For the last 45 years, February has been designated as Black History Month to celebrate the achievements of Black Americans. As we honor Black Americans’ roles throughout our country’s history, we must also acknowledge the racial injustices that occurred this past year, which have brought important issues back to the surface, and have reminded us of the importance of learning from our past to improve our future.
Because diversity of backgrounds, ideas, thoughts, and experiences is vital to our culture and the way we do business, this month provides us with an opportunity to reflect on how we prioritize inclusion and diversity to be a socially responsible company that is well-equipped to serve customers every day. In celebration of Black History Month, we sat down with some of American Water’s leaders to discuss their experiences, and what they envision for the future of the utilities industry.
What does it mean to you to be a Black leader in America today?
Valoria Armstrong: For me, it’s all about setting an example for future generations. I was raised by a single mother with four kids who worked multiple jobs while earning her GED. She has been my inspiration and a constant reminder to never allow your current circumstances to determine your future aspirations. Being a Black woman and a corporate executive has given me the incredible position to inspire other young Black women through encouragement and visual representation.
Randy Moore: Being a Black leader provides a critical opportunity to educate and mentor the next generation. I think it is so important (not to mention rewarding) to share my professional knowledge with others – from leadership skills to operational and institutional experiences. By paying it forward, I have been able to then witness these individuals grow into incredible leaders.
Nick Rowe: When I started at American Water in 1987, the corporate environment looked so different than it does today – and we’ve certainly come a long way in terms of representation of diverse groups since then. Seeing that evolution of the company (and the corporate world in general) inspired me to use my position of leadership to mentor minority workers inside the organization, as well as those in our communities.
Why is it important that we celebrate Black History Month in the water utility industry in particular?
VA: After a year of true uncertainty alongside a continued fight for racial justice, we are reminded that this country’s diverse communities deserve a diverse, understanding, and respectful workforce behind the companies that provide their most basic yet essentially important needs – including water. Inclusion and diversity are not just a moment being recognized at American Water, but rather a movement driving the company and the industry into the future.
RM: Black History Month is a reminder of how much education is still needed, especially when it comes to inclusion and diversity in corporate settings. Because the water industry has so much reach and influence in the communities we serve, American Water and companies like ours are very well positioned to become I&D leaders in their communities. With all of this in mind, we can see how imperative it is for us to educate internally on these matters for the benefit of the company, the industry and our customers.
NR: There has been so much progress in the water industry when it comes to diversity and inclusion since I started as an engineer nearly 40 years ago. In fact, at that time, there weren’t many other Black people in my field. As the industry continues to become more diverse, it’s important that we carry on this momentum by shining a spotlight on the types of opportunities available in STEM careers for diverse youth so the next generation can continue the progress we’ve seen in the last few decades – and Black History Month is the perfect time to do that.
How does your role at American Water contribute to improving inclusion and diversity at the company?
VA: I am American Water’s first Chief Inclusion Officer, which means there is no playbook. Even though inclusion and diversity have long been embedded in the company’s core values, I have the opportunity and responsibility to more formally shape what the future of an inclusive workforce looks like at American Water. With support from senior leadership, including our CEO Walter Lynch, my team and I have worked hard to make this necessary position possible. While inclusion and diversity have always been critical components of operations, I’m now able to use my role to give them official seats at the table.
RM: In my role, I’ve had the opportunity to address issues that matter a lot to me, not just in the company, but also in the communities we serve. For example, my passions lie in supporting the growth and development of others, especially minorities, so I am able to run my end of the company with two objectives: providing communities with clean drinking water; and developing those communities demographically and economically.
NR: Throughout my career, I’ve worked and lived in many of the 46 states that American Water operates in, and it has given me the chance to give back while showing young Black Americans that someone who looks like them can be in this position. Hopefully I’m reminding them that there is a way forward for them as well.
At American Water, inclusion and diversity are core elements that help us keep life flowing every day. February presents a dedicated time to honor the history of Black Americans through reflection, education and action, and we are proud to have voices like Valoria, Randy and Nick helping lead the way.