Striving for Inclusion and Diversity at All Levels to Better Serve – and Reflect – Our Customers
By Cheryl Norton
More than thirty years ago, I began my career at American Water as something of an anomaly: I was one of only a handful of women at the company. It was shocking to see such an absence of female colleagues, but at the time, certainly not surprising. In fact, the water and wastewater field was completely male dominated. Thankfully, times have changed. In the years since, the inclusion of women and minorities in our business has grown significantly and has been a hallmark of my tenure as president of New Jersey American Water. We can always, however, strive to do better.
For me, breaking through the glass ceiling of this industry was not the end of the fight for inclusion; it was merely the beginning. When we reach the level of success where we can influence the cultures of our companies and by extension, society, it is our duty to send down a ladder for others to follow, and to be an example of what leadership reflective of our diverse society truly looks like.
Diversity and inclusion are at the center of New Jersey American Water. For us, these are not buzzwords that we use lightly – they are a true commitment to creating a workplace that is inclusive, reflective, safe and supportive.
New Jersey American Water’s commitment to diversity and inclusion has never been stronger. We strive to create a respectful and inclusive environment for all of our employees and have included a number of initiatives that reflect this: our Inclusion & Diversity Council and Inclusion & Diversity Champion Network, both employee-run groups, help to guide American Water’s efforts surrounding inclusion, equity and diversity. We are currently working on developing Business Resource Groups as a way to offer our employees emotionally safe places to share and also help us address business strategies that support our core values and our company goals such as diversity recruiting, mentoring and updates to our policies and practices.
Our commitment does not stop with our internal staff. That’s why at New Jersey American Water, we have outlined a plan called Solutions Today And Reinvesting Tomorrow (START) which includes at its core a commitment to strengthening our Supplier Diversity Program. We know that the best way to strengthen the economy and invest in the health and well-being of the communities we serve is by working with suppliers that come from the same diverse backgrounds as the members of the communities we serve. Small, minority-and women-owned businesses play a vital role in the economic well-being of our communities.
Times have changed. Thankfully it is no longer acceptable or the norm for companies and organizations to employ a handful of women and minorities, much less fail to embrace diversity in positions of leadership. We are not and will not be anomalies anymore. New Jersey American Water is proud of the steps we have taken to boost inclusion and diversity. But we will not rest on our laurels and will continue to strive to create a work environment that is reflective of the communities we serve.
Cheryl Norton is President of New Jersey American Water and Senior Vice President and Chief Environmental Officer of American Water.