Guest Column | March 10, 2022

The Importance Of Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion In The Water Sector

By Andrea Hall


Improving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has become one of the most important topics in the workplace, let alone the water sector. The business case for diversity has been made, but because DEI has not been a regular discussion topic, some organizations are struggling with how to define what their DEI initiatives should be.

For the water sector, DEI should always be an open dialogue. We need guiding principles around water equity, affordability, and access as we approach our work because, unfortunately, it is not the same for every community. Water is a fundamental right for all of us, and people shouldn’t have to deliberate whether they can afford water or what they may have to sacrifice to gain access to clean water in their homes. Before COVID-19, the number of households unable to afford water and wastewater services was already high, and likely soared with the pandemic’s onset. As noted in The Guardian (Lakhani, 2021),1 residents and water utilities are under stress. One in every eight households has water debt, and water utilities aren’t receiving the payments they need from residents that are used for operations.2 Thus, it is critical for everyone working in the water sector to understand the challenges different communities are facing with water affordability and access, especially as we prioritize our work.

We should be asking ourselves, “How can utilities, engineering firms, water and wastewater treatment businesses, and other essential services begin to address these issues?” This will require a heightened level of commitment across the water sector to get closer to the communities we are part of.

By keeping DEI out of the discussion, we don’t create space for dialogue where people can understand what they don’t know about underrepresented communities. By not facing the challenges head on, we aren’t tested to think differently and more inclusively to know how we can better support these communities. This is hard work, but it pays off. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable plays a critical role in discussing DEI. Some of the steps you and your organization can start taking now include:

  • Pushing past your comfort zone.
  • Being honest about your knowledge and comfort level with the subject of DEI.
  • Showing grace and asking for grace. Be clear about what you are looking for to better understand.
  • Networking and connecting with others in communities outside of your own.
  • Participating in community meetings for the cities you serve

DEI is both internal and external. We also must remember to invest in our teams. When employees don’t feel that their organization truly values their thoughts, ideas, commitments, and contributions, they will eventually shut down and possibly seek employment elsewhere. An inclusive workplace doesn’t just have a diversity of people represented; it also has a variety of people engaged, included, empowered, and trusted by the organization.

The debut of Brown and Caldwell’s Balance and Belonging (B&B) report is an essential first step to having an ongoing, transparent dialogue about our progress in creating a more diverse organization and fostering a culture of belonging. Although crucial, the report is just the beginning. We are taking a holistic approach to DEI and believe our methods will ensure long-term systemic change — not just for our organization, but for our industry. One of the initiatives we are focused on is our B&B Diversity Council, which includes members from across the company with varied backgrounds and experiences. The mission of the B&B Council is to foster an environment that attracts and retains top talent, values diversity of life experiences and perspectives, and drives innovation in pursuit of our Company of Choice strategy.

Another important step to help us continue our DEI work in an authentic way is the establishment and growth of our employee network groups (ENGs). These ENGs foster an environment in which every one of Brown and Caldwell’s 1,700 employee-owners feels that they belong and can do their best work. An ENG provides a way for employees to come together to promote diversity and inclusion within an organization; they are self-sustaining and employee-run groups in which members can develop new skills, network, and grow professionally, and they provide a safe space for sharing and exchanging ideas. The focus of an ENG is to work on the “how” of improving inclusion rather than the “what” of diversity, so that as the diversity of hiring pools improves, employees feel a sense of belonging and choose to stay in a given workplace. ENGs are an opportunity for marginalized people to feel seen and heard, in some cases for the first time in their careers. The Brown and Caldwell ENGs have inspired others to form similar groups, including ENGs for working parents, virtual employees, the LGBTQ+ community, and people of color. This is just the start, and we welcome more groups to form over the course of time.

These actions and initiatives are a fraction of our ongoing commitment to DEI, and we value the experiences and continued growth we make with having DEI at the forefront. As a contributor to the water industry, we look forward to our continued journey and helping the water industry along the way by sharing our progress and looking to others’ initiatives as well.


  1. Lakhani, N. (2021). California Households Owe $1 Billion in Water Bills as Affordability Crisis Worsens. The Guardian. Accessed April 23, 2021.
  2. Clean Water Action. (2021). Water Affordability in CA. Accessed April 23, 2021

About The Author

Andrea Hall, PHR, SHRM-CP, serves as the head of diversity and inclusion at Brown and Caldwell. Hall has a 17-year track record of creating and leading companywide diversity and inclusion strategy and strengthening equitable processes for global organizations. She is a thought leader and strategic partner with a track record of improving diverse talent hiring, launching employee empowerment platforms, enhancing career progression policies, developing solutions to interrupt process and procedural bias, and driving diversity and inclusion education and awareness.