Isle Utilities Takes Global Action to Promote Diversity in Water Sector

As a professional in the water sector, what is the best way for you to take meaningful action in response to a massive social movement inspired by Black Lives Matter? How can your business or organization thoughtfully address issues such as social mobility, privilege, disability, and unconscious bias? How can it cultivate a welcoming, safe, and supportive work environment where all reach their potential?

If you don’t know the answer to these questions, you’re not alone. Recently, XPV Water Partners portfolio company Isle Utilities, together with Northumbrian Water, hosted an intensive, 24-hour virtual workshop (or “sprint”) on diversity and inclusion in the water sector. Participants from more than 40 industry organizations, ranging from utilities to technology companies, joined the global conversation.

The main finding? Broadly speaking, the sector’s active commitment to these values is in its early stages. Among its participants, however, there is a deep desire and an urgent need to bring fundamental change to an industry that is historically lacking in diversity.

A diverse team is good for business

When your team is diverse and inclusive, it is more likely to achieve better performance, says Nada Abubakr, Managing Director, Isle Utilities Middle East. “Working in diverse teams opens up dialogue and creativity. It promotes innovative thinking, it helps attract talent and promotes retention, and it improves productivity.”

Ensuring that diversity and inclusion are part of your organization’s lived values takes conscious effort and commitment, she adds. Preparing for the needs of a diverse workforce can lead to a complete review of your organization’s work, systems, and practices.

Sharing knowledge and experience

When Abubakr and her colleagues saw the demonstrated need to meaningfully address diversity and inclusion in the water sector – and the lack of resources available to the industry – the Isle team knew it had the platform to move these important discussions forward.

Developed as a grassroots effort to support the water sector during the early days of the pandemic, Isle’s Water Action Platform is now a thriving and free online resource for a global community of thousands of industry professionals. Following the Northumbrian Water sprint, Isle decided to open a channel on the platform to tap into this network and maintain momentum.

The result is Isle Utilities’ Diversity and Inclusion Knowledge Forum. In keeping with the platform’s mandate, the forum is a place for people to connect with colleagues, share experiences, and offer best practices and guidance.

Participants are sharing exciting case studies of models that can work in this sector, Abubakr says. One such example is Pride in Water, an Australian utility’s initiative that has become a national awareness network with a mandate to create an industry where every LGBTIQ+ person feels valued, safe, and included.

As well as launching the forum, Isle hosted a second round of workshops in early 2021. The team is also publishing a comprehensive report that captures case studies, best practices, and a list of actions and recommendations for water organizations that want to achieve new standards for diversity and inclusion.

A more inclusive future

Things have moved quickly since Isle Utilities started this work, and it’s clear that the industry is rising to the challenge, Abubakr says.

“This critical discussion is encouraging water professionals to think deeply about how diversity plays a role in their business. It’s also helping them gain access to the knowledge they need to feel confident about taking action.” The team plans to keep the conversation moving with monthly Diversity and Inclusion sessions and quarterly updates to its report.

Isle Utilities, too, is walking the talk. This year, the firm formed its own diversity and inclusion steering committee to critically examine its business and set new targets. “We want to demonstrate leadership and accountability,” Abubakr says. “It’s not enough to host the hub – we need to participate meaningfully in the conversation.”

Isle is proud to be part of the industry’s journey toward diversity and inclusion maturity, she adds. “We want to foster this culture on a global scale. Water is the most important resource in the world. The people who are committed to making it safe should have a true sense that they belong with their organizations and in this sector.”