspectives and life experiences and that is how we navigate a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world,” said Kerl.
Conference organizers planned this year’s conference program to help attendees realign their focus following several years of unprecedented challenges. The goal is to give attendees tools and insights to help them navigate the new normal in the industry through both programming and career networking opportunities.
Diversity and resilience
Today, said Kerl, new norms and a changing work culture remain. Among the benefits are an increased sense of collaboration, a recognition of the importance of human connection, and the importance of workforce diversity, equity, and inclusion. Kerl noted that resilient teams are diverse teams.
The Water Authority began efforts to survey its workforce before the pandemic. Rather than stalling the effort, it accelerated the work process.
“We had the opportunity to have conversations with people across the organization to work on those issues. From my standpoint, to be able to accomplish this work now and in the future, we need a diverse workforce. We need everybody coming to the workplace with their full selves. We need to empower our employees to reach their potential, whatever that may be,” said Kerl, drawing appreciative applause from the audience.
Water industry careers offer meaningful community impact
Kerl said she was drawn to a career in water because it allowed her to make the most meaningful impact on her community. “To me, there’s really no higher mission than being responsible for delivering critical, life-affirming water for our families and businesses,” she said.
She encouraged women to pursue water industry jobs at all levels, from engineering to management. The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit think tank, reports that in the United States, women currently represent only 15% of the water workforce.
“Water is complicated and fascinating.” Water Authority General Manager Sandra Kerl shares her personal story and how to build resiliency in the workforce at the Women in Water Symposium at @cuyamacacollege #womeninwater #workforwater pic.twitter.com/Lmy9TfJYzC
— San Diego County Water Authority (@sdcwa) March 29, 2023
Water industry opportunities
“We’ve all faced a lot of uncertainty through the pandemic, but that has helped each of us develop resilience in big ways and small…. and now we can leverage that by courageously moving into uncharted territories – whether that’s a new project, a new position, or even a new career in the water industry,” added Kerl.
Kerl says thankfully it’s changing. Forty percent of the Water Authority’s workforce are women, and more than half its department heads. It takes raising awareness about opportunities in the industry.
“As we raise awareness about opportunities in our industry, through this forum and others, we can attract more women to the rewarding work we do,” said Kerl. “I view this Symposium as the next step in nurturing a new generation of water professionals.”
Work for Water
The water and wastewater industry offers vast opportunities in engineering, operations, finance, public affairs, human resources, administration, and information technology.
Approximately 4,500 professionals serve the San Diego region in water and wastewater careers. More than 1,400 of those workers are expected to reach retirement age within the next five years. Water and wastewater treatment plant operators in California earn an annual mean wage of more than $74,590, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Proud to support and sponsor the 6th Annual Women in Water Symposium and excited to be back in person again!!! “Building Resilience in Post-Pandemic Times” Full house! Thanks to all the supporters & wonderful women attendees! pic.twitter.com/c3rG9TpRQe
— Otay Water District (@OtayWater) March 29, 2023