Improving Diversity and Representation in the Water Lab

There's great value in having multiple perspectives and voices come together to identify and solve problems in water labs. But that takes a concerted effort to establish, expand, and celebrate diversity and inclusion in your lab.

Diversity isn't just about ethnicity, race, gender, or age—it also includes disability, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, and veteran, military, marital, and citizenship status, according to Lab Manager. Although women have made strides toward inclusion in labs, people of African, Hispanic, and Native American descent are underrepresented compared to the overall population in the workplace.

Ensuring your lab reflects the diverse community you serve—or want to serve—takes a focused approach. Here's a closer look at the value of diversity and inclusion and how you can foster them to drive innovation and business growth.

Diversify to Innovate

The problems labs address today are increasingly complex, making it more challenging for one or two workers or even a whole lab to solve. To boost innovation, you need different perspectives—not more smart people who think the same way.

Diverse groups tend not to get mired in groupthink—a way of thinking or making decisions as a group that discourages creativity or individual responsibility—which helps foster innovation. When employees bring a variety of strengths, skills, ideas, and imaginings, your lab benefits from greater creativity and higher productivity. You'll see the results in your bottom line and in business growth as well.

Expand Your Prospects

Brainstorm with your team and colleagues to determine how you can expand your reach and pipeline to appeal to diverse applicants. To help students realize the possibilities when working in a lab, managers should visit high schools and colleges to discuss available careers. You may also want to support the minority programs of professional science societies to identify potential candidates.

You could consider those retiring from military service. Their experience of following documented procedures and learning on the job translate well into roles within the water industry.

In addition, post every job you have available in numerous venues—especially online—instead of looking for referrals from within. That way, who's working at your lab now doesn't dictate who will work there going forward.

Think Outside the Box

Committees charged with hiring often pick the person who they think would fit in best with the group already in the lab. But you may first want to consider if your requirements for education, skills, or experience make sense given a position's work responsibilities. Although everyone should have a basic command of English, in the United States today, Spanish is a highly useful second language.

Also, if you're trying to broaden perspectives, you may need to seriously consider a person who's outside your lab's norm. To make sure every candidate gets a fair shake, structure the interview process so that it's the same for everyone.

Onboard for Success

You may also need to revise your onboarding procedures to welcome people with different backgrounds and make them comfortable. Everyone should feel seen, heard, and valued, according to USA Today. You may want to assign each new hire a mentor who is charged with helping them succeed in your workplace.

Manage with Sensitivity

Effective management calls for motivating a diverse group in ways that are relevant to each person. For example, the perks appealing to Baby Boomers may mean nothing to Gen Z-ers, so you need to manage generations differently. People tend to care more about how satisfied they are with their job, workplace, and coworkers at a higher rate than they think about pay and benefits.

It's also critical to have a cohesive, high-performing team, not a handful of subgroups of similar people. Show your support for various cultural and religious practices, which may include floating holidays for those who don't observe major Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter. Also recognize events that matter to your employees, whether that's Black History Month or Ramadan.

Celebrate Your Differences

To help your employees prepare for the future of work, consider diversity and inclusion training. Every employee in your organization needs to understand the value of a heterogeneous group and how to connect and engage with people who are different from themselves or their usual peers.

Each individual's manner of communicating, influenced by years of unconscious molding, may affect their ability to collaborate. Communication and training for the whole lab can help you identify blind spots, change prejudices, and improve interactions.

In the end, celebrating your differences can enrich your entire team beyond measure—not just in the water lab but in every aspect of your lives.

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Diana Kightlinger

Diana Kightlinger is an experienced journalist, copywriter, and blogger for science, technology, and medical organizations. She writes frequently for Fortune 500 corporate clients but also has a passion for explaining scientific research, raising awareness of issues, and targeting positive outcomes for people and communities. Diana holds master’s degrees in environmental science and journalism.