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Emerging Water Leaders of Color Leadership Circle

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(cropped) Emerging Water Leaders of Color Circle
Paula Figueroa-Vega, Director of Jersey Water Works Collaborative

In the water sector, where nearly 85% of water workers are male, and two-thirds are white, it is essential to support emerging leaders who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) as a step toward a more equitable future. Emerging leaders need and deserve a clear pathway to advance to leadership roles in the drinking water and wastewater systems.

To effectively tackle complex challenges, leadership skills must encompass both technical and non-technical soft skills. In New Jersey, utilities come in varying sizes and not all have the resources to provide comprehensive professional development training due to daily management responsibilities. Even when offered, technical training is given priority over non-technical soft skills. Utility leaders have revealed that when presented with the option to attend a conference workshop, technical workshops are always preferred over non-technical ones.

For emerging leaders, having a network is crucial—it helps them access resources and information, navigate challenges, and find innovative solutions. Having a network also provides them with the necessary support to keep going, and is especially important to create spaces where BIPOC emerging leaders can connect, strengthen their leadership skills, and tap into existing networks to advance their careers.

What is the Emerging Water Leaders of Color Circle? 

The Leadership Circle for Emerging Water Leaders of Color is a pilot program designed for up-and-coming water professionals in New Jersey.

Why this initiative? 

This pilot initiative aims to assist individuals in expanding their knowledge, skills, and professional network. This will equip them with the necessary resources to create novel solutions and explore potential career paths within the water sector. Specifically, the initiative will focus on developing emerging professionals who identify as a person of color. Our objective is to simplify and clarify the diverse opportunities available in the water sector, enabling participants to advance in their careers, feel supported, and acquire the expertise to navigate their professional journey.

What is a learning circle? 

Learning circles are small gatherings where people come to learn and share ideas, practices, and experiences.

What do we mean by emerging leader? 

For the purpose of this initiative, an emerging leader in the water sector is anyone who currently works in the water industry and aspires to advance their career and achieve a more prominent position. This may involve seeking upward movement within the water sector or receiving support to drive organizational change. If you are a person of color who has faced career barriers and aspires to take on a leadership role in the future, this opportunity is for you.

What do we mean by water professionals? 

Anyone in the water industry that works in a water utility in New Jersey providing water, wastewater or stormwater services. The program aims to target professionals with three or more years of experience.

How much does it cost, and what is the commitment to participate? 

Participation in the initiative is free of charge. We kindly request that participants commit to attending five out of the six planned sessions. The program consists of five virtual sessions, each lasting an hour and 15 minutes, which will occur between August and December 2023. Additionally, there may be an optional in-person networking session during the program.

  1. Sessions will be held during lunch (12:00 p.m. EST) or after work hours (5:30 p.m. EST). 
  2. The sessions will be led/facilitated by AGN Global. They will be informal but structured with consideration of available time. 
  3. Each session will be conversational in nature and will encourage the exchange of perspectives based on experiences and insight from the Advisory Board.
  4. For program completion, all participants must attend five of the six sessions. Sessions will be recorded for the facilitators’ purposes only. Attendance demonstrates a commitment to taking steps for their career as future leaders in the water sector. 
  5. Participants should be willing to do follow-up “homework” to advance their own goals. 

Who is involved in the project? 

New Jersey Future received funding from Spring Point Partners for this project. To establish partnerships for the New Jersey Emerging Water Leaders of Color Leadership Circle, New Jersey Future hired AGN Global LLC consulting firm, led by Aisha Niang and Nicole E. Brown, experienced engineers in the water sector. The project team includes Jersey Water Works backbone staff Jyoti Venketraman and Paula Figueroa-Vega. Also assisting in developing this program is an advisory board consisting of utility directors, consulting firm executives, academia, and retired industry professionals that gave invaluable advice to help participants strategically navigate the water sector for success, longevity, and advancement.  

For more information, contact Paula Figueroa-Vega, Director, Jersey Water Works Collaborative, at pfigueroa@njfuture.org. To apply, please complete the application by August 1, 2023 (extended) or email Paula directly. 

Leadership Circle for Emerging Water Leaders of Color: Questionnaire Sample

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